ATLANTA -- One Red Sox player walking out of Tropicana Field this weekend surfaced the reality that has come to the forefront courtesy this 10-game losing streak.
"You aren't going to be able to win with magic every year," he said.
But throughout the first 49 games of this season, there was still some expectation the magic would reappear.
There was the flirtation with .500. Then the perceived travesty that came with losing three games in a row for the first time in the John Farrell era. And finally, over the last few days, an expectation that this group would figure things out simply because many of them had won a World Series on the ultimate figuring-things-out team.
But they haven't dug up the solutions. And you know why? The answers to these Red Sox' problems can be found in lessons learned throughout the 2013 season.
They wanted to turn the page, and turn the page they did. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, what they found was an almost unrecognizable tale of woe.
"There are just so many moving parts. We're not hitting, and when we do hit we don't pitch, and when we do pitch we don't hit. And when we do a little bit of both we'll kick ourselves in the tail with an error. There aren't a whole lot of similarities from last year," said Red Sox catcher David Ross. "The plan that we had last year of seeing a lot of pitches and grinding at-bats, we just don't have the personnel to do that. We have different players who have different approaches, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. We just have to capitalize those swings when we make them, myself included. I'm not excluding myself in any of these comments."
Farrell has said that the Red Sox have stayed resolute in their approach during this stretch, approaching each day with the fervor and diligence of a season ago. That appears to be true. This was, after all, part of the foundation the team had built their hopes on -- a core group doing things the right way.
But what we've learned is intentions and attitude can't guarantee the avoidance of 10-game losing streaks.
Go back to this time last year, when the Red Sox had completed their first 49 games. Eight hitters were carrying an OPS of .800 or better. This year? Two, and one of them -- Mike Napoli -- is on the 15-day disabled list. And at this point in the schedule the Sox' top three starters also had ERA's of 3.14 or better, with Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester going a combined 13-1 in their first 14 decisions.
Most of the Red Sox were outperforming expectations. Name the guys on this year's team managing that feat. The Sox can thank goodness for Brock Holt.
While the trend is to compare this club to '12 rather than '13, it is different. There is some sense of security this time around that the clubhouse will be held together long enough to make some sort of run. But the unavoidable similarity is an underperformance by the team's most important players. That year, one of the top 10 highest-paid players on the team was living up to his salary. And now it's an issue smacking these Red Sox in the face.
"You can't compare this team to last year because it's not the same team," said Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes. "It's a whole new team. We lost a catcher, shortstop, and center fielder, and those three all still in the batting order, so this isn't the same team. Last year was a whole new team from 2012 but we were just fortunate enough to find an approach and a foundation early, which is uncommon. I just don't think we've found that here yet."
Bench-clearing brouhahas aren't going to help, and neither are team meetings. The Red Sox need their best players left from last year's club to help carry the load while trying to decipher if newcomers such as Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley, A.J. Pierzynski and Grady Sizemore can be relied on for some sort of resurgence.
People ask, "What's the clubhouse like during this losing streak?" The answer is: not all that different. But there also seems to be an underlying understanding of the predicament they are in. Execution isn't up to par, but with all the injuries and subpar performances, neither is the ammunition the Red Sox are wheeling out against their opposition.
Since the beginning of the losing streak the Red Sox have the worst batting average (.212), the worst on-base percentage (.268), and the third-worst slugging percentage (.307) in the majors. On the mound, the Sox aren't any better. Their starters have a collective 6.18 ERA, giving up the second-most hits (76) in the big leagues while taking six of the 10 losses.
The team is built around players like Dustin Pedroia, Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey and David Ortiz. With the exception of Lackey (thanks to his last outing), none have been able to supply a speed bump for this out-of-control losing streak. Bogaerts and Holt have been the Sox' best players, not even close. That's not supposed to be the formula.
"You try to go off of what was going on last year as far as how you play the game and what you learned from winning and what winning brought," Ross said. "We're not able to do that because we don't have the same players."
New team, new problems. Last season isn't going to save the day this time.