If you read enough about baseball, you eventually encounter the theme of baseball mirroring the passage of the seasons.

Spring equals optimism, summer is wonderful, and once fall turns into winter, baseball is gone, leaving you cold, both figuratively and literally.

Now, Red Sox fans must think the order is reversed, because they’re looking back fondly at the winter.

It was a time of such optimism, remember? Adrian Gonzalez! Carl Crawford! Youk and Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury will be healthy! Lackey and Beckett will bounce back!

Heck, NESN’s Eric Ortiz even said Daisuke Matsuzaka might be the best No. 5 starter in baseball history. I can’t prove it, but I’m convinced Ortiz owed someone a favor when he wrote that.

As it stands now, Dice-K represents the flawed hopes of winter. He’s been nothing but a disappointment since his one big season of 2008. I could give you all kinds of numbers to support this, but here’s the only one that matters: Zero. That’s the percentage of Red Sox fans who have confidence that Dice-K can go out and pitch six or seven strong innings and keep the Sox in the game.

In defense of Dice-K (as well as John Lackey and Clay Buchholz) the defense the Red Sox are putting out there has been several notches below championship quality.

They have 35-year-olds at shortstop and right field. Kevin Youkilis has had some rough times at third base. The catcher, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, has thrown out 22 percent of opposing base stealers in his career, although he is doing well in that regard this season.

And in center field, the Red Sox have Jacoby Ellsbury, who handles fly balls about as well as Cindy Blodgett handled getting fired. (I know, Cindy’s an icon, and making fun of her is piling on, but geez, I’ve seen people who were cheated on by their spouses who had less bitterness and more accountability.)

Ellsbury was not an especially good left fielder, and he is completely overmatched in center. He always seems to get a poor jump on the ball and can’t judge where the ball is going or how it is carrying. At least twice this year he’s turned moderately difficult fly balls into extra-base hits because he simply couldn’t play them. Any pitcher is going to look worse with that kind of defense.

Few people seem to want to say this, but Ellsbury may be the most overrated player in Red Sox history. Since playing so well at the end of 2007, he has a .335 on-base percentage. That’s OK if you hit ninth and you’re a Gold Glover, but if you hit first and you’re a defensive liability, it’s nowhere near OK.

Remember how badly the Red Sox started last year, and how many jokes there were? The Red Sox were 4-9 at one point and 11-12 at the end of April. You got to admit, 4-9 and 11-12 look pretty good now.

And of course, they will get better. But everyone seems to forget that Crawford and Gonzalez replaced one guy who hit .302 with 32 doubles and 20 home runs, and another guy who hit .321, led the league in doubles and hit 28 homers.

Before they signed Crawford and Gonzalez, the Red Sox needed a reliable catcher, bench depth, bullpen help, a center fielder and a No. 5 starter. They still need all those things.

In December, I wrote that the Red Sox still needed to address their biggest problems before I could predict them to win the World Series. Obviously, I still feel that way. But there’s still time for them to make some moves. It still feels like winter, so there’s still time for optimism.

And if the Red Sox can’t get it together soon, don’t despair. Enjoy the summer sun, the fall breezes. Winter will be here soon enough.

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

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