Thank goodness for Josh Becket. The Red Sox resident ace managed to go eight innings against the potent Yankee lineup, giving up six hits and only one walk, resulting in just three earned runs. Through eight innings, Becket threw 105 pitches.
The Red Sox needed this sort of performance, coming on the heels of repeated short starts, and high pitch counts, by Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Clay Buchholz and Tim Wakefield.
In their last three starts, respectively, the stat line of the foursome looks like this:
Lester: 4.1 innings - 10 base runners; 5.1 innings - 9 base runners; 6.2 innings - 6 base runners
Matsuzaka: 5 innings - 11 base runners; 6.2 innings - 11 base runners; 6.2 innings - 2 base runners
Buchholz: 3.2 innings - 9 base runners; 6 innings - 7 base runners; 5 innings - 8 base runners
Wakefield: 6 innings - 11 base runners; 5 innings - 8 base runners; 6 innings - 9 base runners
So far this season, Sox pitchers are undermining themselves, and the team, with walks. The walks have lead to high pitch totals and starts that have been all too brief.
Despite Beckett's one-walk outing, Red Sox pitchers lead all of baseball with 74 walks. The league average is 49. Last season, the Sox allowed a total of 482 walks, which were sixth-fewest in all of baseball. This season, they are walking batters at a rate that would result in 739 walks by season's end. That would be the most in the majors since the Brewers granted 728 free passes in 2000.
In all of baseball, only Cleveland's Fausto Carmona has more walks than Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jon Lester (15 each). And Tim Wakefield isn't far behind with 12.
These high walk totals have been running up the Sox starter's pitch counts, and ultimately taxing a bullpen that is already overworked in just the first month of a six-month season.
Because they can't consistently throw strikes, the starters are wearing themselves out, and they're wearing out the bullpen too. This has got to stop, and soon. It won't work over the long haul of a 162-game season. Teams like the Yankees are stocked with patient hitters who tend to wear down pitchers. They make pitchers throw strikes, and so far Sox pitchers can't do that consistently.
Seemingly, every time a Red Sox starter takes the mound, at least three additional pitchers are needed to complete the game. So far, that's not working, and no one should expect it to.
The middle relievers can't be counted on to bail the starters out. Middle relievers are in that role because they're not good enough to close or start. Manny Delcarmen, Mike Timlin, Javier Lopez, Julian Tavarez -- do you really trust any of them? How could anyone?
Each time one of them comes out of the pen, you can almost hear the collective gasp go out from Red Sox Nation. Hold on tight, it's gonna be a bumpy ride!
To be fair, the Red Sox aren't the only team with a weak or unpredictable middle relief corps. And most A.L. clubs are lucky to have two decent starers -- at best. But to be champions again, the Red Sox will need to do better. If the bullpen remains this overworked and unreliable, the Sox will be forced to call on castoffs like Kyle Snyder or Bryan Corey again, or surrender a valuable asset/prospect in a trade they'd rather not make.
Being forced to make such decisions would surely be regrettable, but perhaps no more so than the current status quo.
Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.