Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tim Wakefield May Have Made Final Start For Red Sox

Watching Tim Wakefield pitch last night in Oakland, I couldn't help but think it might have been his final start with the Red Sox; not just this season, but ever.

With Clay Buchholz and Josh Beckett returning to the rotation today and Friday, respectively, Wakefield will be the odd man out.

Though Wakefield was unhappy with his move to the bullpen earlier this season, given the way he's pitched this year, he can't rightly complain. The 43-year-old pitcher is just 3-8 in 16 starts this season, with a 5.58 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP.

Considering Wakefield's age (he'll be 44 next month) and poor performance this year, it's entirely possible — if not likely — the Sox will decline to bring him back next season. If that is the case, Wakefield has had a fascinating and overachieving career.

After being released by the Pirates on April 20, 1995, Wakefield was signed by the Red Sox six days later. The knuckle-baller has been with the Sox ever since, becoming the team's longest-tenured player in the process. That longevity has advanced Wakefield in the Sox' record book.

Wakefield is the Red Sox career leader in starts and innings pitched, and he is second to Roger Clemens in strikeouts.

However, Wakefield is also the Red Sox career leader in many less desirable categories, such as hits allowed, runs, earned runs, walks, and hit batsman. And in each of those categories, Wakefield leads by a long shot.

Trailing Clemens by only 70 Ks, it is possible that Wakefield could overtake the former Red Sox star next season. And more importantly to Wakefield, his 178 Red Sox victories put him just 14 behind Clemens and the legendary Cy Young. It was Wakefield's intention to surpass the two most famous Red Sox hurlers by the end of next season.

But with just three wins in 16 starts this year, that is looking increasingly less likely. As much as the Red Sox might like to see Wakefield reach the strikeouts and wins milestones, they don't want to see him hanging on just to do so.

After pitching 108 innings this season — third most on the team — Wakefield has certainly had his chances. No one can reasonably argue otherwise.

If Wakefield were to have gotten within striking distance of the two records this season, brining him back next year would be a no-brainer. Loyalty aside, the PR and marketing opportunities alone would make it worth the Red Sox' while.

But with Wakefield pitching poorly and now headed back to the pen, his chances of surpassing Clemens and Young seem doubtful. And as much of a good soldier as Wakefield has been — a true leader both on and off the field — the Sox won't bring him back if they don't think he can give them a chance to win consistently.

Wakefield's knuckleball hasn't just frustrated opposing hitters; it's also frustrated a host of Red Sox catchers and managers. While Wakefield can often confuse and confound hitters, when he gets hit, he often gets hit hard. In addition, costly passed balls and wild pitches are to be expected.

Because Wakefield's primary pitch is so unpredictable, his starts are equally unpredictable. Each time he takes the mound, the results seem to be to a roll of the dice. Consistency has never been Wakefield's strong suit.

With all of this in mind, it's conceivable that we have finally seen the last start in Tim Wakefield's enduring career.

If it was indeed Wakefield's final start, it's quite fitting that it was such a mixed bag, which has defined his career.

Staked to a 4-0 lead in the second inning, Wakefield couldn't hold on, surrendering four runs in the bottom of the third. Wakefield loaded the bases on a double, a walk, and a hit batter. The runs then scored on a double, a passed ball, and a sacrifice fly. All of it was par for the course during a typical Wakefield outing.

But, as is also customary for Tim Wakefield, he then shut down Oakland over the next three innings, allowing no further runs. The mixed performance was vintage Wakefield.

If it was indeed his final start, all we can say is, Thanks for the memories, Tim. Thanks for all the effort. Thanks for being a man of such great character and integrity.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Lackluster Lackey Facing Must-Win Game

John Lackey has been nothing less than a tremendous disappointment this season.

After signing for more than $82 million in the offseason, certainly a lot more was expected of him than he has provided.

In 18 starts, Lackey has given the Red Sox 118 innings, which is the good news.

However, Lackey has a 4.78 ERA and opponents are batting an astounding .298 against him.

Of equal concern, Lackey has given up far too many walks (46) and hasn't had nearly enough strike outs (68).

Lackey has surrendered 135 hits to along with those 46 walks, resulting in a whopping 181 base runners in his 118 innings. That amounts to a stunning 1.60 WHIP.

Folks, that ranks 107 out of 109 MLB pitchers — simply abysmal.

If batters don't reach base, they can't score. But in Lackey's case, they do both far too often.

The fact that Lackey has a 9-5 record is misleading. The Red Sox are 9-9 in the games he has started this season.

Yet, he plays for a team that has scored the most runs in baseball. Lackey, in particular, benefits from extraordinary run support each time he pitches. In fact, no other Red Sox pitcher has been so fortunate.

If Lackey were pitching like the guy the Red Sox thought they were getting, he might be undefeated with all that run support.

However, Lackey is 1-2, with a 5.61 ERA in his last three starts.

And Lackey's last outing, against the Blue Jays one week ago, was an unmitigated disaster: 4.2 innings, eight hits, seven runs (all earned), six walks, and two strike outs.

In those 4.2 innings, Lackey threw a highly inefficient 105 pitches — just 58 for strikes.

Lackey was advertised as a big time pitcher who would step up when it was his turn to take the mound. But so far, he looks like a no. 5 starter — not the purported ace we were all expecting.

With losses in seven of their last nine games, including two straight, today's game qualifies as a "must win" for Lackey and the Red Sox. In that sense, it really is time for Lackey to step up.

The Red Sox are 3.5 games out of the Wild Card, it is July 17, and the clock is ticking on their season. By the time all their regulars return, there is a danger that it won't even matter any more.

If there is such a thing as a "must win" game in July, this is it.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

As Trade Deadline Approaches, Red Sox May Seek More In-House Solutions

As the Red Sox approach the July 31, non-waiver trade deadline, they find their roster decimated by injuries.

With Manny Delcarmen and Jason Varitek joining the ranks of the wounded, the Red Sox now have 10 players on the disabled list — five since June 24.

Going into last night's game, Red Sox players had missed a total of 424 games to the DL this season. And yet the team just keeps on winning. The Red Sox are now just a half game out of first place, the closest they've been since the second game of the season.

In May, the playoffs seemed like a long shot and there was even speculation that the Red Sox could be uncustomary sellers at the deadline.

Clearly, that will not be the case.

The Red Sox may seek to make additions that will improve the team for the season's final 2-2 1/2 months. But soon after the All Start break, the club will benefit from the returns of Josh Beckett, Jeremy Hermida, and perhaps even Jacoby Ellsbury.

For what it's worth, Jed Lowrie (remember him?) will begin a rehab assignment on Monday in Lowell. He was supposed to be the Sox' utility infielder this season and may be ready before Dustin Pedroia. Lowrie is still just 26-years-old and quite talented. His wrist must be fully healed by now and his bout with mono behind him.

And after the deadline passes, the Red Sox should finally be able to field the starting lineup they had envisioned on Opening Day, seeing the returns of Pedroia, Varitek, Delcarmen and Victor Martinez.

As a result, it's unlikely management will make any desperate moves to fill roster spots.

Even with Mike Cameron playing at about 50% capacity, the team continues to win with the likes of minor leaguers Darnell McDonald, Daniel Nava and Eric Patterson. In addition, journeyman Bill Hall has played a much larger role than anyone could have reasonably envisioned.

Incredibly, despite this unlikely cast of characters, the team hasn't just been holding its own, it's been gaining ground on the Yankees. As long as the Sox don't start to slide too far, too fast, the team will make-do primarily with what they've got.

The one area the Sox could conceivably seek to improve the team via trade is the bullpen, which is next to last in the AL with a 4.80 ERA and has allowed the most home runs (35).

However, a trade could be a dicey proposition. The club will be loathe to give up a formidable prospect for a short term solution in the pen. Anyone remember Larry Andersen for Jef Bagwell?

Trades for bullpen pitchers often regrettable; you usually end up overpaying. On top of that, middle relievers are notoriously unreliable and streaky. At best, you might get a journeyman who is in the midst of a good season. There's a reason these guys change teams all the time; inconsistency.

Ultimately, middle relievers are not good enough to start, and not god enough to close either.

That's why the Red Sox may go with in-house solutions, such as their own minor leaguers.

Robert Manuel has a 1.54 ERA at Pawtucket, and righthanders were hitting just .154 against him. In addition, his career WHIP is just 1.06 in the minors.

Once one of the most highly regarded pitchers in the organization, Michael Bowden seemed to regress, but has looked good this season. Bowden has a 3.77 ERA at Pawtucket, leading all starters with a 1.10 WHIP, and leading the team with 59 strike outs.

Dustin Richardson, already on the 25-man roster, could become the primary lefty out of the pen, instead of Hideki Okajima. The Japanese reliever has been in continual decline and his last four appearances have produced six runs on 10 hits over three innings. Opponents were 10 for 19 against him.

Lastly, Felix Dubront is another in-house candidate. In 26.2 innings at Pawtucket this season, the lefty has allowed just 22 hits while striking out 24. He's walked just nine batters, has a 1.16 WHIP to go along with a 2.36 ERA. Dubront made one start for the Red Sox this season, going five innings and allowing five runs on six hits.

Each of these pitchers represents a young arm that will not require a costly or regrettable trade. In a trade scenario, the Sox could end up essentially renting a bullpen arm for just two months, then losing the player to free agency at season's end.

Theo Epstein and co. have shown restraint thus far, trading only for old friend Kevin Cash. And that deal was consummated only because both catchers on the active roster went down with injuries. Minor League catchers Mark Wagner and Dusty Brown are both also on the DL.

It's as if the Red Sox have been struck by a plague.

July is the month when most trades are made. This is when clubs determine if they are buyers or sellers, based on their records and their playoff chances. Trades will heat up, but it isn't likely the Red Sox will be involved in any blockbusters.

Perhaps a veteran bullpen arm will be obtained, but not at the expense of a minor leaguer the Sox envision as part of their future.

The more likely scenario is that the team will give a shot to one of the young pitchers in their own system before making any moves they may come to regret later.

Relievers are a dicy lot. They can be costly gambles and major disappointments.

Sometimes, the best trades are the ones you don't make at all.