Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Red Sox May Be Forced to Spend; But on Who?

Japanese sensation, Yu Darvish

It's mid-December and the Red Sox still need a right fielder, a closer and two starting pitchers. The problem is that they've already committed about $170 million in payroll for 2012.

Many Sox fans likely feel that ownership should just suck it up and spend the necessary money needed to address the rotation and bullpen. Perhaps the club can go cheap in right field with Josh Reddick and Ryan Kalsih, but they'll need to spend to acquire pitching.

However, even if the Sox decide to throw caution to the wind and eclipse the luxury tax threshold, there's still a serious problem that even bundles of money cannot address.

Hardball Talk ranked the 111 best free agents available this offseason. Here's a list of the remaining free agent pitchers (starters and relievers). As you can see, it's hardly an exciting or enticing bunch.

9. Edwin Jackson (Cardinals) 14. Ryan Madson (Phillies) 15. Hiroki Kuroda (Dodgers) 18. Roy Oswalt (Phillies) 20. Javier Vazquez (Marlins) 21. Paul Maholm (Pirates) 24. Francisco Cordero (Reds) 34. Joel Pineiro (Angels) 36. Jason Marquis (D-backs) 41. Bartolo Colon (Yankees) 52. Darren Oliver (Rangers) 57. Brad Lidge (Phillies) 65. Kerry Wood (Cubs) 66. Rich Harden (Athletics) 70. Jon Garland (Dodgers) 74. Brad Penny (Tigers) 77. Chad Qualls (Padres) 78. Jeff Francis (Royals) 85. Mike Gonzalez (Rangers) 88. Livan Hernandez (Nationals) 93. Fernando Rodney (Angels) 94. Jason Isringhausen (Mets) 97. Kevin Millwood (Rockies) 100. Ben Sheets (N/A) 04. Aaron Cook (Rockies) 106. Guillermo Mota (Giants) 108. Zach Duke (D-backs) 109. Dan Wheeler (Red Sox) 111. Chris Young (Mets)

Given the dearth of available talent, perhaps the Red Sox will instead attempt to make a trade for pitching — and they needs lots of it. More on that in a moment.

According to the Boston Herald, the Red Sox remain interested in White Sox pitchers John Danks and Gavin Floyd, as well as the Oakland A’s Gio Gonzalez and the Houston Astros’ Wandy Rodriguez. The Sox are also still interested in Athletics closer Andrew Bailey.

The question is, after trading away some of their best minor league talent to acquire Victor Martinez and Adrian Gonzalez in recent years, what's left in the Sox farm system that other teams might covet? When it comes to top prospects, the Red Sox cupboard is largely bare.

Kevin Youkilis, who will be 33 at the start of next season, who has not played in more than 136 games in any of the last three seasons, and whose numbers have also been in steady decline? Clearly, the Red Sox would be selling very low.

According to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, the Rockies have expressed interest in executing a trade for Marco Scutaro. Perhaps the Sox could secure a pitcher in exchange for the veteran infielder. Though Scutaro is older and costlier, he's also tougher and better defensively than Jed Lowrie. Scutaro has a lot of heart and grit. He's given the Sox much more than anyone could have reasonably expected over the last two seasons. The Sox need more guys like him, not less.

Surely the Sox have been shopping both Lowrie and Josh Reddick. However, neither has established himself as a solid everyday major leaguer. Even in a package, the pair would have limited trade value.

Michael Bowden? Who wants him?

Felix Doubront? Don't the Red Sox already have a shortage of pitching?

Which brings us back to the other problem — aside from money.

The Red Sox typically carry 12 pitchers on their roster; five starters and seven relievers. At present, the Sox have Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard, Alfredo Aceves, Bobby Jenks, Matt Albers, Franklin Morales and Andrew Miller on their roster. That's nine pitchers, no matter how you assign them.

The reality is that Red Sox' pitching is really thin right now. So, even if the Sox somehow have faith in all of those guys (which seems dubious), they'll still need some combination of three more starters and relievers, depending on what they do with Bard and Aceves.

At this point, how can the Sox possibly rely on the up-and-down Jenks, who just had minor back surgery yesterday in Boston?

Anyone want to roll the dice with Kyle Weiland again? No? Me neither.

How about Junichi Tazawa, a pitcher who has a 7.31 ERA in nine big league appearances over two seasons? The 25-year-old had reconstructive surgery on his pitching elbow in April, 2010 and missed the rest of the season.

After rehabbing, Tazawa returned to the minors last season and posted a 4.61 ERA in 22 games played between Salem, Portland and Pawtucket.

Tazawa may be useful to the Sox at some point next season, but not in the first few months.

Given the unpredictability of Jenks, Albers and Morales, the Sox might actually need to add five or six pitchers before spring training. That's a tall order.

Given the Red Sox apparent payroll limitations and the absence of highly coveted prospects (Jose Iglesias, anyone?), the Red Sox will face some serious challenges in filling the numerous holes in their rotation and bullpen.

Boston will take $52.70 million off the books this winter. But about $33.20 will be added back in due to player raises. That leaves approximately $20 million to use in building the roster. However, by accepting arbitration, David Ortiz will probably eat up about $14 million of that.

That's a tough position for the Sox to be in; they need multiple pitchers and the new year is right on the horizon.

Yu Darvish, anyone?

After all, it's only money.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

While Red Sox Dithered, Other Clubs Improved Their Rosters

Although the Red Sox managerial search could be described as thorough, deliberative and methodical, it could also be described as dithering.

It was first reported that Terry Francona would not return as the Boston manager on the night of Sept. 29. The Red Sox and Bobby Valentine reached a verbal agreement on Nov. 29. That means the Boston front office spent two months searching for a manager.

While the Red Sox were dithering with their managerial search, they weren't focused on filling out their roster. Meanwhile, other clubs were busy addressing theirs.

The Sox lost Jonathan Papelbon and now find themselves without a closer. Even if Daniel Bard is chosen for that task, the team will still need more bullpen reinforcements — including a setup man.

Heath Bell, who would have been a really nice addition to the Sox, has agreed to a three-year, $27 million deal with the Marlins.

The length of Bell's contract is one year less than the deal Papelbon got from Philly. And the annual value of Bell's pact is less than the $12 million Papelbon made last year with the Red Sox, and the $9.35 million Papelbon made in 2010.

That would have made Bell a steal for the Sox.

Bell managed a 2.36 ERA and 1.16 WHIP over the past three seasons in San Diego, a span in which he also saved at least 42 games annually. Bell is the kind of reliever that would have softened the blow of losing Papelbon.

It's been reported that the Sox talked to Bell's agent before he signed with the Marlins, but weren't willing to engage in similar contract terms.

However, it's fairly easy to draw the conclusion that the Sox missed the boat on this one and were caught unprepared because they were preoccupied with a managerial search that should have been completed a couple of weeks ago.

Valentine was the right guy all along. So, it's reasonable to ask, what took so long?

While the Marlins, White Sox, Cardinals and Cubs all acted quickly and decisively, the Red Sox vacillated.

The Boston front office wasted valuable time and now needs to turn its attention to the starting rotation and the bullpen — not to mention right field.

At this point, the Sox have just three starters; Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz.

Beckett has thrown 200 innings in just one of the last four seasons. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2002, Beckett has been beset with assorted injuries. Consequently, he has never finished better than ninth in innings pitched. Beckett is not what you would call a workhorse or an innings eater.

Buchholz has never thrown more than 173.2 innings in his career, and after suffering a stress fracture in his back, managed just 82.2 last season. Since there is no precedent for it, Buchholz clearly cannot be counted on for 200 innings next year.

Until last season, when he threw 191.2 innings, Lester had thrown at least 200 innings for three straight years. He is the only one of the three that appears to be built to last.

That makes the four and five spots in the Sox rotation very important. The Red Sox require both talent and depth. They need tough, durable starters who will stay healthy and give them lots of innings, taking pressure off the bullpen.

Given his back issues, Roy Oswalt is not that guy. Red Sox officials are expected to meet with Bob Garber, the agent for Oswalt and CJ Wilson, this week.

Reportedly, the Red Sox have also expressed interest in free agent Mark Buehrle (who has already thrown nearly 2,500 innings in his career), Japanese star Yu Darvish, Astros' starter Wandy Rodriguez, A's hurler Gio Gonzalez and White Sox starters John Danks and Gavin Floyd, among others.

Yet, Boston has other pitching needs to address, above and beyond their need for two starters.

The Red Sox bullpen had just three consistent, reliable components last season; Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard and Alfredo Aceves. Having opted to sign with the Phillies, Papelbon will not return to the Sox pen in 2012. That's left a big hole which must now be filled.

There has been much talk about moving either Bard or Aceves to the rotation in 2012.

However, last season, Aceves threw a career high 114 innings. How can anyone reasonably expect him to toss anything close to 200 innings in 2012? And taking either Bard or Aceves from the bullpen would create even bigger holes in a relief corps that already has lost Papelbon, creating as much doubt about the pen as the rotation.

Who's counting on Bobby Jenks at this point?

The Red Sox could pursue Oakland closer Andrew Bailey, Colorado closer Houston Street or Kansas City closer Joakim Soria via trade.

However, dealing for Adrian Gonzalez and Victor Martinez in recent years has left the upper ranks of the Sox farm system depleted of the kind of talent that other GMs covet.

Signing a free agent requires only dollars. However, trading for an impact player often requires the kind of prospects the Red Sox just don't have at this point. Players such as Jed Lowrie and Josh Reddick will generate limited interest and little return.

The Sox could also try to deal the versatile Kevin Youkilis for a pitcher. But, due to injuries, Youkilis — who will be 33 at the start of next season — has averaged just 111 games over the last two seasons and hasn't played in more than 136 games in the past three. That will affect his trade value.

The Red Sox could make a low dollar, one-year offer to Erik Bedard. But he has a long injury history and cannot be relied on. In seven seasons, Bedard has yet to throw 200 innings.

However, when healthy, Bedard is very effective, as his 3.70 career ERA and .97 strikeouts per inning will attest.

The Sox could also make a similar offer to Andrew Miller, who holds a 5.79 ERA over six seasons. But, at this point, the jury is in; Miller just isn't a very good Major League pitcher.

The Sox could also go the inexpensive, in-house route with Junichi Tazawa or Felix Doubront. But both pitchers are unproven at the Major League level and would amount to nothing more than a risky experiment.

However the Red Sox choose — or are forced — to address their pitching needs, there is plenty of work to do this offseason. And some of that work will begin this week at the Winter Meetings in Dallas. At the very least, the groundwork for free agent signings and/or trades should be laid there.

The Yankees got lucky with low risk contracts for Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia last offseason. Maybe the Red Sox could be similarly lucky this winter.

However, the Red Sox have tried that route many times — to no avail — in recent years, with Wade Miller, Joel Piniero, Brad Penny and John Smoltz, to name a few.

It's one thing to take a flier on a fifth starer. It's entirely another to do so with two-fifths of your starting rotation.

The Red Sox have many needs this offseason. But given the amount of time squandered searching for their manager — who was underneath their noses all along — they now have a lot less time to address all those needs.

This week's meetings in Dallas will be both revealing and important. In large part, the Red Sox are built to win now and need a few critical pieces.

That makes this offseason — and this week in particular — critical to the organization's goals, and the fan's expectations, for the 2012 season.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

In Rebuilding Red Sox Rotation, Ben Cherington Faces Daunting Task

As new Red Sox GM Ben Cherington evaluates the available pool of free agent starters, he must be both underwhelmed and concerned. It will take significant dollars to sign the likes of CJ Wilson, Mark Buehrle, Roy Oswalt, or Edwin Jackson, the top free agent starters on the market this winter.

The Red Sox enter the offseason with just three proven starters: Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. Consequently, Cherington is tasked with finding two additional starters, plus one or two reserves for the inevitable injuries that will occur over the long haul of a 162-game season.

Given how the Red Sox have fared in recent forays into the free agent pitching market with Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey (both of whom have undergone Tommy John surgery and will miss most, or all, of the 2012 season), it is doubtful the Sox will be big spenders in the free agent pitching market this winter.

The talent pool just isn't particularly deep, or talented.

Adding CJ Wilson would represent a continuation of the high-priced free agent strategy that hasn't worked for the Red Sox to this point. Moreover, Wilson, who turns 31 this week, has been a starter for only two years.

The upside is that Wilson has thrown just 708 Major League innings through age 30. As a starter, the lefty has exceeded 200 innings in each of the last two seasons, while posting a 3.15 ERA in that span.

The downside is that this represents a very small sample size, and Wilson is going to command a huge salary based on this rather slim resume. Furthermore, scouts worry that Wilson's mechanics will lead to arm issues in the future.

Mark Buehrle is 32, has 12 seasons under his belt, and has already thrown an eye-popping 2,476 innings in his career. The lefty is undoubtedly an innings-eater, having exceeded 200 innings in each of the last 11 seasons.

But he is now past his prime and investing in a pitcher at that age, with that many innings, is an obvious risk.

Buehrle also pitches to contact and relies on an excellent defense behind him as a result.

Roy Oswalt is 34 and has two degenerative disks in his lower back. Red Flag.

For whatever reason, Edwin Jackson cannot stick with one club, having pitched for six teams since 2005.

No matter; the combination of Matsuzaka and Lackey has the Red Sox on the hook for nearly $27 million in salary next season, making it unlikely they will invest heavily for a fourth or fifth starter.

When you look at the available fourth and fifth-starter types out there — such as Chris Capuano, Bruce Chen, Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis, Freddy Garcia, Jon Garland, Aaron Harang, Rich Harden, Paul Maholm, Jason Marquis and former Red Sox Bartolo Colon, Brad Penny and Joel Piniero — it’s tough to get excited.

This is the reality that Cherington is faced with as he attempts to rebuild the rotation this winter. It is truly a daunting task.

As much as most Red Sox fans may not like it, it's fairly certain that Tim Wakefield (and his 5.23 ERA the last two seasons) will return in a limited role as an inexpensive insurance policy.

The Sox may also be forced to bring back Andrew Miller (5.79 ERA over six seasons) and the often-injured Erik Bedard as well.

Minor leaguers Junichi Tazawa and Felix Doubront could each be given the opportunity to start. However, Doubront is so undisciplined that he showed up out of shape at spring training this year and was soon injured, subsequently missing most of the season.

Unfortunately, as far as starting pitching is concerned, the pickings look slim right now.

There are differing reports on whether the Sox will get involved in the bidding for Yu Darvish, the latest Japanese pitching sensation. But we know how the last one worked out.

The Sox could always turn to a trade. The organization would gladly offer up any combination of Jed Lowrie, Josh Reddick and Lars Anderson for a starting pitcher. However, none of them has ever been an everyday player at the Major League level, meaning that they have limited trade value.

There has been much discussion about the possibility of trading Kevin Youkilis. However, his value is not high at the moment.

Youkilis will be 33 in March and batted just .258 this year. He has averaged 111 games played over the past two seasons. In fact, due to injuries, Youkilis, hasn’t played over 136 games in the last three seasons.

The third baseman also had just 111 hits each of the last two years. The troubling part is that Youkilis had 82 more at-bats in 2011 than in 2010. In addition, his homer totals over the last four seasons have spiraled downward: 29, 27, 19, 17.

The departure of Jonathan Papelbon virtually assures that Daniel Bard will remain in the bullpen. Perhaps that is best. Bard has never started in the majors, and the last time he did start was while playing Class-A ball in 2007. That season he posted a 7.08 ERA over 22 starts.

However, the Red Sox have told Alfredo Aceves to report to spring training prepared to be a starter, which is his preference. The club already controls him and he is a cheap alternative.

Such a move will necessitate yet another addition to the bullpen. Yet, as unreliable as bullpen pitchers may be, there are a lot more of them out there than useful starting pitchers.

While many people support the notion of making Aceves a starter, it should be noted that he posted a 2.03 ERA in 51 relief appearances and a 5.14 ERA in four starts.

Even if the Red Sox count on successfully converting Aceves, they will still need another starter to round out the rotation and two more for adequate depth.

That's a tall order. The Red Sox are not the only team looking for starting pitching and reserve depth this offseason.

Good luck, Ben Cherington. You've certainly got your work cut out for you.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Thanks, And So Long, Theo. The Red Sox Will Be Fine Without You

From the very beginning, his exit was merely an eventuality. Theo Epstein would one day no longer be the Red Sox General Manager.

When he was first selected by the Red Sox ownership group in 2002, Epstein became the youngest GM in Major League history. With the success that soon followed, he was widely viewed as a baseball wunderkind.

When your team plays in two consecutive League Championship Series and wins a World Series during your first three years on the job, that happens.

Additionally, when you win two World Series in a four-year span, and appear in four League Championships Series in a six-year span, people tend to see you as a baseball savant.

However, the reality is that Epstein inherited a 93-win Red Sox team from former GM Dan Duquette. The roster Epstein inherited had a host a talent, including Nomar Garciaparra, Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, Pedro Martinez, Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek, and Derek Lowe.

Duquette had drafted Garciaparra, Kevin Youkilis, David Eckstein, Adam Everett, Hanley Ramirez, and Freddy Sanchez, leaving the Red Sox farm system well-stocked.

That enabled the Sox to make a major deal with the Marlins in 2005, swapping Hanley Ramirez for pitcher Josh Beckett and third baseman Mike Lowell. That deal essentially won the Sox the 2007 World Series championship.

Duquette’s performance as GM was solid. His big-ticket acquisitions - Martinez and Ramirez - worked out well.

The same cannot be said of Epstein.

While Epstein struck pay dirt with low cost, under-the-radar free agent acquisitions like Bill Meuller, Kevin Millar and David Ortiz, his tenure with the Sox was also marred by a series of high-priced busts.

John Lackey, Bobby Jenks, Mike Cameron, JD Drew, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Julio Lugo, Matt Clement and Edgar Renteria were all disappointments or outright busts.

And while the Carl Crawford experiment is still incomplete, it's clear that his previous accomplishments with the Rays never warranted such a massive long term deal in the first place.

During his years as the Red Sox GM, Epstein also made an assortment of trades, with mixed success.

Without question, the highlight was the acquisition of Curt Schilling for Casey Fossum, Brandon Lyon and two minor league pitchers. Obviously, that proved to be a shrewd move and it benefitted the Red Sox immensely.

But many trades orchestrated by Epstein proved regrettable.

In 2003, Epstein traded away Freddy Sanchez — an eventual batting champion and All-Star — for righthander Jeff Suppan.

Suppan, a journeyman who had come up with the Red Sox in 1995, had a career ERA of 5.51 when Epstein acquired him. True to form, Suppan posted a 3-4 record and a 5.57 ERA upon his return. His performance was so miserable that the Red Sox gladly let the free agent walk away that offseason.

Trading for Coco Crisp never worked out as projected either, especially since Crisp was chosen over Johnny Damon.

Epstein reportedly offered Damon a four-year contract valued at $40 million and refused to match the Yankees four-year, $52 million offer. That was clearly a regrettable decision. Damon had four very productive seasons with the Yankees and won a World Series title with New York.

Epstein has long admitted that trading Bronson Arroyo for Willy Mo Pena was a big mistake. Pena has bounced back and forth between the minors and majors, and from organization to organization, ever since. However, no other GM seemed nearly as enchanted by Pena's power potential as Epstein was.

Meanwhile, all Arroyo has done is win 79 games over six seasons with the Reds, throwing a minimum of 199 innings in each of them.

One of Epstein's best decisions as GM was the trade of Garciaparra, who had become a malcontent in Boston. In exchange, the Red Sox received Doug Mientkiewicz and Orlando Cabrera, the later of whom proved to be a real spark for the Sox down the stretch and in the playoffs.

However, despite Cabrera's boundless energy, enthusiasm and popularity with teammates and fans alike, Epstein chose not to offer him a free agent contract after the 2004 season, opting for Renteria instead. That move proved to be a double-whammy for the Sox, in which they lost twice with just one bad decision by their GM.

Epstein also struck out with his lamentable decision to trade for closer Eric Gagné at the deadline in 2007. As a result of the Mitchell Report, it is now known that Epstein had been coveting Gagné since the previous offseason.

In a November 2006 email exchange, Epstein questioned Red Sox scout Marc Del Piano about the possible acquisition of the then free agent closer. In the email, Epstein asked DelPiano, "Have you done any digging on Gagne? I know the Dodgers think he was a steroid guy. Maybe so. What do you hear on his medical?"

DelPiano replied that "steroids IS the issue" with Gagné, questioned his "poise and commitment" and expressed questions about his durability "without steroid help."

Despite the reservations expressed by Delpiano, Epstein still traded Kason Gabbard and minor league outfielders David Murphy and Engel Beltré to the Texas Rangers for Gagné on July 31, 2007.

Gagné was an unmitigated disaster in Boston, posting a 6.75 ERA over 20 games, which led to him being kept off the post-season roster.

Murphy, meanwhile, has been a starting outfielder for Texas ever since and has now represented the Rangers in two consecutive World Series.

Lastly, Epstein also traded Justin Masterson (plus minor league pitchers Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price) to the Indians for Victor Martinez. However, Martinez played with the Red Sox for just eight months before leaving via free agency.

Now that Martinez is gone, the Red Sox have nothing to show for the loss of Masterson, who has emerged as one of the better young starters in the AL. The big righty posted a 3.21 ERA in 2011, while tossing 216 innings for Cleveland.

Meanwhile, the Indians have Masterson, who is only arbitration eligible, under their control for the next two seasons at a low cost.

It must also be noted that part of Epstein's legacy is assembling a clubhouse full of coddled, overindulged millionaires.

Terry Francona was known as a player's manager. However, it now seems that such a disposition will no longer work in the entitled environment of the Red Sox clubhouse. That said, Francona was not the problem; he was merely a symptom.

This is Theo's team; it was his creation. He built this squad of rich, spoiled, prima donnas.

But it seems that Francona did indeed lose his clubhouse, and he knew it.

Jim Rice said the Red Sox clubhouse was a "spa." On their off-days, pitchers were said to be drinking beer there during games, instead of rooting on their teammates from the dugout.

There were reports of cliques among the pitchers, of resentment among teammates, of a culture of entitlement, of complacency. Apparently the pitchers, particularly the starters, rarely spoke to position players and that created a gulf in the clubhouse.

Remember the old "25 cabs for 25 players" Red Sox? Well, they're back.

Players were out of shape and lacked conditioning; that's just unprofessional. The only regular players who routinely showed up for optional batting practice were Dustin Pedroia and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

The Red Sox were a team divided.

Yet, many are sorry to see Francona go. That's understandable since he was such a likable man. In many ways, Francona seems like the fall guy for Epstein's mistakes. But the Sox now need a true General to get the players in line, and they need to lose a few players too — starting with John Lackey.

However, almost as quickly as this season was over, Lackey has already been lost — but perhaps not for good. Sitting out the 2012 season due to Tommy John surgery will essentially make lackey untradable. And he'll have to prove himself in 2013 before any team might even consider taking on that risk.

Epstein knew about existing issues with Lackey's elbow, yet still handed him a massive, five-year, $82.5 million contract anyway. It was for this reason that the Red Sox had language inserted in the pact assuring that if Lackey lost significant time due to this pre-existing elbow issue, the Red Sox could have him for the league minimum in a sixth year.

How's that sound, Red Sox fans? Looking forward to John Lackey, year-six, yet?

As Red Sox GM, Epstein was the beneficiary of the second or third highest payroll in baseball virtually every year he was at the helm. That money was not always well-spent.

While Red Sox ownership can be rightfully criticized for being distracted by its ventures into Roush Racing and Liverpool soccer, it must also be credited for providing the financial resources to field a very competitive team each and every year. And it is not a meddling ownership; it has let its baseball operations people do their jobs without interference.

For better or worse, Epstein's organizational philosophy will remain largely intact with the passing of the torch to his minion, Ben Cherington. Over the past decade, the Red Sox have done a laudable job a drafting and player development.

The one hiccup was the lack of a big league-ready starter when one was suddenly needed this season. The hole in the pitching-development chain suddenly appeared gaping. Naturally, this hole will close with time.

Yet, it doesn't appear that the Sox have a single minor league pitcher currently ready to step in and make a meaningful contribution in 2012 — at least not out of the gate. However, that may change in a year, or so.

Sadly, one thing that didn't change on Eptein's watch was the Red Sox' long, sorry history of players leaving the team on bad terms: Nomar, Pedro, Damon, Manny, Jason Bay; who knows who will be next? That's a shame. However, Damon aside, management has mostly made good calls in letting its free agents walk.

The bottom line is that Theo didn't build the 2004 team as much as he inherited it. Even the acquisitions of Beckett and Lowell, so instrumental to the 2007 Championship, were not Epstein's doing. In fact, he was said to be so in love with Hanley Ramirez that many believe he wouldn't have consummated that trade.

The Red Sox reign is not over. Epstein's reign is over, as is Francona's. The organization is bigger than any GM or any manager. Every tenure must eventually end. The fact that Epstein lasted nine years and Francona eight is remarkable in modern pro sports.

They endured because the team was mostly enjoying success over that span.

However, Francona lost control of the team and Epstein made some very poor free agent / trade decisions that the club is still living with and paying for.

Too many Red Sox players are spoiled, lazy and entitled. New leadership is needed.

It's difficult to tell how different Cherington will be; after all he was groomed by Epstein and served as his right hand man for so many years. The drafting and development philosophies will likely remain the same, but free agent evaluation needs to improve markedly.

Cherington inherits a team that now has a recent history of winning and is no longer burdened by 1918. The Sox are a historic franchise and a marquee team. The new management team will have an enormous payroll at their disposal and top-notch scouting and development resources.

The Red Sox are also a team with a record sellout streak still intact and huge TV revenues. This is a prime opportunity for any management team.

While the Sox recent successes led to the pressure of great expectations, the team Epstein inherited faced even bigger expectations; they hadn't won it all in 84 years.

And let's face it; every team faces pressure and expectations. Defeat quickly gets old for everyone. If you continually lose (like the Pirates), you also lose your fan base and your revenues, meaning you can't recruit top free agents.

In Boston, there is certainly the pressure of fielding a competitive team, a winning team. But could there possibly be any more pressure now than in the decades leading up to 2004?

This team needs the new leadership it is getting. They will be fine.

However, the Red Sox do face lots of moving parts this offseason; David Ortiz, Jonathan Papelbon, Jason Varitek, Tim Wakefield, etc.

Kevin Youkilis has one year left on his deal. How does he factor into whether or not the Sox re-sign Ortiz? What trade value does Youk have after breaking down in consecutive seasons?

Who is the right fielder? Who are the fourth and fifth starters?

There are lots and lots of questions.

Most immediately, the Red Sox need a skipper who will act like a General and restore order from chaos. And that General will need a pitching coach to be his Colonel. Some asses need to be kicked, and perhaps some players need to be kicked out.

The Red Sox players have lost sight of how good they have it compared to the rest of society. They've forgotten how everyone else lives. They travel first class. They stay at first class hotels. They are paid in the millions annually — even the tens of millions. They get a per diem on the road and have huge spreads in the clubhouse every day. They get adulation and adoration.

And they feel entitled to all of it. That has to change.

More than anyone else, Theo Epstein is responsible for this culture. He assembled this team, not Terry Francona. And for that, Epstein must take the blame.

This is the immediate legacy he has now passed on to Ben Cherington.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Red Sox Epic Collapse Must Have Consequences

The Red Sox gave Adrian Gonzalez 154 million reasons to smile this year.

Yes, the Red Sox had well-documented pitching problems this season.

Going into the season's final game in Baltimore, the Boston rotation had a September ERA of 7.26 — the highest starter's ERA in any month in the HISTORY of the Boston Red Sox.

Jon Lester's quality start in game 162 was a genuine rarity in this lamentable month. Red Sox starters made only five quality starts in 27 games in September.

Even the usually reliable set-up man Daniel Bard had a 10.64 ERA in September, exemplifying this team's collapse.

The poor performances and outright failures all culminated in a September winning percentage of .259, the worst for any Red Sox team since August of 1964.

The Red Sox clubs of the 1960s were largely awful, providing some perspective on just how historically dreadful this particular team was in September.

The Red Sox went 7-20 during the month, their most September losses since the 1952 club also dropped 20 games. This year's team lost 16 of their final 21 games. It was disgusting to watch.

The Red Sox ineptitude was historic by any measure.

They had a nine-game wild card lead on September 3, before their unravelling and epic collapse. No baseball team in history has ever blown a bigger lead in the final month of the season.

This Red Sox team became historic for all the wrong reasons.

Their despicable play wasn't an anomaly. Remember, this is the same team that started the season 0-6 and 2-10. They showed their true colors way back in April.

From the beginning, this was a team with no heart.

After sweeping a doubleheader from the Athletics on August 27, the Red Sox went more than a month without winning a game on consecutive days. That's just pathetic.

When the Sox were winning, from May through August, they did so by out-slugging their opponents. But the Sox had just two wins in September in which they didn't score eight or more runs.

This was a feast or famine ball club.

The Sox were 76-1 when leading after eight innings this year. The one loss was not only the last of the season, but the worst of the season.

However, the Sox rallied for victory just two times when trailing after the seventh inning. That's a sign of a team with no character.

Underneath all the star power — all the fire power — this team was weak. It was gutless. It had no heart.

The $160 million Red Sox finished in third place for the second straight season. This was a club marked by hubris, arrogance and complacency.

A serious lack of leadership ultimately led to the Red Sox' demise. They were a team that made things look easy for most of the season and — the first two weeks of April aside — never faced any adversity until September.

When the going got tough, the Sox never got it going. And even then, the only real enemy was themselves.

Outside of Dustin Pedroia, there was no sign of passion, no drive, no desire, no fire and no ferocity on this club. It was a team without a pulse.

The Red Sox' two biggest offseason acquisitions, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, displayed the same countenance whether they were hitting a two-run homer or into an inning-ending double play.

Jason Varitek was still the team's captain in 2011. But, at 39-years of age, Varitek was reduced to the role of part-time player, appearing in just 68 games this season.

Factor in that Varitek batted just .221/.300/.423, with 11 homers and 36 RBI this year, and you can see that the captain no longer leads by example.

No one ever questioned Varitek's heart, desire, or preparation. And even now, only a fool would. But it's clear that Varitek's playing days are over and that he is no longer a suitable captain for this team. It's time to pass the torch.

For all of his strengths, Kevin Youkilis is not a leader. Yes, Youk displays passion, but it's usually when arguing with an umpire after a strike out.

That aside, Youkilis has broken down in consecutive seasons and did not play down the stretch in either year.

Once you get past that group of everyday players in the lineup, you're left with a leadership vacuum.

Whether he will ever become one or not, Jacoby Ellsbury is not presently a leader. He is as laid back as they come.

Ellsbury gives the media the most trite, canned answers, as if he studied them in an old baseball quote book. He doesn't speak from the heart and doesn't seem to be a guy who can light a fire under his teammates.

His incredible season notwithstanding, Ellsbury does not appear to have the stuff of a leader.

Carl Crawford was an outright bust this year. There was not one facet of his game that can give this team or its fans even a glimmer of hope that he will eventually live up to his massive $142 million contract.

Even Crawford's speed was neutralized this season; he stole just 18 bases while playing in 130 games. This is a guy who swiped at least 40 bases in seven seasons, and at least 50 in five of them. Perhaps it was a consequence of his horrendous .289 OBP, which ranked 137th out of 145 qualifiers in the majors.

Crawford, a Gold Glove winner in 2010, looked barely competent in the outfield at times this season. That was best symbolized when he missed two sliding catch attempts in the season's waning days, the last of which being the final play of the Red Sox' season.

What's perhaps most concerning about Crawford is that he is so stunningly passive. Like JD Drew before him, nothing seems to faze Crawford. Such apparent indifference does not go over well in Boston — especially not from $142 million players.

Crawford epitomizes the organization's regrettable penchant for handing out huge free agent contracts that don't pay off.

The Red Sox have spent about $340 million on payroll over the past two seasons, and they don't even have a playoff appearance to show for it, much less a win.

Even Adrian Gonzalez, who led the team with 213 hits, a .338 average and 117 RBI, faded down the stretch.

Gonzalez's average, OBP and slugging all declined after the All Star break, and September was one of his weakest months in nearly every statistical category this season.

Gonzalez already had a troubling history of playing on a team that faded down the stretch, en route to an epic choke.

Last year, his Padres were 76-49 on August 26 — the best record in the NL. With 37 games to go, they were 6 1/2 games ahead of the Giants. Yet, San Diego ultimately lost the division lead and watched their playoff hopes go up in smoke.

Sound familiar?

Down the stretch, the Padres succumbed to a 10-game losing streak that was the club's worst since 1994.

So, the Red Sox collapse this season was nothing new to Gonzalez. Despite these consecutive failings, the star player took no responsibility for any of it. Instead, Gonzalez blamed the 'big man in the sky'.

When asked to describe the Red Sox epic choke, Gonzalez responded this way:

"I'm a firm believer that God has a plan and it wasn't his plan for us to move forward."

So now you know; God is not a Red Sox fan. But he is, however, a Yankees fan, a Rays fan and even an Orioles fan.

When a reporter asked, "Is there anything that you can put your finger on that didn't work out at all?", Gonzalez nonchalantly replied, "God didn't have it in the cards for us."

It was a pathetic response. Gonzalez looked and sounded completely unfazed about his team's stunning loss and the horrible end to their season. Gonzalez took zero responsibility as he dispassionately chatted with the assembled media in the locker room after the game.

"It didn't happen," said Gonzalez, cooly. "You know, next year we'll come out and do a better job — you know — when we have that lead."

Ho hum. No worries.

Gonzalez is gutless. He has no heart. He is apathetic. He exemplifies everything that is wrong with the Red Sox; a lack of passion, fire and accountability.

There will be consequences. There must be consequences. This epic collapse cannot be viewed as anything less than completely unacceptable.

Theo Epstein should be front and center in the blame game. He gave Terry Francona this team of softies — this roster of underachieving millionaires. Most of them displayed disinterest and apathy. They had no spirit.

The Red Sox players are all too comfortable with their seven, eight and nine-figure contracts, their bling and their fancy cars. They believe their own hype. They love the cameras, the microphones, the endorsements, the attention and the adulation.

However, they've forgotten that they're supposed to work for all of it. They're supposed to earn it.

That needs to be changed. Soft players need to be jettisoned. In their place, the Red Sox need some players with heart, guts and determination. In short, they need more guys like Dustin Pedroia.

The Sox need to feel the hunger again. Winning, and the big contracts that came with it, has made them soft.

Big changes are in order, which is just what this team needs. However, the Red Sox are stuck with the rather bloated contracts of some major under-achievers.

Three years remain on John Lackey's deal and six more on Crawford's. Both players' problems, and their salaries, are not secrets. It will be very hard to move either player.

Lackey's 6.41 ERA, 1.62 WHIP and .308 opponents' batting average were last among pitchers with at least 160 innings.

Lackey is a cancer. He personifies this team's lack of accountability and responsibility. The thought of him returning next year is an awful one.

If you're looking for good news, or a glimmer of hope, JD Drew's contract has officially expired.

Who will replace him? At this point, it's pretty clear that it won't be Josh Reddick. That's one safe bet as this offseason begins.

No matter who it is, throwing money at their problems has not led to success in the Theo Epstein era. The Red Sox have not been able to buy themselves a Word Series Championship.

John Henry's money has not been well spent.

He cannot be happy about that.

No one's job should be safe.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Success Has Led to Complacency in Red Sox

The Red Sox started and ended the 2011 season very disappointingly.

The 2010 Red Sox won 89 games, marking the first time in four years that the team failed to win at least 95 games.

The organization has set a goal of 95 wins each season in order to be playoff contenders in the highly competitive AL East.

Bear in mind, even with that goal, the Red Sox have won just one AL East title in 16 years.

This year's Red Sox club has just 88 wins, with five games yet to be played. Even if the Sox were to run the table, they would once again fail to win 95 games this season.

Only twice in the previous eight years have the Sox failed to win at least 95 games.

Much more was expected. After all, this is a club with the highest payroll in team history.

The highly disappointing 2011 season only leads to genuine questions about this team's heart, its desire and its hunger.

The Red Sox seemed to think that a 100-win season and a World Series Championship were their destiny. Perhaps they thought they deserved those things, and that they'd win simply by showing up and taking the field.

This year, the Red Sox often made winning look easy. Until their September swoon, the only adversity the Sox had faced was the April stretch in which they went 0-6 and 2-10 to start the season.

But this month, when the going got tough, the Sox just collapsed. Instead of fighting, they ran away and went into hiding.

You could call it apathy. But I say it's even worse.

This is a weak team with no character and no heart. There are some players on this squad who seem more concerned with their own stats and their next contracts than with winning ball games.

If the Red Sox continue this epic unravelling in the coming days, significant changes are in order.

It matters not whether this club makes the playoffs. They will almost certainly be bounced in the first round. Should they even get there, who would truly be surprised if the Sox were swept in the ALDS?

This is not what John Henry and Tom Werner thought they were paying for. This team was stacked from day one and built to win. This season can only be viewed as an epic failure.

The front office let manager Terry Francona enter this season unsigned beyond 2011. Even when the Sox looked like the best team in baseball for much of the season, Theo Epstein and Co. were unwilling to offer Francona an extension.

The Red Sox hold options for future years, yet have given no indication that they want Francona back next year or beyond.

Maybe the Red Sox were withholding the extension as a motivational tool. One way or the other, Francona's future with the Red Sox is suddenly in question and his job may be on the line.

Personally, I think Epstein is far more to blame for this team's under-performance, due to all of his horrible signings. He gave Francona a team of overpaid, underachievers and expected him to win with them.

To follow is a list of the Red Sox highly expensive busts in 2011:

John Lackey $15.25M
Carl Crawford $14M
JD Drew $14M
Dice-K $10M
Mike Cameron $7.25M
Bobby Jenks $6M
Total $66.5M

The Sox got nothing, or next to nothing, from each of the above players.

Apparently, the whopping sum of $66.5 million doesn't buy what it used to.

That figure is equal to the entire payroll of the A's and more than the payrolls of the Nationals ($63.8M), Jays ($62.5M), Marlins ($56.9M), Diamondbacks ($53.6M), Indians ($49.1M), Padres ($45.8M), Pirates ($45M), Rays ($41M) and Royals ($36.1M).

Think about that; the Red Sox paid $66.5 million to just six under-achieving players, and it is more than the entire 25-man rosters of nine Major League teams.

Count me among those who are actually hoping this Red Sox team ultimately loses. They simply don't deserve a playoff spot. And what Red Sox fan actually wants to see this team continue to get embarrassed, as they have been all month long?

Failure is the first, necessary step in restoring desire, passion and accountability. It has to be an organic process. Bring it on.

Ultimately, the Red Sox now expect to win every year, which has led to complacency. That is a recipe for failure and let down.

This is not what the ownership is paying for. This is is not what the fans are paying for.

Everyone expects more, including the players.

The difference is, the players actually have to go out and earn it on the field.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Red Sox Will Face Same Issues Next Year If Rotation Isn't Upgraded

After the middle-three pictured above, who else?

The fading Red Sox may not play another game at Fenway Park in 2010.

If that's the case, the Sox went 45-36 at home this season, their worst record since the 2002 team went 42-39.

The Sox dropped 20 of their final 33 games at Fenway and were 3-7 on the last homestand.

In the midst of a historically awful September, the Red Sox are now 5-16. They have lost five of six, 12 of 15, 14 of 18 and 16 of of their last 21 games.

The defense has been horrible in that stretch, committing 23 errors in the last 21 games. More errors than games? Yes, it's true.

And Red Sox' hitters have been entirely unpredictable, at times capable of huge offensive explosions, while at other times seeming laconic.

Lately, the once reliable Sox offense has been leaving far too any runners on base — many in scoring position — and grounding weakly into rally-killing double-plays.

But if you're looking for the real culprit in this epic — call it historic — collapse that is presently underway, look no further than Red Sox pitching.

The team's starting pitchers have given up 66 runs in the last 18 games.

In the four-game series against Baltimore, Red Sox' starters had a 9.47 ERA. The bullpen had a 5.83 ERA.

It's easy to feel emotionally detached from this team at this point; they seem like a bunch of highly paid underachievers.

The Sox have gotten little to nothing from left and right fields this season, and Kevin Youkilis was never really himself. That's a third of the lineup.

Last year's club was injury-plagued, yet scrappy. They had an assortment of nobodies, journeymen and rookies that all made meaningful contributions.

In short, they were a bunch of overachievers who were really easy to root for.

This year, the Red Sox opened the season with a roster full of All Stars and were the prohibitive AL favorites. By most estimates, the only thing between them and another World Series Championship was the Philadelphia Philles.

Indeed, this year's club has also had its share of injuries, the biggest of which was to Clay Buchholz, who hasn't taken the mound in more than three months. That really hurt.

But most of the injuries the Sox contended with were of the 15-day DL variety. It's part of the game; every team deals with it.

As far as the longer term injuries are concerned, given their histories, how much were guys like Daisuke Matsuzaka, JD Drew and Booby Jenks really expected to contribute? Rich Hill was a more significant loss.

Once it's clear that starting pitching was the reason for the Red Sox demise, one starter deserves most of the blame.

If John Lackey had only been the guy the Red Sox paid for and were expecting — say, just a solid No. 3 starter — they would have had three dependable starters and could have won three-fifths of their games.

That's not to say that those three starters would have won every start, but the other two wouldn't have lost every start either.

I wrote off this team weeks ago. I'm already thinking about next year, which will be very interesting.

The Sox will bring back three solid, reliable starters: Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and Buchholz. But after that?

They may, and should, try to dump Lackey. He's not cut out for this team, this town, or this division. It's time to acknowledge that signing Lackey was a regrettable decision and move on. Perhaps an NL team would be willing to take him if the Sox eat most of the contract.

Tim Wakefield cannot be depended on any more and is no longer a quality starter. Over the last two seasons, Wakefield has a 5.21 ERA; over the last three it's 5.00. It's time to say goodbye.

Andrew Miller was an experiment that failed, At this point, he's been a washout with three different MLB teams. Miller should have spent the entire year in the minors, where he belonged, working on his mechanics and delivery.

The Red Sox cannot possibly feel confident opening next season with Miller as one of their five starters.

A good question is whether Erik Bedard will come back on a one-year deal (perhaps with an option) to try to prove that he can stay healthy. Bedard seems to like the energy of Fenway and playing on a competitive team, which is something he never did in Baltimore or Seattle.

But, at this point, can the Red Sox place any confidence in him at all? Bedard hasn't remained healthy and made at least 30 starts since 2006.

Dice-K is not coming back next spring, and that's a good thing.

Kyle Weiland proved that he is not yet ready, and he may never be. Felix Doubront took huge steps backward this year. And there is no one else in the minors that is ready to step into the starting rotation right out of spring training.

When it comes to the last two spots in the rotation, the Red Sox have way more questions than answers.

This is a team that is way too highly paid to have two gaping holes in its rotation and to look this bad.

If they don't address those final two spots, we'll be looking at the same situation again next year.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Red Sox in Midst of Epic Collapse

John Lackey has been a colossal failure this season and may be Theo Epstein's worst free agent signing.

I'm here to tell you right now that this season won't end well for the Red Sox. Consider this their epitaph.

In the last 31 games, Sox' starting pitchers have gone seven innings just three times. In that span, the Sox also have the worst ERA in baseball

Monday's double-header marked the 15th time in 19 games this month that a Red Sox starter has failed to go at least six innings. The Red Sox have lost 13 of those 15 games.

The lack of quality starts is just killing the Red Sox.

But it's not just pitching alone. The Sox have committed 21 errors in 19 games this month.

It's tough to find anything to feel truly optimistic about with this team right now.

Though they are capable of wild offensive highs, like the 18-run outbursts against the Orioles Monday night, the Sox are also prone to offensive hibernation. On six occasions this month, the Sox have scored two or fewer runs.

With this offense, lately, it's been feast or famine.

Boston cannot hope to win in the postseason with the kind of offensive explosions they've had much of this year. Such eruptions won't occur in the playoffs, should the Sox even get that far.

Playoff teams have great pitching — the kind that shuts down offenses and results in low-scoring games.

But the Red Sox don't possess that kind of pitching, which is why I think they won't make it very far in the playoffs — should they even qualify.

Honestly, with a two-game lead over the Rays in the loss column, and eight games to go, would it really surprise anyone if Tampa overtakes Boston?

The Sox have lost 12 of their last 15 games and do not even resemble a playoff team at this point. They have not won two in a row since August 27, when they swept a doubleheader from Oakland.

The Red Sox recent offensive and defensive struggles may iron themselves out. After all, the Sox have had the best offense in baseball this season and they also have the seventh best fielding percentage in the game.

It's the starting pitching that likely gives Theo Epstein sleepless nights. The present rotation cannot — and will not — win the Pennant, much less the World Series.

AL Leaders in Quality Starts (potential playoff teams):

Rays: 94, Rangers: 93, Angels: 91, Tigers: 87, Yankees: 80, Red Sox: 69

Red Sox Quality Starts/Total Starts

Becket 20/28
Lester 18/29
Lackey 8/27
Wakefield 8/22
Buchholz 6/14
Miller 3/12

Yes, John Lackey and Tim Wakefield have combined for two fewer quality starts than Jon Lester. If the Red Sox make the playoffs, one or both of them will be in the rotation, depending on the health of Erik Bedard.

Does any of that give you even the slightest bit of confidence?

Me neither.

I'm calling this season over as of today. Naturally, I hope I'm wrong. But, unfortunately, I strongly feel I'm right. This team just doesn't have "it."

And "it" really comes down to just one thing; starting pitching.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tim Wakefield Finally Reaches Milestone, Notches 200th Win

Jonathan Papelbon "congratulates" Tim Wakefield on joining the 200-win club

Since winning his 199th game on July 24 against Seattle, Tim Wakefield made a record eight attempts to reach 200. That marked a span of more than seven weeks in which Wakefield went winless.

But the eighth time proved to be a charm, as the Red Sox offense pounded out 18 runs in support of the knuckleballer.

Wakefield becomes just the 89th pitcher since 1900 to reach 200 career wins. And he is just the fifth player to do so in a Red Sox uniform, joining Curt Schilling (2006), Luis Tiant (1978), Fergie Jenkins (1976) and Lefty Grove (1934).

The oldest active player in the majors, at 45 years, 42 days, the 19-year veteran is also the second oldest pitcher to ever record 200 victories, behind Jack Quinn, who was 46 years, 339 days.

It's been a season of milestones for Wakefield, who became just the second pitcher in Red Sox history to record 2,000 Ks back in July. At this point, he may be getting used to making history.

Last year, Wakefield became the oldest pitcher to ever step on the mound for the Sox and the oldest to ever win a game for them.

However, in recent years, it's been a bit of a crapshoot every time Wakefield takes the mound.

When Wakefield throws his knuckleball, even he has absolutely no idea where it's going to end up after it leaves his hand. There are always an assortment of wild pitches and passed balls when Wakefield is on the hill.

Last season, Wakefield went 4-10 and posted a 5.34 ERA. The Sox were 6-13 in games he started. This year, he's 7-6, with a 5.13 ERA.

While the last few years have been a struggle, Wakefield has always given the Red Sox everything he has.

Wakefield's long career has been marked by competitiveness more than greatness; his 4.41 career ERA is the highest of any pitcher to ever win 200 games.

A former Roberto Clemente Award winner, Wakefield has been a gracious and giving member the Boston community, as well as a great teammate. He has done everything the Red Sox have ever asked of him: start, short relief, long relief... whatever.

But the reality is that he's had just four 15-win seasons in his 17 years with the Red Sox. His 200 wins are a testament to his grittiness and rock-solid determination more than anything else. After all, this is a man who has built a two-decade career based on just one pitch.

A seasoned veteran, Wakefield has given the Sox 21 starts this season, which is more than anyone could have imagined. Yet, the guy has gotten little help from his teammates along the way — not that you'll ever him complain about it.

If the Sox had played well behind him, it's not a stretch to imagine that he could have won half his starts and posted at least 10 victories by now.

This is how the Red Sox bullpen performed in Wakefield's no-decisions between his 199th and 200th wins:

Record: 2-2
Innings: 10
ERA: 10.80
BB/K: 9/11
WHIP: 2.33

Clearly, Wakefield deserved better. But nothing has ever come easy for him.

The last time Wakefield had a season in which he posted an ERA below 4.00 was in 2002, when it was 2.81.

Wakefield's career has not been marked by greatness, but rather by great effort and a passionate commitment to the Red Sox.

Consequently, there is no one else Red Sox fans would rather root for, or see reach yet another milestone.

Red Sox' Season on the Line

Manager Terry Francona takes the ball from John Lackey, an image that's been all too regular this season.

The Boston Red Sox, pre-season favorites to won the World Series, appear to be a team on the ropes.

The Sox have lost five straight for the first time since they started the season 0-6. They have also lost seven of eight and nine of 11.

The Red Sox are suddenly in a free fall, their season spiraling out of control. To put it bluntly, this team is a mess.

The Rays, meanwhile, have won five straight and eight of nine to climb within three games of the wild-card lead in the loss column.

In the three-game series against Tampa, John Lackey, Kyle Weiland and Jon Lester combined for just just 11 innings and 12 earned runs.

Sox pitchers walked 16 and hit three in the series.

Those are some ugly numbers. But the most worrisome is that three Sox' starters combined for just 11 innings over three games. That's just unbelievable.

And such performances are disastrous for a team with playoff aspirations. The fact that the Sox' starters allowed more earned runs than innings pitched is astonishing.

Over the last five games, not one Red Sox starter has made it past the fifth inning. That is truly alarming.

Right now, four starting pitchers are out of the Boston rotation. This current group is not the one the Sox were counting on.

Boston began the season with what they thought were five legit starters. It's hard to build minor league depth in case of emergency because you can't stash quality veterans in Triple-A.

Most critically, the Sox were exposed as having big gap in their minor league system; they had no big league-caliber pitcher ready to step in during a pinch. Kyle Weiland is way out of his league right now and the Sox' next Major League-ready starter is at least two years away.

Felix Doubront was once thought to be that guy, but he has been plagued by injuries and inconsistency this year.

The truth is, no one ever expected Weiland to be pitching meaningful games for the Sox in September. When the season began, most fans had never even heard of him. The Sox have been forced to throw a minor league pitcher into the heat of a Pennant-chase fire, and Weiland hasn't responded well. He looks overwhelmed. If this is his big league audition, he has failed miserably.

Perhaps he has a future as a fifth starter in the NL.

Two years ago, the Sox traded pitchers Justin Masterson, Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price for Victor Martinez, a player who isn't even on their roster anymore. And then they parted with Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo and Reymond Fuentes last winter to obtain Adrian Gonzalez.

Trading four pitchers in the span of two years is now coming back to haunt the Sox.

Dealing all those prospects left the team without the elite talent that other clubs were coveting at this year's trade deadline.

Due to all of their assorted injuries, the Sox were forced to take a shot on Erik Bedard, a player with a lengthy injury history. Once again, he is dealing with injuries. That said, if he gets healthy, Bedard may still help the Sox in the playoffs... if they even get there

Unfortunately, the upper levels of Red Sox minor league system are now devoid of the kind of pitchers who could step in and really make a difference this season.

The Red Sox haven't developed a top prospect into a formidable big league pitcher since Clay Buchholz. That's why they went out and got Andrew Miller last winter, the No. 6 pick in the draft just five years ago.

The 26-year-old Miller should have spent the entire season in the minors, working on his mechanics and repeating his delivery. HIs agent did him no favors by insisting on a big league promotion under threat of exercising the lefty's out clause. Miller wasn't ready then, and he's still not ready now.

Tim Wakefield has given the Sox 20 starts, which is two-thirds of what a team might get out of a starter over a full season. No one could have predicted that. When the season started, it was uncertain where he even fit on the roster and some speculated that he might not even make the team out of spring training.

Wakefield is 45 and his best days — which were never that great to begin with — are over. He's doing the best he can, but that's not enough.

Having said that, the bullpen has let Wakefield down repeatedly and the offense hasn't supported him either.

Despite all of these issues, most of the blame must be put squarely on John Lackey.

Lackey was expected to be a major component of the starting rotation from the very beginning. In fact, he was hailed as a "big game" pitcher when he came to Boston, and in two years we've never seen it.

Fans can't help but hate the way he pitches. And then there's his horrible attitude. He's simply unprofessional and doesn't take responsibility.

It's reasonable to say that Lackey has worn out his welcome with Red Sox fans.

The Sox are in deep trouble. At this point, it wouldn't be surprising if they fail to make the playoffs. And even if they do, it's doubtful that they'll make it out of the first round. It's simple matter; they just don't have the pitching.

The Sox' rotation is razor thin right now, and that's being exposed night after night.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Red Sox Nation in Panic

Suddenly, Red Sox Nation is panicking. And for good reason.

Going into last night's game (in which they scored only two runs and lost), the Red Sox were 6-7 in their previous 13 games, while scoring the second most runs in baseball.

The Sox have now lost eight of their last 11 games. And even in the three games they won during that stretch, the Sox allowed five runs in a 9-5 win, seven runs in a 12-7 win, and also lost a game in which they actually scored 10 runs (11-10).

With an ERA over six this month, Red Sox' pitching is a mess and genuine reason for concern.

To start the season, the Sox' rotation was Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Then injuries began to mount and take their toll.

In May, Lackey was the first starter to go on the DL, followed soon after by Matsuzaka, who was eventually lost for the season.

The Sox were concerned enough to sign veteran Kevin Milwood, who never inspired enough confidence at Pawtucket to even warrant a promotion to the big league club.

The string of injuries eventually compelled the Sox to promote lefty Andrew Miller, who had an out-clause in his contract that his agent promised to invoke if Miller was not immediately promoted.

That put the 26-year-old in a situation he proved to be entirely unprepared for; facing Major League hitters. All of Miller's old weaknesses quickly resurfaced.

Later in June, Clay Buchholz went on the DL and he has not taken the mound since.

In July, it was Jon Lester's turn to go on the DL. Before the month was over, the Sox traded for the oft-injured Erik Bedard, who was just coming of yet another stint on the DL, this time due to an injured knee.

By September, Josh Beckett had suffered an ankle sprain that has him listed as "day-to-day."

Meanwhile, Bedard is still suffering from the effects of that previous knee injury and, in addition, is now said to be ailing from a latissimus injury as well.

Most recently, Lackey suffered a bruise to his calf last night, after giving up five earned runs in just three innings.

Consequently, the Sox rotation presently consists of Lester, rookie Kyle Weiland (0-1, 6.75 ERA), Tim Wakefield (6-6, 5.03 ERA), Miller (6-3, 5.58 ERA) and... who knows?

That's a far cry from the Opening Day rotation that was expected to be among the best in baseball.

The saving grace for the Red Sox this season has been an offense that's been the best in baseball, leading the majors in batting, hits, doubles, OBP, slugging, OPS and is second in runs, RBI and home runs.

However, Red Sox hitters will only carry this team so far. Offense can get them into the playoffs, but pitching wins championships.

And therein lies the problem.

Aside from Lester and Beckett, eight other starters have taken the mound for the Red Sox this season. Those eight starters have managed a quality start (six innings, three runs or less) just 34% of the time, and the team ERA is 5.25 with them.

The troubling reality is that this team currently has just two legitimate starters, and October is fast approaching.

The Red Sox will be lucky if Clay Buchholz can give them an inning or two in relief in the coming weeks. Yes, the current panic is warranted.

John Lackey, the guy who was signed to be an ace — absent any of that pressure as the team's number four pitcher — has had a miserable 2011.

Starts 25
Record 12-12
ERA 6.30
Innings 144.1
BB/K 50/97
WHIP 1.59

Lackey's 6.30 ERA is the highest in Red Sox history for a pitcher with a minimum of 25 starts. Need I say more? He is officially the worst pitcher in team history.

How bad is Lackey? Well, consider this: In Tim Lincecum’s 11 losses this year, he has a 4.10 ERA, which is better John Lackey’s 4.13 ERA in his 12 wins.

Such an outcome was hard to imagine when the Red Sox threw $82.5 million at Lackey for five years of service. If it weren't for that massive contract, the Sox would probably consider releasing him.

But as it is, with their starting pitching so thin, the Sox have no choice but to let Lackey continue to take the mound and hope he can somehow manage to keep the team in the game for six innings.

Who else are the Sox going to trust down the stretch, much less in the playoffs; Felix Doubront or Michael Bowden? Not likely.

While many argue that Alfredo Aceves should start, he is — at best — a five inning pitcher. Aceves plays a critical roll as the sixth or seventh inning pitcher, or as a long reliever when one of the starters inevitably implodes. Who takes over that vital roll should Aceves become a starter?

The Red Sox' pitching is dangerously thin and there are no good answers on the horizon.

They can only hope that a healthy Beckett returns very soon, and that his ankle problem is a thing of the past.

They must also hope that Bedard gets healthy and stays that way. But given his lengthy injury history, that seems like wild-eyed optimism.

Right now, the Rays are just five games back in the loss column versus the Sox for the wild card spot, with six games left to play between the two clubs.

The playoffs, once an afterthought, are no longer a given.

Hold your breath, close your eyes when necessary, and keep your expectations realistic, Red Sox fans.

Given the reality of the Boston rotation, this no longer looks like the 100-win team everyone was talking about just weeks ago. And they hardly look like a legitimate World Series contender either.

Pitching wins championships.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

For Red Sox, Like All Others, Prospects Are a Gamble, Not a Guarantee

Pawtucket outfield prospect Ryan Kalish is escorted from the field by a team trainer on April 21, 2011

According to Alex Speier of WEEI, Ryan Kalish will undergo season-ending surgery on Thursday. Kalish has a bulging disc in his cervical spine that is impinging a nerve.

Kalish played only 22 games for Class AAA Pawtucket this season because of a partial tear of the labrum in his left shoulder, which occurred while diving for a ball in the outfield in April.

That was then followed by the disc problem in his neck.

This season turned out to be an utter disaster for the highly-touted Kalish, as the back-to-back injuries disrupted his development and progress.

However, Kalish, who turns 24 in March, is expected to be ready for spring training. But who knows how he'll be playing at that time, and what may have been lost due to the combination of injuries and all that time off.

Just last year, nearly everyone was penciling in Kalish as JD Drew's right field replacement for 2012 and beyond. But this year, he got hurt and you hardly heard his name mentioned.

Soon enough, Josh Reddick emerged and suddenly he was the Sox' future right fielder. But ultimately Reddick's hitting cooled off considerably and some of the former shine was gone.

Reddick's future at this point? Who knows?

There are countless cautionary tales about prospects. Some come with a lot of hype and don't pan out as projected. Others are derailed by injury.

Ryan Westmoreland was the No. 1 prospect in the Red Sox' system two years ago, well ahead of Kalish and Reddick. Then he had brain-stem surgery to save his life, and now he's not even on the radar anymore.

It would be a miracle if Westmoreland even makes it back to Triple A, where he left off.

Prospects are a gamble. There are always guys like the much-heralded Brian Rose, a can't-miss Sox prospect who missed.

Then there are guys like Justin Masterson, traded for Cleveland catcher Victor Martinez in 2009, who will likely haunt the Red Sox for years to come.

Who knows if Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo and Reymond Fuentes will all become future All Stars? Maybe it will be just one of them will, or perhaps none at all? But the Red Sox undoubtedly got a perennial All Star in return, Adrian Gonzalez.

It's important to remember that prospects aren't just valuable in terms of their direct future impact on your big league ball club, but also in what they might procure in a trade.

When dealing, or dealing with, prospects, there will always be winners and losers — in many ways.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Jacoby Ellsbury Emerging As An Elite Player

Against the Yankees yesterday, Jacoby Ellsbury belted a home run and drove in six runs to help the Red Sox to a 10-4 victory.

The performance exemplified the stellar season the Red Sox' leadoff hitter is having.

Ellsbury is batting .321 with 19 homers, 72 RBIs and 31 stolen bases. Incredibly, 13 of those home runs have come in the last month.

Prior to this year, Ellsbury's single season highs were nine home runs (2008) and 60 RBI (2009). In fact, Ellsbury's career home run total was just 20; he is now just two home runs away from surpassing that total.

Remarkably, Ellsbury has more homers than proven sluggers Adrian Gonzalez, Alex Rodriguez, Matt Holliday, Jayson Werth and Adam Dunn.

Frankly, Ellsbury looks as much like a middle-of-the-order hitter as a leadoff hitter.

Ellsbury hit eight home runs in July, the second highest by any Red Sox center fielder in one month since 1946. In May 2000, Carl Everett had nine.

The Sox' center fielder has suddenly emerged as a super star.

Among all Major Leaguers, Ellsbury is 20th in slugging, 16th in RBI, 9th in batting, 6th in steals, 5th in doubles, 4th in hits and 2nd in runs.

The most stunning aspect is that he's a leadoff hitter.

If he continues to play this way, Ellsbury will likely be among the Most Valuable Player Award candidates at season's end.

Ellsbury becomes a free agent following the 2013 season, meaning the Red Sox have him under their control for just two more years. After that, he will be available to the highest bidder.

Ellsbury will be 30-years-old at that time, and given that Scott boras is his agent, he will become a very rich man.

The Sox certainly have the money to pay Ellsbury. But if Carl Crawford is worth $142 million, how much is Ellsbury worth?

It seems the Sox shot themselves in the foot with the Crawford deal.

His poor 2011 season aside, it's hard to see how Crawford ever lives up to that contract. No player who had ever failed to hit at least 20 homers in a season had previously been given a $20 million-per-year deal.

A contract of that size is certainly a lot to live up to, and already it appears to be weighing on Crawford.

The Crawford pact has totally altered the baseball landscape. Not only had the left fielder never hit 20 home runs in a season, he had never driven in 100 runs, never slugged .500, never had an OBP above .364 and never had 200 hits in any season.

On the other hand, Ellsbury is on the verge of doing all of that.

Crawford's greatest assets are his speed and defense. Yet, this season, Crawford has just 85 hits, 17 doubles and 13 stolen bases. His base-stealing prowess has been diminished by a meager .287 OBP.

What's more, playing in Fenway Park's shallow left field has muted most of Crawford's speed and defensive skills. Simply put, those skills are being wasted in at least 81 home games a season.

Boras will surely use Crawford as a yardstick for his client. But given that Ellsbury is excelling in areas that leadoff hitters aren't normally expected to, Boras may also compare his client to middle-of-the-order hitters, like Adrian Gonzalez and Mark Teixeira, both of whom got substantially bigger contracts than Crawford.

It's worth saying again; Ellsbury is poised to become an exceedingly rich man at just 30-years of age.

The Red Sox may ultimately regret Carl Crawford's excessive contract; not just because he'll likely fail to earn it, but because of how much it will cost to retain Ellsbury just two years from now.

Having proved himself to be among the elite players in the game today, the emerging super star, Ellsbury, is earning it — unlike Crawford.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Red Sox Roll Dice With Erik Bedard & Hope for the Best

The Red Sox' motivation in trading for Erik Bedard yesterday is glaringly obvious; the organization surely knew the prognosis for Clay Buchholz was not good.

Additionally, John Lackey has a 6.20 ERA, Andrew Miller has a 5.36 ERA and Tim Wakefield has a 5.06 ERA. With three-fifths of the starting rotation possessing ERAs north of 5.00, management was prompted to action.

So, the Sox rolled the dice and traded for an injury-plagued 32-year-old lefty who spent four full seasons (2004-'07) pitching for the Baltimore Orioles in the highly competitive AL East.

The upside for the Red Sox is that Bedard is AL East battle-tested. However, he has never appeared in the post-season.

Pitching for an absolutely horrible Seattle team this year, Bedard was 4-7 with a 3.45 ERA. The latter is the more important statistic here.

Bedard is a control pitcher who throws between 93-95 miles per hour with a good curveball. This season, he has rung up 87 strikeouts and walked just 30 batters in 91 1/3 innings. That's a nearly 3-to-1 strikeout ratio.

Though Bedard has made 16 starts this year, he missed all of last season with an injury to his pitching shoulder. And that's the worry; even before missing all of 2010, Bedard had made just 15 starts in both 2008 and 2009.

However, the Canadian has a 2.35 ERA in his last 12 starts dating to April 27, which ranks fourth among American League pitchers with at least 70 innings during that span.

That kind of performance is no fluke; since 2006, Bedard leads all AL pitchers with a .231 opponents’ batting average and 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings.

And among major leaguers who have thrown at least 500 innings since the start of the 2006 season, Bedard ranks 15th in ERA with a 3.41 mark, slightly ahead of Matt Cain (3.43), Dan Haren (3.44) and Zack Greinke (3.45), and just behind Cole Hamels (3.40).

These statistics provide a sense of the pitcher the Red Sox just traded for, or at least the kind of potential he possesses.

Yet, the enduring question that has plagued Bedard over the past four years is whether he can remain healthy. In fact, the lefty has made just 107 starts over the past six seasons, while a healthy starter might have been expected to make 170-180.

If you're an optimist, you can take solace in the fact that Bedard's latest DL stint was the result of a left knee sprain.

So far this season, the veteran hurler's arm appears healthy. Guys with bum shoulders don't typically throw 93-95 miles per hour.

The Red Sox knew this. They read all the reports in Bedard's medical history and scouted him consistently since spring training. Obviously, management felt confident enough to consummate the deal.

But, given Buchholz's status, their backs were clearly against the wall.

Right now, the Red Sox have just two reliable starters — Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. As good as that duo is, they can't win the Pennant on their own.

So the Sox will hope for the best from John Lackey and their newly acquired lefty. If the two pitch up to their full potential, the Red Sox may be unstoppable in their quest for another World Series title.

If they don't, we may all remember this as yet another season lost.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Red Sox Facing Weak Trade Market at Deadline

For Red Sox, Justin Masteron Remains the 'One That Got Away"

Going into their 100th game of the season today, the Red Sox find themselves leading the AL East, three games ahead of the Yankees.

The Sox lead the majors in runs, hits, doubles, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. If there's a problem with the offense, I can't find it.

The Red Sox clearly aren't hurting with the combination of Josh Reddick, JD Drew and Darnell McDonald in right field.

Yes, a right-handed outfielder would be a nice complement. But all of the early concerns about the Red Sox' lineup being being too lefty-dominant were overblown, as the above offensive statistics prove. What's more, the Sox have the fourth-best OPS against lefties in the majors.

Clearly, offense is not the Red Sox' issue.

Of greater concern is the health of Clay Buchholz, who hasn't pitched since June 16.

The 26-year-old's back woes proved to be much more problematic than first diagnosed and no one seems sure exactly when he'll return to the mound, much less how effective he'll be once he gets there.

If Buchholz doesn't return in full health, the Red Sox current pitching depth could prove problematic.

John Lackey has been erratic, at best, and sports an eye-popping 6.28 ERA. The same could be said for Time Wakefield (5.15 ERA), Andrew Miller (4.65 ERA) and Kyle Weiland (8.10 ERA in two starts).

None in that group inspires confidence, nor would any be an effective No. 3 pitcher for the Red Sox down the stretch, much less in October.

The Red Sox high-powered offense has been out-slugging opponents, obscuring the club's starting pitching deficiencies. But the same trend can't be anticipated in the playoffs. Pitching wins championships.

Expect the Red Sox to work the phones this week in search of some pitching help.

However, while the team will make all reasonable inquiries, there isn't any available starting pitcher that would be a real difference-maker. The Sox will not ransom their top prospects for a No. 5 starter, or a two-month rental with no future in the rotation.

There are currently 14 teams within five games of a division lead, meaning most will be players at the trade deadline. While the competition may be fierce, the pickings will be slim, making this a seller's market. Prices will be high, while the talent pool will be shallow.

Additionally, the Sox have traded away some of their top prospects in recent years, including Nick Hagadone and Justin Masterson (for Victor Martinez), as well as Anthony Rizzo, Casey Kelly and Reymond Fuentes (for Adrian Gonzalez).

Four of those five players were selected in the first-round or sandwich round, while Masterson was taken in the second-round.

The trade that enabled the Red Sox to acquire Martinez from Cleveland has become a cautionary tale. Masterson has a 2.57 ERA and 1.17 WHIP for the Indians, while reliever Nick Hagadone has 31 strikeouts in 29 2/3 innings and a 1.18 WHIP for Triple A Columbus.

The 26-year-old Masterson throws a sinking fastball at 95-96 miles per hour and has emerged as one of the top young pitchers in baseball. It appears the Red Sox gave up at least one gem in that deal, which could haunt them for years.

Regrettably, the Sox had to throw $82.5 million at Lackey to fill a spot in the rotation and Martinez turned into a year-and-a-half rental.

Meanwhile, Masterson’s 2.57 ERA is top-10 (ahead of pitchers named Sabathia, Hamels, Lee and Lincecum) and his 8-7 record is due, in part, to his team being shut out in four of those losses.

It's safe to say that Theo Epstein would like a do-over with that deal. With this memory fresh in mind, the Red Sox' GM will wade into this year's underwhelming trade market.

The good news for the Sox is that the Yankees and other playoff hopefuls will be faced with the same shallow and over-priced talent pool. Boston's advantage is that they are in first place, have a dynamic offense, and will finally see the return of Jon Lester tonight after an 18-day stint on the DL.

That's welcome news, given that the Sox' pitching staff has been decimated by the losses of four of its five Opening Day starters to the DL at various points this season.

The Sox will hold out hope that Buchholz makes a healthy return, particularly for the September stretch and hopefully a triumphant October run. In the meantime they will rely on the unpredictable combo of Wakefield, Miller and Weiland.

While some are still holding out hope that we'll see Felix Doubront at some point. the 23 year old lefty has been sidelined by elbow, groin and hamstring injuries much of the season.

Doubront made three relief appearances for the Sox in April and has made just 14 minor league appearances this season. He is both unhealthy and unproven and will not be riding to the Red Sox' rescue this year.

So, while Theo Epstein may make a move for a pitcher this week, it won't likely be big, bold or costly.

If anything, Epstein would love to find a way to pry Masterson back from the Indians.

Good luck with that, Theo.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Tim Wakefield Staking HIs Place in Red Sox History

Among active Major League pitchers, Red Sox' knuckleballer Tim Wakefield is second with 2,103 strikeouts.

Included in that total are the 110 strikeouts Wakefield recorded during his first two seasons in the Majors with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

However, the 44-year-old Wakefield, now in his 17th season with the Red Sox, is poised to become just the second pitcher in club history to record 2,000 Ks.

After fanning seven batters on Wednesday night, Wakefield sits atop 1,993 strikeouts and should reach the milestone sometime shortly after the All Star break.

The Red Sox are a team with 100-plus years of history, so Wakefield's accomplishment will be significant.

Speaking of significant, Wakefield also recorded his 184th win with the Red Sox on Wednesday night, putting him just eight behind the legendary Cy Young and Roger Clemens.

Including his two years with the Pirates, Wakefield now has 198 career victories and before the month is over could reach 200.

While it once seemed quite improbable that Wakefield would ever catch or eclipse the two Red Sox legends, it now seems imminently possible.

On Wednesday evening, Wakefield gave the Red Sox his fifth quality start of the season and posted a season-high seven strikeouts.

If he continues to pitch this effectively, Wakefield still has a half-season of baseball ahead of him — and a potent Red Sox offense behind him —— in his quest for 193 wins with the Sox.

At this point, that milestone seems entirely possible.

Having gotten this far on essentially one pitch, Wakefield is obviously a very determined man. Besides, one doesn't get too many opportunities to make history.

At present, the Red Sox are in a very unique period of team history in that three of club's Top-10 strikeout leaders are on the current roster.

While Wakefield is in second place and will retire there (he'll never match Clemens' 2,590 Ks), Josh Beckett is ninth, with 930 strikeouts, and Jon Lester is 10th, with 822 Ks.

Who knows where Beckett and Lester will end up on that list? Both pitchers are young and highly talented, so the sky seems to be the limit.

The Red Sox' record book is filled with names like Cy Young, Mel Parnell, Luis Tiant, Smokey Joe Wood and Mel Parnell — players from long ago whom many Sox fans have only heard of and never saw play.

And though players like Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez are from more recent history, they are still history nonetheless.

However, at present, Red Sox fans of all ages can watch Tim Wakefield stake his claim to the club record book. And what a claim it is.

Wakefield is currently first in starts and innings, and second in wins, strikeouts and games.

Enjoy the moment, folks. Though he is not a Hall of Fame-caliber player, someday we'll all be able to tell our kids and grandkids that we saw the legendary Tim Wakefield pitch for the Red Sox.

Granted, Wakefield may not be a truly elite pitcher. But before his career is over he will have certainly become legendary in the annals of Red Sox history.

In fact, he already is.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Red Sox Surging Despite Lack of Offense From Three Key Players

The red hot Red Sox are on a roll. The team has won 13 of its last 15 games.

After a listless April that resulted in a 10-15 record, the Red Sox proceeded to right the ship and post a 19-10 record in May.

And the streaking Sox are now 13-3 in June, finally looking like the team everyone was expecting after a rather eventful offseason.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about the Sox' resurgence is that two of their stalwarts, Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia, are hitting well below their career averages.

Youkilis, a career .291 hitter, is batting just .261 well into June.

The good news is that Youkilis has a .382 OBP (career .393) and, after hitting safely in eight of his last 10 games with 14 RBIs, is on an upswing.

Meanwhile, Pedroia, a career .301 hitter, is hitting just .269. However, his .377 OBP is seven points above his career average.

In the midst of his own upswing, Pedroia is 22 of 60 (.367) with nine extra-base hits and 14 RBIs in 15 games this month. The second baseman has hit in 12 of his last 13 games and is batting .392 with two homers in that span.

Both players missed significant time due to injuries last year, and that may have affected their play earlier this season. Pedroia played in just 75 games last year, while Youkilis appeared in only 102.

Pedroia's injury was more worrisome, since he still has screws holding his left ankle together. Given his self-professed "violent swing," which results in significant force being placed on that left foot every time he takes a cut, it's easy to ascribe Pedroia's early struggles to his surgically repaired ankle.

Perhaps the ankle is more fully healed now. Additionally, Pedroia is finally getting over the right knee bruise he sustained on May 16 while fielding a ball against Baltimore.

But the early struggles of Youkilis and Pedroia aren't the only disappointments thus far, nor are they the only things making the Sox' resurgence all the more surprising.

Carl Crawford, the $142 million man, is playing well below expectations.

Crawford, a career .294 hitter, is batting just .243 this year. And his .275 OBP, which is 59 points below his career average, is keeping the speedy Crawford off the base paths. As a result, he is not the base-stealing threat the Red Sox were anticipating.

Crawford averaged 45 steals over nine previous seasons, yet has just eight so far this year. For perspective, Dustin Pedroia — the guy with the bad ankle and knee — already has 13 thefts this year.

The truth is, the Sox' new left fielder really hasn't excelled in any facet of the game so far this season. Case in point; Crawford has just 21 extra-base hits.

So, when you consider the under-performance of these three Red Sox players — and we're talking about three former All Stars who were expected to help carry the club — the team's turnaround and sustained drive are all the more amazing.

Even with Youkilis, Pedroia and Crawford all performing well below their career averages, the Red Sox are still first in batting, OBP, hits, runs, RBI and total bases among AL teams. And they are second in slugging, behind the Yankees.

Should the under-performing trio all continue to improve and rise to their career-levels, the Red Sox will be a juggernaut.

Youkilis, Pedroia and Crawford represent one-third of the Red Sox' starting lineup and are three of the better players in the game today.

Considering that the Sox are still managing to win consistently despite the trio's sub-par play, should they ever perform to their full potential, Boston will surely be the team to beat in October.