Sunday, April 24, 2011
When this season is looked back upon during the home stretch of September, the New York Yankees may rue the fact that they didn't bury the Red Sox in April, when they had the chance.
After all, this is a Red Sox team that famously (or infamously) started the season 0-6 and 2-10 before finally putting together a winning streak of at least three games.
In fact, the Red Sox were more than half way through April before they finally accomplished that.
By Sunday morning, the Red Sox had won seven of their last eight games. When the day began, the Red Sox stood at 9-11, tied for third place and a game out of second in the AL East.
That seemed improbable just a week ago.
The division-leading Yankees are 11-6 and hold just a 2.5 game lead over the 11-11 Tampa Rays.
With the Red Sox still two games under .500, it's easy to imagine them being eight or more games out of first place, rather than just 3.5 games out.
And that's just what the Yankees may come to regret; that they didn't create much greater distance between themselves and their arch rivals, a team with a host of offensive stars and a suddenly scorching pitching staff.
Without question, the sudden change in the Red Sox' fortunes is attributable to their red-hot rotation.
Red Sox starters have allowed just six earned runs in the last eight games, a span of 53.1 innings. In those eight games, the starters are 6-1 with a miniscule 1.01 earned run average.
Suddenly, every Sox starter looks like a Cy Young candidate.
Their mind-boggling performances have resulted in the team ERA dropping from 6.79 to 4.73 in those eight games.
How amazing has this stretch been?
Well, Red Sox pitchers have allowed 15 earned runs in the last 73 innings.
Even the frustrating and baffling Daisuke Matsuzaka is suddenly unhittable.
In his last two starts, Dice-K has thrown 15 innings, giving up no earned runs, two hits and four walks, while striking out 12.
Suddenly, the Japanese enigma looks like the ace the Red Sox thought they were getting back in November, 2006.
Matsuzaka said his last two starts were the best he's had in his five seasons with the Red Sox. But they weren't merely the best back-to-back starts he's had in the majors.
As ESPN's Karl Ravech noted, Matsuzaka's last two starts were among the two or three best back-to-back starts in Red Sox history.
Buster Olney reported that a scout says Dice-K has "made a transformation."
We can only hope that this is not merely an aberration. It's safe to say that most Sox fans will withhold judgment and are not entirely sold yet.
After his last start against Toronto, Dice-K said he was motivated by the fear of losing his spot in the rotation.
It's about time. But, hey, whatever it takes.
If the pitching holds up, you can only wonder how good this team will eventually be this season. That's because the offense has yet to really heat up.
Among AL teams, the Red Sox are 11th in batting, 11th in total bases, 9th in runs, 9th in homers and 9th in slugging.
Obviously, there is much room for improvement. And most reasonable observers expect those improvements to come sooner rather than later.
When that happens, the division race will become much more interesting and the Yankees may regret not running away with the division when they had the chance.
They probably won't get another chance this season like the one they had this month.
Surely, the Red Sox don't have another 0-6 or 2-10 stretch in them this year. Do they?
Saturday, April 16, 2011
The Red Sox' Frustrations Are Starting To Show, As Evidenced By Kevin Youkilis
Remember when the Red Sox were going to win 100 games on their way to another World Series Championship?
That's looking increasingly unlikely rather suddenly.
When the Sox were swept in Texas on opening weekend, it could be chalked up to playing the defending AL Champs, on the road. Perhaps everyone's timing was off; the hitters and pitchers just weren't clicking yet. The Red Sox were outscored 26-11 in the series.
But then the Sox were immediately swept by the lowly Cleveland Indians. Yes, it was very cold in Cleveland. But that didn't seem to affect the Indians, who outscored the Red Sox 12-5 in the series.
The Red Sox seemed to need to get home quickly and desperately. Perhaps the familiar and comfortable confines of Fenway Park and the first series against their arch rivals, the New York Yankees, would spark the fire that would send the Sox on their way for the rest of the season.
The Sox took two out of three from the Yanks. However, they were once again outscored, 19-13.
Then the lowly 1-8 Tampa Rays came to Fenway, the only team with a worse record than the Sox. It seemed like the perfect opportunity for the Sox to get on a winning streak and improve their record.
That didn't happen.
Instead, the Rays won two in a row against the Sox, while the third and final game was rained out. Thank goodness. Yet again, the Red Sox were outscored, this time 19-7.
As today began, the Red Sox were 2-10, the worst record in baseball. And they may be the worst team in baseball as well.
There isn't much good about the Red Sox at this point. They've been outscored 79-46. They're batting .224, 12th in the AL. Their ERA is 6.79, by far the worst in the AL. In fact, it's the worst in baseball — by a full run.
Simply put, this team is a mess. Being eight games below .500 in mid-April is not something that anyone could have imagined. And it is already a hole so deep that the Sox may not be able to extricate themselves from it.
There are 150 games yet to play. In order to win 95 games this season, the Red Sox need to go 93-57 the rest of the way. That's a .620 winning percentage. From the beginning of the season, it would have been just a .586 winning percentage to get to 95 wins.
Perhaps that gives you an idea of just how difficult it's going to be for this team to win 95 games and/or make the playoffs.
I don't mean to sound alarmist, but the season may already be over for the Red Sox. The playoffs are, perhaps, an unrealistic dream.
If you're looking for good news, the Sox are just five games behind the division-leading Yankees, who are just 7-5.
However, as the Boston Globe's Tony Massarotti recently pointed out, the difference between a 97-win team and an 81-win team is a single victory in every 10 contests.
"You go 6-4 during that span, you win 97. You go 5-5, you win 81," wrote Massarotti. "The line between mediocrity and championship contention is not nearly as thick as many would like to believe."
The Red Sox had an Opening Day payroll approaching $164 million. There isn't much they can do to improve this team right now. There are many expensive, long-term contracts throughout the roster.
And under-achieving players are never easy to trade, especially when they've been under-achieving for more than a year (JD Drew, Dice-K, John Lackey, Josh Beckett).
Any sort of trade isn't very likely until at least June, when other teams will have figured out what their potential is, what their needs are, and what contracts they need to jettison. A call-up of a player like Ryan Kalish is more likely in the short-term.
Clearly, the Red Sox need to stir the pot and shake things up. And they need to find a solution quickly.
It's April 16th and, as difficult as it is to believe, the Red Sox are already running out of time.