Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

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.