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.
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.