Tuesday, September 13, 2011
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.