Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

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.

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