Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Monday, July 09, 2012

Red Sox Mired in Mediocrity

Major League Baseball has reached it's recognized mid-point, the annual All Star break. In reality, more than half the season is already over. After playing 86 games, the Red Sox are a .500 team with a 43-43 record. There are 76 games yet to be played in 2012.

Boston limps into the break having lost eight of their last 11 games. At this point, they look totally lost. It hardly comes as a surprise.

The Red Sox have been a middling ream for most of the season — other than those times they've been just plain bad. As the saying goes, water always finds its level. So do sports teams.

In April, the Sox had a five-game losing streak, followed by a six-game winning streak. They finished the month with an 11-11 record and never broke .500.

The Red Sox started May with a five-game losing streak and later posted a five-game winning streak. The Sox were as many as seven games below .500 in May and didn't get back to .500 until May 21. It took them until May 29 to break above .500 and they finished the month just one game over .500. Their May record was 15-14.

The Red Sox endured a four-game losing streak in June, followed by a four-game winning streak. The team got as many as three games over .500 in early June, but quickly fell three games below once again. Toward the end of June, the Sox again worked their way back to five games above .500, their high-water mark for the month and the season. The Sox posted a 15-12 record in June.

The team started the month of July five games over .500. But they immediately proceeded to lose five consecutive games, again reverting to the break-even mark in the span of just one week. So far this month, the Sox are an abysmal 2-6.

This is hardly what Red Sox ownership was expecting from a team that had an Opening Day payroll north of $175 million — the third highest in baseball, following the Yankees and Phillies.

Yes, the Red Sox have been plagued by injuries, losing their projected closer Andrew Bailey and left fielder Carl Crawford before the season even began. Jacoby Ellsbury was lost just two weeks into the season and hasn't played since.

At various points this season, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Cody Ross, Ryan Sweeney, Scott Podsednik, Will Middlebrooks, Rich Hill, Andrew Miller, Daisuke Matsuzaka (twice), Aaron Cook, Clay Buchholz and Josh Beckett have all spent time on the disabled list.

Despite their depleted roster, amongst all Major League teams, the Red Sox are sixth in batting, fifth in OPS, fourth in slugging, third in hits, third in total bases, second in runs and first in extra-base hits.

Clearly, offense is not the Red Sox problem. The returns of Ellsbury and Crawford will hardly make a difference.

From the very beginning, starting pitching has been this team's Achilles' heel.

Red Sox starters have a 4.81 ERA, third worst in the American League. And Sox starters also have a 1.38 WHIP (walks, plus hits, per nine innings), the fourth worst in the AL.

The Red Sox were counting on big time performances from the trio of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz this season. What they've gotten instead are big time busts.

Lester has 5-6 record to go along with a 4.49 ERA and 1.35 WHIP. That's simply unacceptable. But what are the Sox to do? How valuable is he right now? Does anyone truly believe that other teams will be beating down the Red Sox door to obtain Lester after his September collapse and total failure this season?

Lester has now established a long trend of incompetence going back to last season and it has really hurt his value to the Red Sox — whether he stays with them, or if they seek to trade him.

Beckett is 4-7 with a 4.43 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP. He us under contract for $15.75 million per season through 2014 and as a 10/5 player (10 years in the majors, five with his current team) can veto any trade. If the Sox are successful in any attempts to deal Beckett, they will be paying a substantial portion of his salary to pitch for another team, perhaps even against themselves. This has to be terribly frustrating to the Sox front office.

Buchholz leads the Sox in wins, but his 8-2 record is misleading. HIs run support average of 9.96 is the second best in the majors, after his teammate Felix Doubront (10.59). And Buchholz has a miserable 5.53 ERA and 1.54 WHIP. On another team, he might not have a win this season.

For his part, Doubront has been a pleasant surprise this year. Though his 9-4 record is the product of that aforementioned MLB-best run support, Doubront has fanned 97 batters in just 96 innings this season. That's a strikeout ratio of 9.09, 10th best in the majors.

However, the other side of the coin is Doubront's 4.41 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP. And then there's the question of durability and stamina.

After missing almost all of last year, how much does Doubront have left in the tank for the second half? As it stands, Doubront averages just 5.65 innings per start, putting pressure on the bullpen.

Doubront pitched a career-high 129.1 innings back in 2008, which was five seasons ago. Between the majors and minors, Doubront threw 105 innings in 2010 and just 87.2 last year. Against that backdrop, Sox executives clearly have to be asking how much further he can go.

As good as some of their recent starts have been, can the Red Sox really stake their season on the likes of Aaron Cook and Franklin Morales? Not likely.

The reality is that the Red Sox cannot be a contender without an ace, and they will be hard pressed to acquire one before the deadline. Considering their swings and misses in the free agent market in recent years, will the Sox get in on the bidding for Cole Hammels? It will cost them dearly in terms of prospects, and then there will be a massive long term contract obligation as well.

While Red Sox fans would love to see the club purge itself of all its overpaid, underachievers, those are exactly the types of players that other GMs aren't looking to acquire at the deadline. Every team has scouts and a player's stats are public knowledge. There isn't a team in baseball that thinks that Lester, Beckett or Buchholz will be their difference-maker in the second half. The same goes for Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford.

Fans may be eager to trade players like Ryan Sweeney and Scott Podsednik for a pitcher, but both have limited value. Even Jacoby Ellsbury's value has fallen at this point.

Ben Cherington may get creative and offer a package of players in return for a front line starting pitcher the Sox can control for the long term. But it will likely cost them some combination of major league talent like Lester, Ellsbuury and Cody Ross, plus prized prospects such as Ryan Lavarnway, Xander Bogaerts, Anthony Ranuado and Matt Barnes.

However, if management is of the same view as many of us — i.e., this season is lost, cannot be salvaged and is merely another bridge year to younger, homegrown talent that can meaningfully contribute down the line — we will likely watch the Sox continue to tread water and disappoint their fan base in the second half.

The Red Sox have spent the better part of the past decade building a winning brand in Boston and their fans have come to expect excellence. Given the high ticket prices and player salaries, is it any wonder?

However, the Red Sox have missed the playoffs for two consecutive seasons and have not won a playoff game since 2008. Unfortunately, those marks of futility are likely to be extended again this year.

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