Red Sox Record for the Week of April 26-May 2: 3-3
In my last column, I stated that the Boston Red Sox needed to go at least 4-2 to move up in the AL East standings. After starting their six-game road trip by sweeping the Toronto Blue Jays in three matchups to get back to .500 for the first time since the second game of 2010, the Boston bunch moved one game ahead of the Jays into third place April 28 and got within 5.5 games of the division-leading Tampa Bay Rays. So it looked good for the BoSox as they got ready to play Baltimore in Camden Yards. Then the unthinkable happened.
After three grueling games over the weekend, the lowly Orioles swept Boston in Baltimore for the first time since September 1974 and left them with an 11-14 record, in fourth place and seven games back of the Rays (as of May 2). Friday and Sunday were walkoff 10th inning and one-run losses, via the swings of Miguel Tejada and Ty Wigginton, respectively. Saturday was a slugfest (a 12-9 loss).
It was a series where with one exception, Sox hitters could only hit solo homers and failed too many times to drive in runners in scoring position. Friday was the most frustrating of the losses, as the Sox walked 10 times and had 8 hits but left 11 runners on base and managed to score just 4 runs before losing 5-4.
Dice-K Disappoints In His 2010 Debut
Then Daisuke Matsuzaka made his much anticipated 2010 debut last Saturday night. After looking good through four innings, he couldn’t get out of the fifth without surrendering six earned runs. And Tim Wakefield was no better in his first relief appearance of the season, surrendering four runs the next inning. The only true Boston bright spot was Big Papi connecting for two solo homers.
I may be in the minority on this, but Josh Beckett is overrated, overvalued by the Red Sox, and should no longer be considered one of the co-aces of the staff (along with Jon Lester and John Lackey) and instead be known as a top No. 2 right-hander. And I felt this way before he signed a three-year extension last month, which I did not agree with. Heck, I didn’t think he deserved the Opening Night start either. Jon Lester was the better choice.
Beckett proved he can pitch in the AL East, general manager Theo Epstein said to the media upon announcing Beckett’s contract extension. That’s great, but what about the rest of the league and what about his lack of consistency over his four-plus years in Boston? He has one great year, the 2007 World Series season, on his Boston resume, as well as one pretty good year in 2009 with 17 wins, a 3.86 ERA and career highs in innings pitched (212) and Ks (199).
Other than that, he’s had un-ace-like seasons with ERAs in the 5.00s and 4.00s in 2006 and 2008, respectively. Add to that his poor playoff outings in 2008 and 2009 that followed up a terrific 2007 playoff campaign, and a sub-par start to 2010 — his ERA stands at 6.31 after six starts — and you have to wonder what to expect from him at this point in his career. A big game pitcher? Only on occasion.
The problem with Beckett is that his off-speed pitches aren’t consistently working for him, and good hitters are just sitting “dead red” on his fastball. Specifically, he can’t find his curveball this year, and when that isn’t working, his changeup, which in the high 80s mph is like the average major league fastball, is ineffective when his fastball clocks in around 93-96 mph. Sunday he again struggled with his curveball but an average Baltimore offense didn’t hurt him much. The Sox offense couldn’t score runs during his outing this time around, and lost 3-2 in extra innings.
Better hitting teams like the Yankees and Angels have and will continue to tee off Beckett’s fastball on days like this when he has to resort to one pitch, and it’s happening far too often for someone considered an ace. You won’t see me calling him that anymore, however. FYI: Beckett’s next start is at home this coming weekend against the Bronx Bombers.
J.D. Drew and David Ortiz
Right fielder J.D. Drew has raised his batting average over 70 points (.140 to .214) since his grand slam vs. Texas April 21, has 8 RBIs in as many games, and overall has 14 RBIs on the year now, a respectable number given his bad start. That’s good news. But other than his two solo shots last Saturday in Camden Yards, the other veteran lefty, David Ortiz, has yet to have more than one multiple hit game in 2010, managing just 10 hits in 63 at bats overall. How much longer Terry Francona will leave him in the middle of the batting order is unknown, but it’s looking more and more like Drew is going to be the only (somewhat) power lefty in the everyday lineup this year (unless, of course, he gets injured…again).
’Tek Is Tearing It Up
Platooning has worked out with catcher (and still captain) Jason Varitek so far this season, who with five homers and a .324 average as of Sunday is off to his best start offensively in a long time. Defensively, he made it three days in a row a Sox catcher threw out a base stealer, with Victor Martinez having done it Friday and Saturday. So it’s good to finally see some improvement in that regard.
Overcoming The Injury Bug
Though Mike Cameron is the team’s starting center fielder for 2010, he is still on the DL and in his absence, six other players, whether starting or as defensive replacements, have manned that position this season. And now Jeremy Hermida’s hurt too.
However, thanks to Darnell McDonald, the BoSox have been able to survive offensively and defensively without Cameron. But starting left fielder Jacoby Ellsbury is still out with rib injuries, and his absence from the field, the basepaths, and most importantly as the leadoff hitter cannot be overlooked when wondering why the offense is so inconsistent this year.
Marco Scutaro hasn’t been terrible at the top of the lineup in Ellsbury’s absence, but now in his mid 30s, he is not a threat to steal like the younger speedster, who stole 70 bases in 2009. Therefore, Scutaro won’t score the Sox too many runs as Ellsbury. He is much better suited at the bottom of the lineup, and certainly a better option there than Sunday’s center field starter, the young Jonathan Van Every. The sooner Ellsbury gets back in the lineup, the more stable the lineup will become.
To Stay Or Not To Stay In The AL East Race
Notwithstanding Dice-K’s one outing and Beckett’s unpredictable outings, the Sox starting staff is starting to come around, thanks largely to Lester and Clay Buchholz’s recent starts, including outstanding ones in Toronto, and Lackey’s quality start in Baltimore last week. But the bullpen has been shaky and still blowing leads — not including Alan Embree, who has cut ties with the Sox for good without ever throwing a pitch — and the Sox defense has been surprisingly poor (Adrian Beltre has five errors at third base already). Combine that with key injuries and veterans like V-Mart (.233 BA, 1 HR, 7 RBI in 86 AB), and David Ortiz underperforming just as the Sox start a tough stretch of games, and their chances of staying in the divisional playoff race aren’t looking good and are decreasing by the week.
The Sox start this week a season-high seven games back of Tampa Bay and are 5.5 back of the Yankees for the AL Wild Card. They play four games at home against the Angels then three vs. New York. With the Rays starting out playing a weak last-place Seattle Mariners squad, the Yankees playing Baltimore, and Toronto playing Cleveland, it could be lights out for the AL East race for the BoSox by my next column. But with their best three pitchers (Buchholz, Lester, and Lackey) going the first three games of the week and likely having the first two pitch again over the weekend, Red Sox Nation should hold off any serious talk of settling for the AL Wild Card race. For now.