Friday, July 10, 2009

Bullpen Blues

Coming into this 10 game homestand, most Sox fans saw it as a chance to rack up some wins. After all, Seattle, Oakland and Kansas City are not exactly tough competition.

But instead of padding their lead, the Sox find themselves in a tie for first with the annoying Yankees. And a good portion of the reason for that has been the failure of the Boston bullpen to hold a lead. The Sox have lost four games thus far on this homestand; three of them have been hung on the bullpen.

Last night was no different. Brad Penny didn't pitch a good game, but it was enough. Five innings of three-run, six-hit ball had left Boston with a 5-3 lead entering the sixth inning. At this point, you would expect Boston's pen to do their job. And you'd be wrong.

I don't know if the trade talk has Delcarmen shook, but he has not looked good as of late. Yesterday didn't help change that perception. He came in and gave up two doubles, letting a run in and leaving a man on second. So in comes Justin Masterson, who has had a couple of poor games recently but has proven himself overall as an effective bullpen pitcher.

Well, not last night. Masterson gave up a single to tie the game and then a two-run shot to the light-hitting David DeJesus to give KC a 7-5 lead. And that was it. Ramirez came in for the seventh and 2/3 of the eighth, giving up another run and three hits. The only pitcher in the pen who acquitted himself well was Daniel Bard, who went 1.1 innings and struch out three batters.

The total and complete implosion of the bullpen ruined what was shaping up to be a fun night, highlighted by David Ortiz's 300th career homer. For all you stat heads out there, that puts Big Papi at 122nd all-time, behind Rogers Hornsby who has 301. But instead the story is that the Sox are 3-4 on their homestand and the bullpen looks like they should be wearing Anaheim uniforms.

I think part of the reason is that reality is making itself known. The Boston bullpen was pitching amazingly well most of the 1st half of the season. Some of this fallback is simply the Law of Averages asserting itself. While Boston's pen is above-average in quality, it was still pitching slightly above it's ability. They just picked a lousy time to come back to earth.

And unfortunately, the bullpen implosion wasted a great offensive effort from the Sox. A team like Boston should be able to win almost every game where they score six or more runs. Last night the Sox threw a win away. And with the Yankees hanging on like a bad rash, Boston can't spit the bit against beatable teams like Kansas City.

So tonight we have Lester facing off against Brian Bannister. Bannister has lost three of his last four decisions while Lester has won four of his last five. But you can throw all that out the window since the bullpen apparently can't hold a lead against an American Legion squad these days. For the Sox to have a shot at winning, Lester will need to be at his best and go deep into the game.

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