After putting up an admirable six runs in a 13-6 loss, Boston's bats went dark just as their pitching staff found their feet. The result was Boston blowing two winnable games and falling 5.5 games back of the Yankees in the AL East. Worse is that now Boston is just 1.5 games in front of Tampa and just one game ahead of the Rangers in the wild card standings.
Such are the wages of inconsistent play.
Beckett pitched a masterpiece on Friday but was matched pitch-for-pitch by AJ Burnett. Then as Boston's bullpen stepped up, their bats made Aceves look like Cy freaking Young. And we all know how it ended; rookie Junichi Tazawa got thrown in the deep end. Then on Saturday the Sox were handed a gift from Heaven; a decent start from Clay Buchholz.
Despite walking more batters (5) than he struck out (3), Buchholz only gave up two runs in six innings. But the Boston bats went quiet again as The Human Blimp (aka CC Sabathia) pitched a hell of a game. Boston has had CC's number more often than not in his career, but not on Saturday. And the result is that Boston now must win with Lester on the mound tonight just to keep the Yankees in shouting distance.
No matter what, this trip has been an utter disaster. Winning one game in six against Tampa and New York won't change that one bit. But what we the fans and the team itself must ask is "Are things over?"
In a word...no.
I won't deny that Boston is in a rough spot. The odds are high they'll lose tonight. But things are not irretrievable. Keep in mind that after tonight Boston still has 52 games left to play. The Yankees will have 51. So not only are there plenty of games left to play but the Sox have one in hand.
New York is also facing a brutal road trip starting August 13. They fly out west for seven games in a row with the Mariners and A's before coming to Boston for three games. I will state now that there will be a much different result in that series than the one we are currently watching. New York then has a second west coast trip in late September; six straight against the Mariners and Angels.
And it's a legit question to ask if the Yankees are peaking too soon. Let's be honest; they look like the best team in baseball right now. Will they look that way in mid-September? The Sox will be able to use the expanded roster to their advantage, calling up some of their best farm talent to complement their squad. Yes, New York can do the same but Boston's farm talent is recognized as better from top to bottom. That will take some pressure off their bullpen and allow Boston to do other things. Things like keeping J.D. Drew out of the lineup (at least in my perfect world).
Also, the Sox will get Tim Wakefield back soon. Adding him back to the rotation will give Boston a measurable boost. The big question is whether Paul Byrd can actually pitch. If he can, even at Brad Penny's level, the addition of both Byrd and Wakefield will stabilize Boston's rotation.
But the problem now is getting Boston's bats to perform on a regular basis. The issue is no longer the leadoff spot; Ellsbury has gotten at least one hit in 14 of the last 15 games and has an eight-game hit streak going. That problem has been solved.
The problem is the 14 Million Dollar Man hasn't hit higher than .271 all year and that was for just one day. Drew is a millstone around Boston's neck.
The problem is that David Ortiz's bat has gone quiet. After the All-Star game Ortiz has a .208 average and an .639 OPS. Oh, and there's the whole PED thing to deal with.
The problem is that Jason Bay went on the DL. Not that it matters since his post All-Star numbers are as bad as Ortiz's. Bay was hitting .200 with a .685 OPS before he went on the DL. In 50 at-bats, he had just one home run and three RBI.
That's why everyone who keeps bitching about shortstop makes me want to rip my hair out. Boston's run production problems aren't because their ninth batter sucks. It's because the meat of their order is either on the DL or performing at a level that would get them benched on a Pony League team. And while Victor Martinez was a great addition, it can't make these three guys play better. All that said, the Sox have apparently placed a claim on Washington's Cristian Guzman. Which looks to me like another Julio Lugo; a shortstop with no glove who can hit. Of course, it turned out that Lugo couldn't hit either. Guzman is in the middle of the shortstop pack when it comes to OPS (.774), thanks mostly to his .337 OBP. And while he is a better batter than Nick Green, he's got just as many errors in the field (13). Is this really the answer to Boston's woes? A moderate improvement in their #9 hitter?
But all that is beside the point right now. Tonight, the Sox have to suck it up and get the win one way or another. They need to have Lester give them the outing of his life and then scratch and claw for any run they can get. A loss tonight doesn't end their chances of winning the AL East or taking the wild card. But it will make it much, much harder.