Sunday, April 18, 2010

Unfriendly Confines

I never thought I would see the day when Boston did better away from Fenway Park. But 11 games into the 2010 season, the simple truth is that Boston wins more on the road than at home. The Sox are 3-3 on the road and 1-4 at home. Yesterday's double-whammy with the Rays contributed a lot to that abysmal home start.

What makes it worse is that the losses are never blowouts. In their two losses against the Yankees and their two losses against the Rays, the Sox haven't lost by more than two runs in any game. They are in the games right to the end but cannot seem to find a way to win.

Yesterday's games are a perfect example of that. Finishing up the first game, a continuation of Friday's suspended match, the Sox were tied with Tampa at 1. In the bottom of the eleventh inning, the Sox had the bases loaded with no outs. You almost have to try to fail in this situation in order to not score a run. But Ortiz grounded into a fielder's choice that got the force out at home. And then Beltre hit into a double play and just like that the Sox threw away their best chance to win. Tampa capitalized with a homer in the 12th and Boston lost 3-1. In the process they wasted a fantastic start from Josh Beckett, who went seven innings and gave up just one run and four hits over seven innings. He struck out eight and walked just one. A silver lining would also be the performance of Daniel Bard, who went two clean innings and struck out two.

Then yesterday's real game took place. Clay Buchholz didn't do his team any favors, putting the Rays in position to score four times in the first inning. But that's also on Mike Cameron, who flubbed a catch that would have been the third out. But to Clay's credit, he didn't let that affect him. This is the kind of thing that would have melted him down a year ago. Instead, Clay buckled down and allowed just one hit and one walk over the next four innings. He also retired eight batters in a row. So from bad things can come an encouraging sign.

Then Scott Atchison came on in the sixth and was undone by an error as well. Marco Scutaro's third error of the season (more on this in a moment) allowed BJ Upton on base and to steal his way over to third just in time for Jaso's ground-rule double that scored Upton and put the Rays up 5-1. Without that error, the double does nothing. Instead, it allowed that homer in the seventh to be the winning run.

In short, two errors accounted for five of Tampa's six runs in their 6-5 win. Boston should have won this game going away. And the result was that Boston's four run seventh, punctuated by two-run blasts from both Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, came up just short.

There are going to be two things to watch from here on out. One, David Ortiz's production. Peter Abraham made the point recently in the Globe that J.D. Drew is actually having a worse season at the plate than Ortiz. And he's right. But there isn't as much scrutiny on Drew, which you can chalk up to low expectations and the protection that provides. But Papi doesn't have that. And if he doesn't start hitting more as we approach the end of the month, the pressure will mount for Lowell to take over at DH.

The other thing to watch is Boston's sudden propensity for errors. One of the keys for Boston's success this year was to be run prevention. When that fails, as it did yesterday, the results are clear. Well, the Sox now have eight errors in 11 games, fourth-highest in the AL. That's above the league average of seven and something that simply wasn't supposed to happen. And it would be remiss not to mention that Scutaro is responsible for three of those errors. He leads AL shortstops with three errors and has the worst fielding percentage (.939) of any shortstop in the AL. Extrapolate that out, and he's on target for a Renteria-esque 30+ errors. I am not saying that will happen. Nor am I comparing him to Renteria. But his fielding thus far makes one wonder if the revolving-door at shortstop is still going to be in operation after the season, or if Boston will (mistakenly) try to rush Jose Iglesias along in the minors.

Today it's going to be Jon Lester and Matt Garza. Garza is off to a fantastic start in 2010 and Boston will have to be at their best to get a win today.

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