Monday, May 10, 2010

Patience...Or Panic?

I am utterly grateful to Jon Lester for a couple of reasons. First, he dominated the Yankees and led the Sox to a 9-3 win that they desperately needed. Second, in winning that game and avoiding the sweep, Lester spared me and millions of others a week of "OHMYGODTHESKYISFALLINGFIRETITOANDTHEOWHYDIDNTWESIGNTEIXEIRA!!!!!!" crap on sports radio. I was really in no mood for that.

It was a rough weekend, no doubt. The Yankees slapped around Boston in the first two games by a combined score of 24-6. Boston's starters looked bad compared to New York's until Lester's performance Sunday night. Boston was outhit, outhustled and outplayed. Which made Sunday's game all the more perplexing. It's obvious that Boston can play with New York, so why didn't they until the final game of the series?

It didn't help Friday when Josh Beckett started the game looking like he was going to throttle the Yankees and then one three-run homer later starting channeling some horrid combination of Jeff Suppan and Brian Rose. Then on Saturday you had Teixeira treating Boston pitching like his personal hand-puppet and Scott Schoeneweis making people wonder why Boston let go of Alan Embree. Combine those two events with a total power outage from the Boston bats, and you could almost hear the semi-pro whiners and wailers getting ready to flood the phone lines after Boston got swept.

But they got derailed somewhat last night. Lester got it done while Boston beat AJ Burnett like a pinata. Lester went seven innings and allowed just two runs on four hits while striking out seven. He is 3-0 in his last four starts with a 0.98 ERA in those starts. Whatever was bugging him at the start of the year is long gone and he is once again asserting himself as the best starter on Boston's staff.

Boston's batters used the double to beat down New York, hitting five doubles and scoring four runs with them. Most of their production came from the back end of the lineup. Beltre went 2-4 with a pair of RBI and Jeremy Hermida (who looks like a very astute pickup by Theo) went 2-4 with three RBI.

Not only does yesterday's win help stem the tide of worry somewhat, but it should remind people that in seven games against Anaheim and New York, Boston went 5-2. That's good no matter how you cut it. Now Toronto comes into town for three and who knows what could happen there? Lackey is going tonight and he has been sharp in his last two starts.

But make no mistake, there will be some people calling for heads on the radio this morning. They will decry Theo's "run prevention" plan, his choice of free agents to sign (or not sign), Tito's managing and anything else they can drudge up so that we can all know that this season is OVAH!

And they would all be wrong. What Theo understood is that Boston really doesn't have a power problem to begin with. The Sox are third in the AL in runs scored, second in slugging and second in OPS. Run prevention was the right plan, was where Boston needed to improve. The problem has been the pitching hasn't been up to snuff. The staff ERA is 5.04, 12th best in the AL. They are 11th in allowed OPS, 10th in WHIP and 11th in quality starts. It's hard to prevent runs when your pitchers are serving them up in bucket-loads.

Now, that problem has begun to mitigate itself somewhat. But with New York rocking Boston twice, that has become a cause for concern again. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of callers go after Beckett. He's an easy target, truth be told. His ERA is 7.46, he has only two decisions in seven starts and has allowed seven or more earned runs in three of his last four starts. Add that to the big contract extension he signed recently and Beckett has a big ol' bullseye painted on his backside.

Personally, I think Beckett will sort himself out. I think whatever his problem, it's a mental one and not physical. He looked devestating in the first three innings against the Yankees. It only fell apart after Swisher hit that three-run homer. That is a mental problem.

The bigger issue for me is the bullpen. Delcarmen, Bard and Papelbon are the only reliable relievers (I still think of Wakes as a starter who isn't starting rather than a reliever). But our lefty relievers (Schoeneweis and Okajima) have executed poorly for large parts of the season. Which again begs the question of why Embree was released.

I think it also needs to be asked whether or not we need to start tapping the youngsters in the minors for the bullpen. Dustin Richardson was projected early on in his career as a starter but has effectively moved to the bullpen. The lefty is looking good in the Bucket so far this year. Why not bring him up, especially when Schoeneweis has been so inconsistent?

These games matter. And it sucks that Boston lost two of three to New York. But it's still May. There are still over 120 games of baseball to be played. And the talent level of Boston leads a level-headed person to believe that the Red Sox will be competing alongside the Rays and Yankees at season's end.

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