Boston Red Sox: 5 Reasons an Epic AL East Comeback Isn't Possible

Ben Stepansky@@benstepanskyCorrespondent IAugust 8, 2012

Boston Red Sox: 5 Reasons an Epic AL East Comeback Isn't Possible

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    I've always been a believer. Then again, when one lives his entire life rooting for a team that has broken his heart countless times, the believing nearly becomes routine.

    Maybe that is why I am having such a difficult time giving up on the 2012 Boston Red Sox, a team that miserably rests in the middle of the AL Wild Card race and nine games behind the New York Yankees in the division.

    Turn on any sports radio outlet in the Boston area and one will quickly discover a deflated Red Sox Nation, which includes players, analysts, and the everyday fan. This is an uncomfortable place to be for the Red Sox because each season for the past decade or so it always feels like they're in it. 

    This year, on the other hand, things have changed, and with the fourth-highest payroll in the majors at $146 million, a .495 winning percentage with 51 games left is not a happy place.

    The Boston media is having a frenzy this year, swirling up stories about "unhappy" players, ridiculous trade rumors, and an apathetic owner's group who felt the need to voice their support for Bobby Valentine.

    Ultimately what it comes down to is performance. Whether it is hitting, pitching, fielding, or running, the performance on the field is what wins ballgames and is what propels teams into the playoffs. 

    So what is holding the Red Sox back from an epic comeback? Click on, my friend.

Starting Pitching

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    It has been painful, folks.

    Let's get this out of the way now; Josh Beckett (5-9, 4.54 ERA), Jon Lester (5-10, 5.36 ERA) and Clay Buchholz (9-3, 4.48 ERA) are a combined 19-22 with a 4.83 ERA. That's not exactly the production expected from the top three pitchers on a supposedly playoff-caliber team. 

    What is worse is that after rookie Felix Doubront, who leads the team in wins (10) and strikeouts (115), the Red Sox have a sorry excuse for a fifth starter in Aaron Cook. Franklin Morales has given some solid spot starts over the course of the season, but I'd rather see him in the bullpen as a long reliever to eat up innings if a starter collapses.

    The Red Sox, as a team, have performed better on the road than at home this year, sporting a .531 (26-23) winning percentage on the road and a .475 (29-32) winning percentage at home . This directly translates with the pitching staff's respectable 3.82 ERA on the road and whopping 4.63 ERA at Fenway, second-worst in the AL.

    Buchholz has looked like an ace since the All-Star Break with a 1.98 ERA in 36.1 innings, but it will take more than that to bring the Sox back from the dead.

The Health of David Ortiz

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    David Ortiz, who has been on the disabled list since July 16 with a strained right Achilles' tendon, is the face and rhythm of the Red Sox. 

    Since his placement on the disabled list, the Red Sox are 9-12. It may not seem like much has changed in Ortiz's absence: the Sox are still a sub-.500 ballclub, the pitching is still poor, and confidence is low. 

    However, a player of Ortiz's caliber who can generate quick offense with one swing of the bat is worth at least one or two wins in the 23 games he has been out. 

    Imagine a classic clutch Ortiz double to the right-center gap or an opposite field dinger in extra innings and that could calculate to an 11-10 record if he remained healthy. That would place the Red Sox just 2.5 games out of the wild card and would feed the Boston media with positive energy.

    Ortiz still leads the team with a .316 average and 23 home runs. According to Joe McDonald of ESPN Boston, Ortiz took batting practice on Tuesday and is looking to return to the lineup against the Cleveland Indians sometime this weekend.

    So that's a good sign.

The Remaining Schedule

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    Of the Boston Red Sox's 16 remaining series, 11 of them come against opponents with a winning record. In half of those series the Sox will face off against the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, and Tampa Bay Rays, who sit above them in the AL East.

    Here's another way to look at it: 34 of their remaining 51 games (67 percent) come against opponents with a winning record.

    Furthermore, 32 of those 51 games (63 percent) occur on the road. Typically, this would be a bad sign for a team (and frankly I think it still is), but the Red Sox have been a better road team so maybe it will play to their advantage.

    Regardless, it is a tough road ahead for the Sox. 

    Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe recorded a pessimistic statistic that the Red Sox had gone 84-87 since the 2011 All-Star Break (retroactive to when his article was written on July 27). He makes the obvious point in saying, "That's a lot of bad baseball."

    This schedule won't help the Sox turn it around.

Plate Discipline

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    The 2012 Boston Red Sox are on pace to record 197 fewer walks in 2012 than the team recorded in 2009, according to a recent article by Jeremy Lundblad of ESPN Boston. The 2012 team requires 13.5 plate appearances per walk compared with 9.6 plate appearances needed by the 2009 squad.

    You may be asking yourself, "Why does this matter? Pitching is the problem, not the offense."

    I'll tell you why.

    The Red Sox are the third highest run-producing team in the majors (539 runs scored), so clearly they're scoring runs. However, to eclipse the top offensive team, the Texas Rangers (550 runs scored), the Red Sox need to score 12 more runs, and to score more runs runners must be on base!

    With an additional 12 runs to spare in any close game, this season could have witnessed four, five, or even six more wins up to this point.

    Lundblad acknowledges personnel changes and injuries as factors determining this staggering statistic. What's even worse, according to Lundblad, is on top of the Red Sox being "on track for its lowest on-base percentage since Red Sox team has ever struck out more." 

    Oh boy.

General Apathy in Boston

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    Every year there are high expectations for the Boston Red Sox, and rightfully so. With one of the highest payrolls in baseball and a history of success in the past decade, the Red Sox are always supposed be contenders.

    At 55-56 with 51 games to play, many Red Sox fans have already given up. 

    There was hope that the Sox would turn it around after the All-Star Break. That didn't happen. Fans were convinced we just needed Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford back and the wins would start piling up. That didn't happen. A deal for a starting pitcher at the trade deadline looked plausible. But that, also, didn't happen.

    Fans are fed up.

    Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez are currently tearing the seams off the ball, but the Sox are still struggling to climb the ladder in the AL. Unless the starting pitching can right itself, it's going to be a slippery slope up.

    There's a rift in Red Sox Nation.