Red Sox Review: Boston Struggles Out of the Gate

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Red Sox Review: Boston Struggles Out of the Gate
(Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Like he’s done countless times throughout his career with the Boston Red Sox, knuckleballer Tim Wakefield stepped up for his team yesterday with a nine-inning complete game victory over the Oakland Athletics, 8-2.

The win allowed Boston to salvage the three-game series with Oakland, and, more importantly, end their six-game road trip on a positive note.

To say Boston’s season hasn’t started as they hoped is a bit of an understatement.

The Red Sox currently sit at 3-6, having lost all three series they’ve played. But the schedule makers certainly didn’t do Boston any favors.

The Sox opened the season at home with a three-game series against the defending American League champion, the Tampa Bay Rays.

After winning the opener behind 10 strikeouts from ace Josh Beckett, Boston dropped the next two thanks to strong outings from Tampa starters Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza.

By contrast, Boston starters Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka weren’t effective. Many fans throughout baseball feel the Red Sox have one of, if not, the best starting rotations in either league, so the early pitching struggles come as a surprise.

After the Tampa series, the Sox caught a plane for the West Coast. Their first stop was in Anaheim to play the Los Angeles Angels.

When Boston arrived, the Angels were in a state of shock over the sudden and tragic death of their young pitcher, Nick Adenhart.

The Angels took two-of-three from Boston, including dealing Beckett his first loss of the season in the Sunday finale.

After two games against the A’s, Oakland wasn’t very hospitable to the Sox, either.

For the second straight outing, Lester was roughed as the A’s captured the first game, 8-2.

Things went from bad to worse for Boston when Matsuzaka took the hill in game two.

After his teammates staked him to a 3-0 first inning lead, the Japanese sensation promptly coughed that up by allowing Oakland to put a five-spot on the board in the bottom of the first.

That would be the only inning Matsuzaka pitched that night as he left due to a tired arm. The next day, Boston placed him on the 15-day DL.

Boston’s bullpen was forced to use six different pitchers over the next 10.2 innings of the 12-inning affair.

With the bullpen all but spent, Sox manager Terry Francona needed a long outing from Wakefield heading into the last game of the series.

Boston had lost six of their past seven and Wakefield knew his knuckleball could be the panacea that ailed the Sox.

So when Wakefield met up with Francona prior to the game, he told his skipper, “No matter what, don’t take me out.”

Once he took the hill, Francona had no reason to even consider that prospect, as he watched Wakefield no-hit the A’s through the first 7.1 innings of the game.

As masterful as Wakefield was, Boston maintained a slim 2-0 lead, thanks to a second-inning two-run homer by Mike Lowell.

That all changed in the top of the eighth when Boston erupted for six runs, highlighted by a three-run bomb by J.D. Drew.

Though he lost the no-hitter and allowed single runs in the eighth and ninth, Wakefield cruised home from there.

 

Who’s Hot

Kevin Youkilis

After Boston jettisoned disgruntled left fielder Manny Ramirez at the All-Star break last year, the big question surrounding the Boston lineup has been, "Who will bat cleanup?" Youkilis has answered that bell.

Coming off his best offensive season in the majors, Boston’s gold-glove first baseman is batting .472 with two homers and five RBI through nine games. He has 17 hits, including three doubles, and has scored eight runs.

Jason Bay

The man who came to Boston in the Ramirez deal has blended in perfectly. Bay is hitting .345 on the year and leads the team in slugging with a .724 mark.

Though he only has 10 hits through the first nine games, six of those hits—three doubles, a triple, and two home runs—have been for extra bases. He’s also second on the team with seven RBI. The Red Sox will need Bay to continue to be a run-producer in the middle of the lineup.

Ramon Ramirez

This right-handed reliever, acquired from Kansas City in exchange for Coco Crisp, was brought in to bolster the late-inning relief corps and help serve as a bridge to lights-out closer Jonathan Papelbon. So far, Ramirez has been all of that.

He’s pitched 5.2 innings in four appearances without surrendering a run. Opponents are hitting a minuscule .063 against the righty. Ramirez has walked a single batter while striking out four.

 

Who’s Not

Jon Lester

The 6’2” lefty has dropped both of his starts this season and currently sports an ERA of 9.00. He’s struck out 10 batters in 11 innings, however, opponents are batting a whopping .383 against him.

Lester has given up a total of 11 runs in those starts. Many prognosticators felt Lester would be a Cy Young candidate this season. While the year hasn’t started the way he’d like, Boston needs Lester to regain his form and help Beckett stabilize the top of the rotation.

Daisuke Matsuzaka

After pitching in the World Baseball Classic—much to the chagrin of the Red Sox—Matsuzaka hasn’t been the same. He surrendered three home runs to Tampa in his first start before lasting only one inning against Oakland and now finds himself on the DL.

Matsuzaka has an ERA of 12.79 and has walked five in only 6.1 innings of work. He’s allowed nine runs and has a team-worst .438 opponents’ batting average against.

David Ortiz

After a very un-Ortiz-like season last year in which he was plagued by injuries and missed 53 games, Big Papi has yet to get untracked.

Ortiz is batting only .176 and hasn’t hit a home run. Of his six hits, only one—a double in Wednesday’s game—has gone for extra bases. For Boston to compete in the loaded AL East, Ortiz must revert to the form that made him one of the most feared hitters in baseball since 2003.

Dustin Pedroia

After going deep in his first at-bat of the year, the reigning American League MVP has struggled at the plate.

Pedroia’s batting .179 with only seven hits. His lone RBI came on a home run.

Jacoby Ellsbury

Ellsbury’s struggles at the plate represent an enormous reason why Boston’s offense has sputtered so far.

Boston’s center fielder, he of the blazing speed, has yet to come around from the leadoff position. Ellsbury has seven hits on the year—none for extra bases.

For the Red Sox to really click offensively, Ellsbury must get on base and set the table for the rest of the order.

 

Who’s Next?

After an off-day on Thursday, Boston returns home to begin a nine-game homestand against Baltimore.

After four with the Orioles, Minnesota stops in for a quick two-game set before the hated Yankees arrive in Boston for a three-game showdown next weekend.

Boston currently sits dead last in their division. They’ve been an exceptional offensive team at Fenway Park the past six seasons. Maybe some home cooking will be what they need to wake up the bats.

While it’s still very early in the season, the Red Sox must play well on this homestand to extricate themselves from the cellar and remind the rest of the American League that they will have a say in which teams make the postseason.

This article, and others like it, can be found at The Sports Chat Place.

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