Am I getting soft at my old age? How could it be? This isn't the Washington Nationals, where a 16-12 record would be met with a rousing ovation and suggestions of a national holiday. This is Boston—where every failure is treated as talk show fodder and every success is met with tempered jubilation in anticipation of tomorrow's impending doom.
Then I started dissecting the pitching statistics, and it became quite clear which group dominated the bottom end of the grading curve. Despite the moderately acceptable 16-12 record, the Sox pitching staff finished August with a 4.90 ERA. If not for one-game heroics by Paul Byrd, Billy Wagner, Tim Wakefield, and even utility man Nick Green, the Sox staff would have finished with an August ERA of 5.19.
As the team heads into September with hopes of playing into October, pitching coach John Farrell and his boys better rediscover the dominance that carried them through the first four months of the campaign or schedule their end of season banquet earlier than planned.
Josh Beckett: D+
Once upon a time, or prior to August, Beckett was cruising towards a possible Cy Young award—and then Aug. 18 came. Prior to then, Beckett had a record of 14-4 with a 3.10 ERA.
On Aug. 18 against the Blue Jays, Beckett was torched for seven runs (three home runs) in 5.1 innings in a no-decision against the Blue Jays.
This was followed by an equally concerning outing against the Yankees where he surrendered eight runs in eight innings. He picked up the loss in that game, giving up five long balls.
In his most recent outing, a no-decision against the Jays again, Beckett lasted only five innings, surrendering five runs and two more home runs. The only encouraging part of that game was nine strikeouts in only five innings of work.
With a season record of 14-5 and a 3.80 ERA, Beckett is still in the running for a Cy Young with Detroit's Justin Verlander, New York's CC Sabathia, and Texas' Scott Feldman. He will need a much improved September to be collecting any hardware at all at season's end.
Jon Lester: A-
Despite a record of only 1-0 with four no-decisions, Lester was the one bright light in the Sox starting rotation. His ERA was 2.42, and he has won eight of his last 10 decisions dating back to May 31.
With only one decision in his last six outings (prior to last night's 8-4 victory against Tampa Bay-Sept. 1), he simply does not have enough decisions to be mentioned in talk for the Cy Young.
At 11-7, including last night's win, Lester can expect to make at most six more starts before the postseason and at best will finish at 17-7. Respectable, but unlikely to gain much Cy Young support.
One area that Lester can consistently be counted on is in giving the team a quality start. He's given the team six innings or more in 17 of his last 19 starts and has given up only three runs or less in all 17 of those games.
Clay Buchholz: B-
Well, the key to being a dominant pitcher is focusing on your strengths and minimizing your weaknesses. With a 3-0 record and a 1.35 ERA for the season against Toronto and an 0-3 record with a 6.60 ERA against the rest of the league, it wouldn't be hard to determine Buchholz's pros and cons. Unfortunately for him, the Sox don't play the Blue Jays 162 times a year.
Overall, for August Buchholz was 2-2 with a 4.75 ERA. His most recent start was the most encouraging for the lanky Texan, when he surrendered only three hits and one earned run in a nine-strikeout effort against (who else?) the Blue Jays. Buchholz went 8.1 innings in a 3-2 win against the Jays.
With Wakefield fighting back problems, the Red Sox may have to rely on their young starter to be their No. 3 hurler heading into the postseason—a place that Toronto is all but eliminated from.
Junichi Tazawa: D
Despite an impressive 13-1 record pitching for the Nippon Oil Eneos of the Japan Industrial League last season, the jury is still out as to whether or not Tazawa's skills are of major league caliber. His 2-3 record with a 6.65 ERA is a far cry from his Far East statistics.
Tazawa has been like the little girl with the curl. He followed six shutout innings against the Yankees with an alarming four-inning, 10-hit, nine-run outing against the White Sox.
As Sox fans have come to expect from their hurlers from the Land of the Rising Sun, Tazawa has lasted five innings or less in three of his four starts, once going six innings. Fellow countryman Daisuke Matsuzaka, who is currently recovering from a tired right shoulder, was notorious for his high pitch counts and subsequent early exits.
Tim Wakefield: Incomplete
Wakefield exited the disabled list just long enough to breathe some hope into the deflated starting five before missing his next start with the same recurring back problem.
His one appearance for the entire month of August was a seven-inning, one-run outing against the White Sox. In this game, his first since coming off the 15-day disabled list, manager Terry Francona had concerns about Wakefield's ability to field his position due to his decreased mobility. Nonetheless, the 42-year old knuckleballer hurled seven inspiring innings against the ChiSox.
One has to wonder if old knuckleballers never die; they just can't get out of bed the next day.
Brad Penny and John Smoltz: Don't Let the Door Hit You...
With a combined August record of 0-4 with a 9.81 ERA, it's a blessing that the two veterans have been escorted to the door. Smoltz has been picked up by the St. Louis Cardinals and has given up only one run in 11 innings, while Penny signed a minor league deal with the Giants on Monday.
Both hurlers were signed by the Red Sox during the offseason to low risk, low dollar contracts, but with a combined record of 9-13 and an ERA north of six, one has to question if the investment was worth the risk.
Manny Delcarmen: D
For the season Delcarmen has been solid at 5-2 with a 3.25 ERA. For August, however, the native of Jamaica Plain was a wee bit wobbly at 2-0 with a 5.25 ERA. This is the second month in a row that he's been shaky after a lights out start to the campaign.
Since June 30, Delcarmen has pitched 21.2 innings and allowed 32 runners to reach base (20 hits, 12 walks), while allowing 12 runs to score. Following the trade of long man Justin Masterson to the Indians in a deal that brought Victor Martinez to the Sox, the Sox were counting on Delcarmen to lock down that role.
Ramon Ramirez: C
For the season, Ramirez is 7-3 with a 2.67 ERA, but he too was less than advertised during August. Ramirez, who was picked up in the offseason in a trade that sent Coco Crisp to the Royals, was 2-0 with a 4.15 ERA for the month. He also blew a save opportunity against the White Sox in a game the Red Sox came back to win.
His low point for the month was a one-inning, four-hit, four-run outing in a 20-11 loss to the Yankees. In that game, Ramirez certainly was not alone in his ineffectiveness out of the pen.
Takashi Saito: A-
At 1-1 with a 1.42 ERA for the month of August, Saito has been as good as could be expected. For the season he is 3-3 with a 2.68 ERA and has been solid in nearly every outing. Perhaps not the same eye-popping stats as when he saved 81 games in three seasons with the Dodgers, but solid nevertheless.
Hideki Okajima: A-
Together with Saito, Okajima gives the Red Sox the most solid Japanese bullpen duo in the majors. Okajima was 0-2 in 13 appearances with an ERA of only 1.64. For the season, he has Okey-dokeyed to the tune of 5-0 with a 3.19 ERA.
Once an afterthought signing overshadowed by the signing of fellow countryman Matsuzaka, Okajima is now 11-4 with a 2.63 ERA in three seasons with the Red Sox. He continues to be an invaluable lefty setup man out of Francona's pen and gives lefty hitters fits with his patented Okey-dokey pitch that seems to drop off the table as it reaches the plate.
Daniel Bard: D-
On paper, Bard's 0-1 record and 7.36 ERA earn him a subpar grade. It is what it is. However, every time the tall right-handed rookie comes in from the bullpen, the Fenway crowd anticipates something special.
The possible heir apparent to the closer's role should Papelbon choose to take his game elsewhere after next season, the tall Texan regularly breaks 100 MPH on the radar gun with a completely effortless motion. He wowed the crowd in his last two outings of August, throwing three shutout innings while striking out six against the Blue Jays and White Sox.
He did give up runs in six of 11 appearances in August, however, resulting in his barely passing score.
Jonathan Papelbon: A
With five saves in five opportunities and a 1.69 ERA for the month, one would think Papelbon would make headlines for his performance alone.
However, the fiery fireballer made the headlines for his comments prior to the Sox's acquisition of Billy Wagner from the New York Mets. Papelbon referred to the move as being reminiscent of last year's trade deadline deal that brought former closer Eric Gagne to the Sox a year removed from Tommy John surgery.
Both Wagner and Gagne were former closers who subsequently came to the Red Sox to fill the setup role in front of Papelbon. Gagne was virtually useless during his month with the Sox and was later released.
Papelbon backed away from his earlier comments, saying he was misquoted. The Sox subsequently traded for Wagner, who has pitched twice since joining the team. All seems well at the back end of the bullpen.
Paul Byrd, Nick Green, and Billy Wagner—Quiz Grade: A+
Who would predict that this trio would have combined for nine innings of shutout ball in three combined appearances for August?
As late as two weeks ago, Byrd was officially retired, Green was (and still is) a utility infielder, and Wagner was the once closer turned superfluous setup man for the New York Mets.
What a difference a couple weeks makes. Byrd returned to the hill after being called out of retirement to shore up the Boston starting rotation and responded with a seven-inning shutout against Roy Halladay and the Blue Jays.
Green was called into action against the White Sox to preserve the bullpen after Tazawa's early exit and threw two no-hit, no-run innings against Chicago.
Wagner finally waived his no-trade clause and pitched to three batters in his lone August appearance in a Sox uniform, striking out the side against the Blue Jays. Wagner has since thrown another inning, striking out two Rays in one inning on Sept. 1, and has now struck out nine batters in four innings between the Mets and the Sox.
Overall Pitching: C
Though the Sox look like the team to beat for the wild card spot, the pitching is going to have to return for them to play deep into October. The starting staff remains thin and needs Beckett to join Lester as the dominant one-two punch they can be. They then need both Wakefield to get well soon and Buchholz to mature quickly, or it will be an early exit from the postseason dance.
Look for Beckett to straighten out and the bullpen to flourish with the addition of Wagner. I still believe it is the Red Sox pitching that gives them the edge over the Yankees at the end.
He is a supporter of A Glove of Their Own, the award-winning children's story that teaches sharing through baseball. Please visit the site and purchase the book under today's donor code JNF636, Joe Niekro Foundation, as $3.00 from each book sale will go to that wonderful organization.