Red Sox Meltdown a Cause for Concern?
Hindsight is 20-20.
That old sentiment is often a tough (and annoying) pill to swallow. It's so easy to say about the Red Sox right now as their start to 2010 makes the Hindenburg look like a mild setback.
Boston needed to re-sign Jason Bay as a middle of the order slugger. They should have dropped David Ortiz. They should not have spent so much on John Lackey. They should have gotten rid of Lowell and signed Adrian Gonzalez. If Theo made these simple moves, the Sox would obviously be in much better shape.
Honestly, though, is this April meltdown enough to trigger a red alert? A rather ugly 4-9 start does not support the "pitching and defense" mantra Epstein adopted, but 13 games is a paltry sample size. There are many factors to examine before Boston fans start leaping off the tallest nearby building.
First there is no way the starting rotation is this bad. With a starting four made up of Lackey, Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, and Clay Buchholz there is destined to be a rebound.
It is well-known that Lester is a late bloomer, so his tough outings are not overly surprising. His 8.44 ERA though, is a major contributor to the shabby team ERA of 5.04. The Sox need him to emerge as the ace of the team before the May flowers are in full bloom.
Lackey and Beckett have both been troubled by a single disastrous start. In his first start of the season, Beckett was beat up by those mean ol' Yankees for five runs in 4.2 innings. Since then, he has pitched 14 innings, allowing three runs and striking out 12. Lackey's first two starts were great, but he was abused by Tampa to the tune of eight runs in 3.1 innings.
Buchholz has been the lone warrior of the rotation, sporting a shiny 1.80 ERA in his first two starts. Still just 25 years of age, this could be his season to finally break out.
The real downfall of Boston pitching seems to be with the bullpen. In the early season, the Sox are apparently challenging Kansas City for the ownership of the most laughable corps of relievers.
Upon closer inspection, though, the bullpen woes can be attributed to two pitchers in particular: Ramon Ramirez and Scott Schoeneweis. Ramirez has coughed up five runs in seven innings while only punching out two batters. Schoeneweis has fared only slightly better, giving up three runs in 6.2 innings of work.
The rest of the crew has an ERA safely under four. Bard and Papelbon are blessed with freakish heat and should provide solid support as the season wears on. The biggest point of concern is that Manny Delcarmen and Hideki Okajima have combined for a whopping zero strikeouts so far.
Next up on the what's-going-wrong-athon is the much maligned Boston offense. Poor Dustin Pedroia is apparently doing all the offensive work by himself while everyone else slumps. This is true to an extent, but far from the big picture.
In reality, the Sox are third in the league in SLG with a .458 mark, and are sixth with a .327 OBP. The problem is that their 37 runs scored is near the bottom of the heap, at 14th.
This strange little set of numbers could mean that only a few batters are getting the job done. It could also be an indicator of some very poor luck. In either case, it is likely the Sox will pick up the run-scoring soon.
David Ortiz had been another hot topic among Boston bandwagoners. To get the most out of this aging slugger, he should be platooned with the under-utilized Mike Lowell. At the very least, Ortiz would no longer have to be demoralized by tough lefty matchups.
The final piece of Boston's losing puzzle is the injury bug. In the first few weeks, the Sox have suffered losses at critical positions.
The outfield in particular has been thrown into chaos from injuries. The loss of Ellsbury takes away a dynamic leadoff hitter, though his defense is not missed. Mike Cameron is back in the hospital and no one seems to have a clue about what is ailing him.
Both of these players could be out for an extended amount of time. In the meanwhile, the Sox will have to rely on the prowess of fill-in players such as Bill Hall.
Yes, the Sox have many obstacles to overcome before they get back on track. With the Yankees and the Rays dominating the division, success looks nigh impossible.
However, this Sox team simply has too much good pitching and defense to dwell in the cellar for long. An A.L. East championship is probably asking too much, but they will be contenders for the entire season.
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