The Red Sox may have finally found the formula for letting John Lackey settle in on Friday evening: Put up a 10-spot in the first inning.
All kidding aside, though, Lackey has struggled to assimilate to the Red Sox pitching staff, be it because of nerves, traditional slow starts, or whatever.
But the fact of the matter is, he hasn’t exactly lived up to the hype— or contract—thus far, and has been no better than the third best pitcher on the staff behind Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, neither of whom are in Lackey’s salary neighborhood.
But one has to imagine that Lackey will find the touch before too long. He has a more than respectable pedigree and has proven so formidable in big-game situations that the Angels tossed him out there to start Game Seven of the World Series when Lackey was just a rookie.
But Lackey’s struggles are part of what makes this such a bizarre season so far. The Red Sox have escaped a brutal start and crawled back into playoff contention all without receiving anything close to a major contribution from two of the three pitchers slated for the top of the rotation.
Josh Beckett battled wildness for more than a month before being shelved with an injury that threatens to keep him out for another flip of the calendar. And Lackey is toting an uncharacteristic 4.54 ERA through 13 starts.
If someone told me we’d be in mid-June with little or nothing of consequence from those two guys, I’d have been thinking, “When does hockey start?”
And that’s the encouraging thing. For all the troubles the Red Sox went through in April and early May—and the list is frustratingly long—things are hardly dire. Consider that Boston has climbed to nine games over .500 and only four behind the Rays essentially without the services of Jacoby Ellsbury or Josh Beckett and with sub-par performances from Lackey and, for at least a month-and-a-half, David Ortiz.
Of course, such is life in Major League Baseball. Rarely if ever do all 25 guys fire on all cylinders at the same time, and it’s the nature of good teams to have role players step up while the others find their way. In that sense, the Red Sox are not re-inventing the wheel.
But they have to feel confident knowing that after the All-Star Break, they’ll presumably have a healthy Ellsbury and Beckett. And Lackey will no doubt have found his way by then.
The rest alone could be key for Beckett, who has historically benefited from extra days off en route to the postseason, where he’s done his most memorable damage.
So while Lackey continues to struggle to live up to his contract and off-season hype, the time for official panic has not yet arrived.
In fact, given where the Sox are and what they’ve dealt with, perhaps the outlook is rosier than we all think.