David Ortiz is struggling against the fastball. Lowell isn't coming back. Mark Kotsay's bat is soft. Jason Bay can't do it all by himself. Jon Lester was flat in Game three. Josh Beckett still looks injured. Manny isn't in the middle of the lineup. Varitek, where did your bat go?
The element of fear has gripped Red Sox Nation. The Sox, down 2-1 against the best team record-wise in the AL East, and there seems to be more questions than answers to whether this team will survive before Saturday.
Sports radio has been run amok by doomsayers. The end of the Red Sox world has been conversed and reprinted across the internet. Stockpiles of canned soup, ammunition, and Mo Vaughn bobblehead dolls are being depleted from warehouses all over the northeastern United States.
And, as trauma surfaces from the recent memories of Aaron Boone, Saku Koivu, and David Tyree, the negativity of the Nation will overwhelm every die-hard fan, making it hard to fathom that the Red Sox might make it out of this series with four wins.
The sky isn't falling. The Red Sox still have an immense amount of pitching and hitting talent. And they have been down in numerous other series over the last few years.
I don't see how the Sox's current position is the end of their World Series run, but the Red Sox have to play a lot better if they want to quell the hysteria that is permeating around Lansdowne St.
What the Red Sox Need To Do:
They need to win game five with Daisuke Matsuzaka on the mound. He pitched well against the Rays in Tropicana last week, but he always seemed one hit from getting roughed up. We have all grown accustomed to his style of never giving into the hitter, but the walks can be of a concern if he hangs a juicy pitch to the likes of Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria.
He has given up only 12 homeruns this entire year (2007- 25 HR ), which is remarkable for a non-sinkerball pitcher, but he throws a great deal of off-speed pitches and needs to make sure none of those flatten out over the plate with runners on base.
Seven walks in 12 innings in the postseason is a small sample, but concerning enough for a Tampa Bay team that might be even more patient against him the next time around.
The Red Sox need to get Andy Sonnanstine out of the game before he kills them. He has pitched two games against the Red Sox, back-to-back starts on the road and at home, and has given up zero earned runs. Zero.
This is Tampa Bay's fourth starter and he has quelled this lineup in a Pedro Martinez-esque fashion. He doesn't throw hard, which hurts the Sox because many of the hitters thrive off the fastball in hitter counts, or waste them in pitcher counts. He throws a lot of strikes and gets a lot of ground balls.
The Red Sox will need to hit his mistakes hard, make him work in the counts, and get to the Rays' bullpen before the seventh.
Jacoby Ellsbury needs to make it happen. Everyone is harping on David Ortiz's woes at the plate, but it is hard for him to get anything done with no one on base. Dustin Pedroia has heated up recently, but the Ellsbury factor of confusion and getting to third will bode better for Ortiz (and of course Youkilis) to get more pitches and less shifts. You can't win in the ALCS with your leadoff man going 0-13.
None of these tasks are easy, but if they can get these facets of the game in their hands, they will be facing the Phillies or Dodgers next week. If the budding stars of Upton and Longoria get to Dice-k, if Sonnanstine does a repeat performance and quiets the riot at Fenway park tonight, and/or Ellsbury morphs into Dwayne Hosey, you can be sure that whispers of Manny Ramirez's disappearance will be raised many decibels;
Theo Epstein will hear the raging critics and the doomsayers, as well as ringing cowbells of victory in the distance coming from St. Petersburg.