Sunday, August 16, 2009

Taking on water

I posted some time back that the model for the Red Sox in recent years was the old Earl Weaver philosophy of pitching, defense and 3 run homers. The Red Sox are falling fast because they can't manage to excel at any of those three elements with regularity.

The starting pitching has gone from the team's biggest strength to a cause for serious concern. Josh Beckett and Jon Lester are legitimate studs, but that's all we've got. John Smoltz was a bust, Daisuke Matsuzaka has been off the radar all year, Tim Wakefield is still hurt, Clay Buchholz remains a work in progress, and Brad Penny is problematic.

The bullpen has sprouted leaks as well. For all his promise and eye-popping talent, Daniel Bard is in approximately the same position as Clay Buchholz. He needs seasoning, and he's not yet the stud he'll develop into. Manny Delcarmen is either lights out or batting practice, and Takashi Saito is more often batting practice than much else. If you can't hit a hard fastball Ramon Ramirez is your man, but everything comes out of his hand at the same speed, and once hitters have locked in on him, he doesn't fool anyone with actual stuff. Then there's Jonathan Papelbon. I know that he's a mythical figure in Red Sox Nation, but looking at him realistically this year, he is not Mister Automatic. He tries to get too cute with sliders and even his devastating fastball. Making the perfect pitch takes precedence over just pitching. Every outing involves about 10-15 more pitches than it should.

The biggest nightmare with this staff is pitching coach John Farrell's fault. For reasons passing understanding, no Red Sox pitcher either understands how or is interested in paying attention to base runners. Brad Penny is the worst of the bunch but Papelbon isn't far behind. Buchholz has the maddening tendency to throw over to first when the runner is standing ON THE BASE. Why would you do this? This isn't a Jason Varitek problem. He has no shot at throwing anyone out when the pitchers allow enormous leads and barely bat an eye when the runner takes off. If it were just one pitcher, I'd say it's an individual issue, but when the Red Sox as a team are among the league's worst at holding base runners, it's endemic, and it leads to big innings and lost games.

The rest of the team defense has declined. There's the black hole at shortstop (I'm looking right at you, Nick Green), Mike Lowell's slowed reflexes at third and some awful play of late in right field. While Kevn Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury are gold-glove caliber, the Red Sox sit in the middle of the pack in team defense in the American League: the textbook definition of mediocrity.

Three run homers have happened on occasion, but all too often the team has been completely shut down. This is a bad year for David Ortiz, and it's impossible to know whether it's really the beginning of the end or not, but when your DH is hitting .219, and that's considered pretty good for him, there's a problem. Big Papi has only 64 RBI and a lower slugging percentage than Varitek and Rocco Baldelli. Something is seriously wrong. Jason Bay has been hot and cold, JD Drew has been mostly cold, Captain Tek's strong start has deteriorated again, there's that black hole at shortstop I mentioned earlier.

This team doesn't have what it takes. They're taking on water all over the place. The rotation, the bullpen, the offense and the defense are all, at best, just a bit better than average. After Beckett and Lester, nothing scares you about the 2009 Red Sox, other than their maddening propensity to find ways to lose ballgames they should win. A great win this weekend in Texas was followed by a demoralizing loss. The worst loss of the year took place on Jim Rice Night. The debacle in the Bronx last week probably killed any hope of winning the division. The wildcard is a tossup, but even if they pull it out I wouldn't be too optimistic that come playoff time they're able to do anything to get out of the first round.

They're just not that good.

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