The Red Sox closed the first half of the season last night in the same fashion they started it: with a loss. Boston boasts an even 43-43 record as their lone All-Star representative, David Ortiz, heads to Kansas City for the midsummer classic. Needless to say, it’s going to be a long five days before they take the field again.
Of course, with the addition of a second wild card team in each league this year, Boston sits only three games out of a playoff spot with nearly half a season left to play. Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury are set to return just after the break along with Clay Buchholz, and Dustin Pedroia won’t be too far behind them. There’s a lot of reasons to believe that this team can make playoffs.
There’s also a lot of reasons to believe that they won’t. And you don’t have to look much further than Josh Beckett and Jon Lester’s pitching lines from this weekend’s series to understand why.
ESPN showed a stat last that night that since May 22nd, the day that the Yankees started their 30-12 run that vaulted them into first place in the American League East, their starting rotation has posted a 3.12 ERA, the best in the majors. Consistent success in baseball comes from the starting rotation, and it’s something that the Red Sox simply don’t have. They have a 4.20 team ERA, good for 20th in the majors, in front of such notable powerhouses as the Rockies, the Twins, the Astros, the Cubs, the Royals…well, you get the picture.
This starts with the only three pitches that the front office thought they could count on when the season began: Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, and Clay Buchholz. Beckett has a 4.43 ERA, a 4-7 record, and only 65 strikeouts in 89.1 innings. He’s caused almost more trouble off the field than on it, although most of it was exaggerated. Lester has been just as mediocre with a 4.33 ERA and a noticeable dip in his K% from years past. Buchholz was pitching better of late before he was placed on the disabled list, but through his first ten starts of the year, he was statistically the worst pitcher in baseball.
Simply put, the Red Sox just don’t have an ace. Sure, half a season is a very small sample size, and it’s a little unfair to judge these players based on ERA and Win/Loss record, two stats that can lead to very flawed analysis, but the conclusion is pretty unanimous: the Sox pitching just doesn’t stack up right now.
The solution? Well, sure, there are talented pitchers to be had on the trade market, but it doesn’t seem worth the three prospects it would take to acquire Cole Hamels or Zack Greinke. It would take big deals to keep both of those guys around, and it’s not like Boston doesn’t already have enough money committed to the rotation already. Yes, Felix Hernandez is a great pitcher. No, it doesn’t look like he’ll be on the market. Even if he was available, it would take an absolute king’s ransom to acquire him.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier for Boston after the All Star break either. The second half features nine games against the Rays (seven of them on the road), six against the Rangers, six against the Angels, and a whopping twelve games against the Yankees (nine of them on the road). Yes, all the other AL East teams have tough schedules as well, but with the Angels coasting in the American League West, I would be surprised to see three teams come out of the AL East and make the playoffs.
If last season taught us anything, it’s that no lead is safe. There’s still half a season to be played, and with all the injuries that Boston has sustained so far, some would argue that they’re lucky just to be .500 going into the break. By no means is it inconceivable for them to make the playoffs. But at the same time, even if they make the playoffs, it’s hard to imagine them competing with the Yankees or Rangers as the rosters currently stand. Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury will be big additions to the lineup when they return, but until the Red Sox can get consistent starting pitching, especially from the two men they expect it from the most, it’s going to be hard to make a run. Every time Boston looked like they were ready to break out in the first half, they would go into week long slumps. If Boston can get two or three or even four solid trips through the rotation, then they can finally get on a roll. Until then, it’s going to be more of the same.
It certainly has been a tough first half of the season for Bobby Valentine’s Red Sox, but there’s still plenty of time left to turn the ship around. Everything’s not lost. At least not yet.