Aces In The Hole?

Examining the main reasons behind a failed first half.

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.

Categories: Bobby Valentine Carl Crawford Clay Buchholz David Ortiz Jacoby Ellsbury Jon Lester Josh Beckett

Alex Convery is a student at the University of Southern California where he studies screenwriting. He spends his time procrastinating. Follow him on twitter here:

4 Responses to “Aces In The Hole?” Subscribe

  1. Walt in Maryland July 9, 2012 at 10:40 AM #

    Nail, meet hammer.

    Righ on the head, Alex.

    No matter what the Red Sox do at the deadline, no matter how much help they receive from their returrning injured players, this team is going NOWHERE if its top three pitchers don't turn things around.

    The good news is that they are good enough to do exactly that. All three, at times, have been dominant this season. But the inconsistency has been maddening, and you have to wonder if this is their "new normal."

    If so, at least one of them needs to be traded.

  2. Bruce July 10, 2012 at 2:25 PM #

    Great article. But I might add that all the key position players have under performed as well – Youkilis (who is now traded), Pedroia, Alex G, Ellsbury, and Crawford. In fact most of them have had a hard time just staying on the field. Only Ortiz and the Triple A players have performed to expectations. And the bullpen has outperformed. Makes you wonder if there is something to the rumors about clubhouse turmoil. Things just don't seem to be clicking. That many players underperforming seems against the odds. What are the odds that 8 of your 9 top players (by salary) are underperforming? Run the stats on that!

    • Danny July 11, 2012 at 9:07 PM #

      Oh, and we're second in the ENTIRE LEAGUE for runs scored. But our offensive is "underperforming." Give me a break, man.

  3. Danny July 11, 2012 at 9:05 PM #

    Well… Ellsbury and Crawford have been injured, so it's hard to say they've been "underperforming." Pedroia was playing hurt for quite a while as well. We replaced Youk's lack of production with Middlebrooks, who's been a dramatic improvement. I don't know who "Alex G" is, but I assume you mean Adrian; there's not really an excuse for his performance to this point, but he does look to be turning the corner.

    Who are the "Triple-A players"? I think Ross, Nava, Middlebrooks, Sweeney, and Salty have proven they deserve to be in the majors, and you can't discount how well they've played just because they're not big names. And you can't say they've performed "to expectations", seeing as nobody's expectations were this high for any of them.

    All that taken into account, I'm not really sure what your point is. This team has been absolutely CRUSHED by injuries this season; if you ask me, the fact that we're still in the playoff hunt at the All-Star break shows this is a mentally tough group. There have been no indications of "clubhouse turmoil" since Youk left; only "The Monster" that Theo referred to is saying that. I don't understand how some players being injured or having below-average seasons immediately implies that the clubhouse is falling apart.

    This is a tough team that is getting healthier. Perhaps you need to change your attitude going into the second half.