After Cody Ross’ heroic walk off blast, the consensus on this team was clear: they’re about to take off. With the entire lineup, save for an injured David Ortiz, finally in tact, and doused in Gatorade after the home run, the 2012 Boston Red Sox looked ready to shake off the inconsistencies of the first half of the season, and make a run that would propel them to the American League Wild Card.
Of course, you’re forgetting that this is the 2012 Boston Red Sox we’re talking about.
Instead of building on a strong series against the White Sox, capped by Ross’ clutch hit, Boston was swept this weekend by the last place Toronto Blue Jays. Even worse, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester took two of the three losses, continuing the nightmare seasons that both of them are having.
So here we are on July 23, eight days away from the trading deadline, still in last place, but only four games back in the wild card chase, and you have to ask… what now?
Well, a nine game stretch against the Rangers, Yankees, and Tigers.
While it may not seem like there would be a worse time for the Red Sox to embark on this trip, it may be for the best. If the Sox drop six straight games in Arlington and New York (and really, would anyone be that surprised?), then they can stop pretending to be in contention, deal some spare parts, and start rebuilding.
On the other hand, if Boston puts together a solid road trip against the two best teams in the American League, then comes home for a strong home series against the Tigers, then we may finally be able to say that this is a team worth keeping together.
Either way, the main problems on this team right now are pretty apparent. Unfortunately, it’s the two people that were supposed to have such a great affect on this season, especially after the way last September unfolded.
Josh Beckett and Jon Lester.
It’s no secret. Plenty has been made over the last twenty-four hours about just how bad these two have been since the beginning of last September. Here are the numbers. They’re not pretty. In the 46 games that Lester and Beckett have started since last September 1st, the Red Sox are 15-31. The two have combined for a 5.11 ERA over that span.
A baseball team’s problems are never as simple as one player, but in this situation, there’s no doubt that if Lester and Beckett were pitching like they are capable of, then the Red Sox would be one of the best teams in baseball.
Instead, they’re kicking their tires around the .500 mark, falling in and out of contention on what seems like a weekly basis.
Whatever happens in this coming week, the clamoring for dumping Beckett and Lester at the trade deadline needs to stop. Even with the abysmal season he’s having (and there’s no question that the eleven earned run nightmare of a game Sunday was the lowest point of Lester’s career so far), Lester has shown that he has the ability to be one of the best pitchers in baseball. Trading him now would define selling low. There’s absolutely no reason to dump him now for a few mid level prospects.
Beckett, on the other hand, has a contract that would be hard to dump, and again, it seems senseless for Boston to have to pay for most of the contract when he’s pitching for another team if it only means fetching a few prospects in return. Throughout his entire career, Beckett has shown a penchant for pitching like an ace one year, only to fall off a cliff the year after, only then to return to a top of the rotation pitcher. Save for last Spetember, that was true last year, and following that pattern, Beckett is due for a strong year next year. If AJ Burnett and the Pirates success teaches the American League East teams anything, it’s that dumping a talented pitcher for nothing usually doesn’t play out well.
So on the eve of what could turn out to be the nine most influential games in the 2012 season for the Red Sox, a few things are clear. The offense is strong, and will be even stronger once David Ortiz returns. Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford are already proving to be a deadly combination at the top of the order, a combination that we probably should have seen a lot sooner (as in April of last year). Josh Beckett and Jon Lester need to figure it out. Both insist that they’re not injured, and if that’s the case, they need to start showing it soon. If the two best pitchers in the Red Sox rotation pitch like they’re capable of, then the Sox may finally take off. If not, well, it’s going to be a rough two months before the season finally reaches its cold conclusion.