Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

news

MLB News

A Whole New Ballgame

If you live anywhere on the Eastern seaboard, you might be feeling a rattle as you walk down the street, or drive your car, or sit at your desk. That’s not another random east coast earthquake. That tremble is the ever-worrisome Red Sox Nation shaking in their collective boots.

I want anyone reading this to raise your hand if, at the end of August when the Red Sox were a game-and-a-half up on the Yankees in the East and appeared to be finalizing their Postseason travel plans, you were the one guy or girl at the office who said, “I’m not so sure about them.” Anyone? I didn’t think so. However, if you’ve been watching baseball the last three weeks, you’ve begun to notice something very interesting. It started as a low rumble; a mere hiccup on the path to October for a veteran ballclub. The Red Sox began to show tiny chinks in their armor, particularly in their pitching staff. Josh Beckett got hurt, as did Erik Bedard. The bullpen began to give up leads. Looking back, it was Jon Lester who, after three consecutive wins, lost a tough game to the Yanks on September 1, and began to inch out onto the slippery slope that the Boston pitching staff has now taken up residence on.

Consider these numbers. Since that day, the Red Sox pitching staff has an ERA of 5.98. That is astounding for a franchise that has long been successful on the strength of their pitching. The starters have averaged less than five innings per starts this month, which is not exactly ideal when the bullpen is struggling just as badly. Daniel Bard, who had established himself as one of the best set-up men in baseball, has lost three games in this month alone.

The line-up hasn’t exactly been immune from the September Swoon. Kevin Youkilis has struggled mightily to contribute while dealing with a painful hip condition that has forced him to miss time throughout the season. Dustin Pedroia was having trouble hitting just about anything at the beginning of the month, though he has rebounded in recent days. MVP candidate Adrian Gonzalez recently admitted that his surgically repaired right shoulder is weakening as the season heads toward its end, an issue that is preventing him from hitting the ball to the opposite field. And Carl Crawford is being, well, Carl Crawford.

Some will point to the fact that there may be a light at the end of this tunnel. Beckett is healthy again, and pitched well in his first start back. Bedard should be back in the rotation by the end of this week, and that may help. Jonathan Papelbon is pitching well, and Bard can only get better than what he has been. Pedroia seems to be over his struggles from earlier this month, and with he and Jacoby Ellsbury, who is in the midst of a career year, batting at the top of the line-up in front of Gonzalez and David Ortiz, the Red Sox can put up a few crooked numbers.

I’m not convinced, however. Those who point to the light at the end of the tunnel seem to be ignoring the real issue facing Boston. Is that light an answer to the Red Sox woes, or is it the light on the engine of the bullet train that is the Tampa Bay Rays, back from the dead and charging hard? Following this weekend’s series at Fenway, the Rays, who won three of four, are now just two games back of Boston in the Wildcard race with ten games remaining for each team. The schedule would seem to favor the Red Sox, who have three games remaining against the Yankees and seven with the Orioles. The Rays, on the flip side, have seven against the Yanks and three versus the Blue Jays. Curiously, however – especially to yours truly – the Orioles have seemingly taken to their role as spoilers like a duck to water. They’ve toyed with the emotions of both the Rays and the Angels in recent days, and I’m sure they would love nothing more than to ruin the Postseason hopes of everyone in Beantown. And the Yankees have been scuffling of late, winning just four of their last ten.

I have no idea how this is going to shake out, but what I do know is that the Rays have the best rotation among the three teams in the hunt in the East, and it’s not close. We’ve detailed the Red Sox pitching issues, but the Yankees aren’t in much better shape. Their rotation is essentially C.C. Sabathia, and a whole lot of question marks. If the Rays can finish strong in their last 10 games, and in my opinion that means winning seven of them, I think they’ll overtake the Red Sox. And if that happens, there isn’t a team in baseball that wants to see them when the playoffs start. The top three in the Rays rotation - David Price, James Shields, and Jeremy Hellickson – are as good as anyone in the game. In fact, I think they are the only team with a shot at the Postseason that would have any hope of matching up against the Phillies' rotation. And I have to tell you, I would be tuned in for that series.

I don’t have a horse in this race, but I love that things have tightened up the way that they have. You have to give a lot of the credit to Rays manager Joe Maddon, who continues to prove that he is one of the best managers in the game. Price and Shields sang his praises when they visited the Fan Cave months ago, and I’m beginning to see why.

You also have to love what this says about baseball. Those who aren’t fans of the game often point to the fact that a regular season that is 162 games long means that there is little importance in games played during the early portion of the season. Well, these teams have played 152 games, and these last ten mean everything. Had the Red Sox or the Rays won just one more game each month of the season, we wouldn’t be dealing with this kind of drama right now. Every game counts.

If you live anywhere on the Eastern seaboard, you might be feeling a rattle as you walk down the street, or drive your car, or sit at your desk. That’s not another random east coast earthquake. That tremble is the ever-worrisome Red Sox Nation shaking in their collective boots.

I want anyone reading this to raise your hand if, at the end of August when the Red Sox were a game-and-a-half up on the Yankees in the East and appeared to be finalizing their Postseason travel plans, you were the one guy or girl at the office who said, “I’m not so sure about them.” Anyone? I didn’t think so. However, if you’ve been watching baseball the last three weeks, you’ve begun to notice something very interesting. It started as a low rumble; a mere hiccup on the path to October for a veteran ballclub. The Red Sox began to show tiny chinks in their armor, particularly in their pitching staff. Josh Beckett got hurt, as did Erik Bedard. The bullpen began to give up leads. Looking back, it was Jon Lester who, after three consecutive wins, lost a tough game to the Yanks on September 1, and began to inch out onto the slippery slope that the Boston pitching staff has now taken up residence on.

Consider these numbers. Since that day, the Red Sox pitching staff has an ERA of 5.98. That is astounding for a franchise that has long been successful on the strength of their pitching. The starters have averaged less than five innings per starts this month, which is not exactly ideal when the bullpen is struggling just as badly. Daniel Bard, who had established himself as one of the best set-up men in baseball, has lost three games in this month alone.

The line-up hasn’t exactly been immune from the September Swoon. Kevin Youkilis has struggled mightily to contribute while dealing with a painful hip condition that has forced him to miss time throughout the season. Dustin Pedroia was having trouble hitting just about anything at the beginning of the month, though he has rebounded in recent days. MVP candidate Adrian Gonzalez recently admitted that his surgically repaired right shoulder is weakening as the season heads toward its end, an issue that is preventing him from hitting the ball to the opposite field. And Carl Crawford is being, well, Carl Crawford.

Some will point to the fact that there may be a light at the end of this tunnel. Beckett is healthy again, and pitched well in his first start back. Bedard should be back in the rotation by the end of this week, and that may help. Jonathan Papelbon is pitching well, and Bard can only get better than what he has been. Pedroia seems to be over his struggles from earlier this month, and with he and Jacoby Ellsbury, who is in the midst of a career year, batting at the top of the line-up in front of Gonzalez and David Ortiz, the Red Sox can put up a few crooked numbers.

I’m not convinced, however. Those who point to the light at the end of the tunnel seem to be ignoring the real issue facing Boston. Is that light an answer to the Red Sox woes, or is it the light on the engine of the bullet train that is the Tampa Bay Rays, back from the dead and charging hard? Following this weekend’s series at Fenway, the Rays, who won three of four, are now just two games back of Boston in the Wildcard race with ten games remaining for each team. The schedule would seem to favor the Red Sox, who have three games remaining against the Yankees and seven with the Orioles. The Rays, on the flip side, have seven against the Yanks and three versus the Blue Jays. Curiously, however – especially to yours truly – the Orioles have seemingly taken to their role as spoilers like a duck to water. They’ve toyed with the emotions of both the Rays and the Angels in recent days, and I’m sure they would love nothing more than to ruin the Postseason hopes of everyone in Beantown. And the Yankees have been scuffling of late, winning just four of their last ten.

I have no idea how this is going to shake out, but what I do know is that the Rays have the best rotation among the three teams in the hunt in the East, and it’s not close. We’ve detailed the Red Sox pitching issues, but the Yankees aren’t in much better shape. Their rotation is essentially C.C. Sabathia, and a whole lot of question marks. If the Rays can finish strong in their last 10 games, and in my opinion that means winning seven of them, I think they’ll overtake the Red Sox. And if that happens, there isn’t a team in baseball that wants to see them when the playoffs start. The top three in the Rays rotation - David Price, James Shields, and Jeremy Hellickson – are as good as anyone in the game. In fact, I think they are the only team with a shot at the Postseason that would have any hope of matching up against the Phillies' rotation. And I have to tell you, I would be tuned in for that series.

I don’t have a horse in this race, but I love that things have tightened up the way that they have. You have to give a lot of the credit to Rays manager Joe Maddon, who continues to prove that he is one of the best managers in the game. Price and Shields sang his praises when they visited the Fan Cave months ago, and I’m beginning to see why.

You also have to love what this says about baseball. Those who aren’t fans of the game often point to the fact that a regular season that is 162 games long means that there is little importance in games played during the early portion of the season. Well, these teams have played 152 games, and these last ten mean everything. Had the Red Sox or the Rays won just one more game each month of the season, we wouldn’t be dealing with this kind of drama right now. Every game counts.