Once upon a time the Boston Red Sox were cruising towards what was a pretty much guaranteed playoff berth. Now the once anointed Sox are only 3.5 games up on the Tampa Bay Rays for the AL Wild Card and have dropped to 3.5 games behind the pinstriped team in New York. In the last 13 games alone the Sox are 3-10 including the sweep to the playoff minded Rays. This is the same team that only a few weeks ago made AL West leading Texas look like a tee ball squad in taking a three of four in Arlington.
What is happening?
As with most teams the biggest area of concern is pitching. The offense is still doing fine, although that has to be taken with a grain of salt as they have been shut out twice during this stretch. The Sox have scored 64 runs during this 12 game stumble which works out to about 5.33 runs a game. That should win ball games but not with how Red Sox pitchers have been throwing the ball, Jon Lester excluded.
No Red Sox pitcher other than Lester has had a quality start over the last 12 games and the bullpen has been shaky at best including the once untouchable Daniel Bard.
Bard has blown two leads this month and has lost a game in four outings this month. His ERA was 2.03 coming into September but now is at 2.88. But it is not only Bard who has struggled, Alfredo Aceves has begun to show signs of mediocrity after putting together a fantastic campaign and Matt Albers has dipped in production as of late. The good news is that closer Jon Papelbon has had a remarkable bounce back year, 29 saves and a WHIP under one for the first time since 2008, but without the reliable bridges that doesn’t really matter.
Then there’s the injury problems. Josh Beckett was cruising last week against Toronto when he went down after injuring his ankle. Although Beckett seems to be progressing nicely, he will throw off a mound today according to the Boston Globe, his injury could be devastating even if he’s healthy by October. Furthermore the only power hitting right handed bat in the Red Sox lineup, third basemen Kevin Youkilis, continues to struggle with bursitis and a sports hernia.
At this point the Sox can only feel confident when Lester takes the mound but even that confidence has been shaken after a disastrous outing yesterday against the Rays. It took Lester over 43 pitches to get through the first inning, an inning in which he gave up three runs. Lester was then only able to pitch through the fourth on his way to his seventh loss.
The Sox have shown, or at least they’ve said, they are confident even in tough times this season. In April while the team was 2-10 there was still the whole season left and the team did turn it around. Now there seems to be cracks in that armor of assurance.
Even David Ortiz isn’t his normally buoyant self.
“At this point you panic — hell, yeah,” Big Papi told ESPNBoston.com.
The Sox have shown they are streaky team this year and have had extreme dry spells but have also looked better than any team in baseball for long stretches. Well the next couple of weeks would be a good time for one of those stretches. If not, we won’t see them in October.