Better pitching, schedule offer cure for Red Sox
Starters' troubles, tough foes have led to Boston's early issues
It's the starters, stupid. Also, the schedule and the relievers -- but mostly the starters.
There is nothing wrong with the Red Sox that a solid stretch of starting pitching couldn't fix. And with the schedule shaping up like it does for Boston, that stretch could arrive any day now.
For all the hand-wringing about chemistry and manager Bobby Valentine, and the bullpen and injuries in the starting lineup, the simple fact is that Red Sox's starters aren't getting anybody out. What should be -- and very likely will be -- one of the American League's better rotations is enduring a brutal start to the season.
Maybe it has nothing to do with whether Kevin Youkilis is as "physically or emotionally into the game," as Valentine speculated (before apologizing to the lineup stalwart). Maybe, just maybe, it has nothing to do with "what Bobby's trying to do," as Dustin Pedroia lamented, reigniting the firestorm and apparently forgetting that it's usually the manager who decides "how we go about our stuff around here."
The Red Sox simply haven't kept anybody from scoring so far this season -- and that, in a nutshell, is why they entered Monday night with a 4-10 record. And while the attention and panic have focused more on the bullpen and its grisly 8.44 ERA, Boston has lost a lot more games due to its starters than its relievers.
Josh Beckett has a 5.03 ERA, Jon Lester's is 5.82, while Clay Buchholz carries a 9.00 mark. They all have disappointingly low strikeout rates, and Beckett is the only Sox starter averaging six innings per outing.
As an aside, part of the bullpen issues surely result from how few innings the starters are going. Boston starters had pitched the fewest innings in the AL through Sunday, which can only exacerbate any bullpen issues.
The Red Sox are scoring runs. Not at the gorilla-ball rate that recent Boston teams have managed, but plenty enough to be more than 4-10. They're fifth in the league in runs per game, and their .452 slugging percentage is third best in the AL.
Youkilis' investment may be down or it may not, but either way, it's not keeping the Red Sox from being a solid offensive club. Valentine's motivational tactics may not sit well with Pedroia, but they don't seem to be keeping Boston's hitters from taking their hacks. And, again, it's worth noting that Valentine is the manager here, not Pedroia.
If there's a fair criticism to be leveled at Valentine, it's been his sometimes puzzling bullpen management. Still, it's not like the assignments are the reason that Mark Melancon has allowed nearly as many home runs as he's recorded outs. Alfredo Aceves may be in an odd role, given his skill set, but usage patterns alone can't explain his ineffectiveness.
No, these guys just need to make better pitches. They need to get outs -- and that has nothing to do with Valentine (or Youkilis).
It may have something to do with the schedule, though. Check back in about three weeks and see if the Sox are still fuming. After opening the season with 15 straight games against teams with seriously potent offenses (yes, the Rays count) and very real playoff aspirations, Boston gets a break over its next 22 games.
Starting on Monday night with a trip to Target Field, the Sox will spend the next three-plus weeks playing teams that finished under .500 in 2011. Of their next seven opponents, only the Indians currently rank in the top half of the AL in runs scored, and only the Royals and Orioles finished in the top half in scoring last season.
Things are about to get easier for the Red Sox's pitching staff, which means things are about to get easier for Valentine, Youkilis and Pedroia. If things still look ugly in mid-May, then it may be time to panic on Yawkey Way.
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.