Results tagged “Josh Beckett” from Who Made You Mirabelli?

Back in the Saddle Again

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LesterHBP.jpgWelcome back... to the playoffs that is.

The Red Sox clinched yet another Wild Card playoff berth, but there was no celebrating last night at Fenway, as Clay Buchholz and the Red Sox fell victim to an absolute mortar shelling by the Toronto Blue Jays, losing, 8-7, last night. Thankfully the Angels put the hurting on the Rangers to knock Texas out of contention... not exactly the way the Red Sox wanted to head into October... but beggars can't be choosers now.

After a strong month, Buchholz looked uncharacteristically hittable last night, giving up five home runs to the Jays, three of them to Adam Lind. But even after Big Play Clay's second sub-par start in a row, it's not time to panic just yet. He has shown that he has the stuff and his command is improving weekly. The only issue to worry about is whether or not his nerves will let him stay in command as the Red Sox head to the post-season.

What is cause for concern is Jon Lester. The veritable ace took a laser off the knee cap in this weekend's start against the Yankees. While he walked off the field and later was confirmed to have negative X-Rays, Red Sox Nation let out a collective 'oh crap,' as the hopes of October seemed to momentarily get "contusioned" away. (On a more serious note, the announcers could not have used the word "contusion" any more times than they did without having to declare the show "Medical Programming." Worst part is, they most likely don't even know what the word "contusion" means. WMYM apologizes for not knowing who exactly called the game... it was hard to make out the voices on the national broadcast over the droning sounds of "Margaritaville" on loop at some dive bar in Tampa, FL named Miss Vicky's. Can't make that stuff up.)

As for the playoffs, only time will tell what shape the rotation will be in. With Tim Wakefield's issues, his spine might actually start to resemble a question mark -- where is the school nurse with that scoliosis test when you need her? Buchholz has looked shaky in his last two starts, Beckett isn't his old self, and now Jon Lester has a second knee where his shin used to be. Who ever thought that Dice-K would be our most dependable starter going into the post-season... oh crap.

No News is Good News

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dice-k.jpgAs of this morning, everyone and their uncle had their jock-straps in a twist over some theoretical announcement regarding Diasuke Matsuzaka's future with the Boston Red Sox. Was he going to start? Was he going to be benched? Was he going to be released? Taken out back and shot? WHAT? Somebody... please tell us what is going on.
But as the tension become more and more palpable (mostly because of the unreal amounts of media attention it was getting... but what do you want? -- it was an off-day), it became clear that Red Sox fans weren't even going to get a nugget of anything. The Red Sox are almost as bad as the Patriots in that respect. They have become masters in saying literally nothing. It's almost enough to pray for an Ozzie Guillen-type figure... almost.
But taking a step outside the box, the question is this: does it really matter when Dice-K comes back? We've already seen he's no Beckett in the post-season. And now that our bats have woken up from their beauty rest, the team is winning... without him.
Obviously, you want your ka-trillion dollar man out there earning his salt. But his return isn't going to make-or-break the season. If anything, it's going to give Red Sox fans more heartburn, as pointed out in a brilliant, funny, and awe-inspiring article by a good friend of Who Made You Mirabelli, Michael James Silver, or Pythagorus, as he is known is some circles. He's a talented young writer for FireBrandAL who is really going places. No wonder why his work has gotten picked up by the likes of ESPN.com's Rob Neyer, and was featured on the MLB Outsiders homepage.
Although it is somewhat silly that Dice-K, in all of his virtual irrelevance, is making the homepage of anything these days... slow news day.

Tough Crowd

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Despite some fair play by the Red Sox over the long weekend, things don't seem to be going their way.
Marke Buehrle, who is emerging as the weirdest pitcher of the year (perfect game, followed immediately by six winless weeks), threw another gem against the Red Sox - while a bit down the coast, the Yankees were completing a sweep of the Rays. Moreover, Carlos Pena now has two broken fingers and is out for the season. Couldn't that have happened to someone in pinstripes? No? Too much to ask?
Well, at least we can look on the bright side... Derek Jeter apparently couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat, so at least we've got that going.

Big Game - Big Numbers

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Tonight is sure to be nothing short of a number game. As the Red Sox prepare to start a three game series against the Rays at Tropicana Field, the focus once again turns to pitching - the one area where the Sox have a decided advantage.

Thankfully, the Sox are staring down the barrel of a Sonnanstine, Garza, Price match-up - and we're firing back with Lester, Beckett, and Buchholz. Lester has been nothing short of spectacular in his last seven starts, picking up the slack for mysteriously ill Josh Beckett (H1N1? We're not saying... but we're just saying...)

It seems like a few short days ago when people were taking to the streets, praying up and down for any form of a pitcher. But in a series when a 14-5 ace with a 3.8 ERA is your biggest question mark, it's not a bad position to be in, relatively speaking of course.

In fact the three that the Sox are putting up this week have a combined ERA of 11.78, while the Rays are working with a 15.19 ERA. Of course, ERA can be one of the most misleading statistics in baseball, but the team's 8.9 hits allowed per 9 innings seem to echo the hittability of their pitchers. Not that the Red Sox have had the loudest bats as of late, but these Rays pitchers could be the nice cup o' joe that we so desperately need.

Now, the Globe, as it has been known to do, is crying to the hilss over this week's series - but they might actually be on to something here. At this point, with a month left in the season, there is a lot of room for change. But against a fiesty AL East competitor, the playoff picture could be much clearer by weeks end. Although Chad Finn needs to temper his enthusiasm (no... the earth is not going to open up and swallow the loser of this series), this is going to be a big one... hopefully with some big numbers for the boys in Red.

Feeling Uninspired?

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So are these Boston Red Sox. There's no way to rationalize or explain our way out of it. This is a slump of spirits - and unfortunately, these past few weeks have brought opponents that the Red Sox absolutely could not afford to lose to.
But in year's past, the Red Sox always used to dig out those must-win games. This year, things are a bit different. The Sunday night game against the Yankees showed endless money shots of a loose New York Yankees team. But then again, five home runs against the best pitcher on your rivals team might do that to you.
Bottom line is that the Red Sox are in a funk of spirits, and that's leading to poor on the field performance. They need to loosen up, and figure out how to jive better as a team - and the quickest way to do that is to start winning games. Vicious cycle. Let's hope it ends soon.
There's a post worth reading that has a bit of WMYM on it over at The Washington Post's Baseball Insider Blog, and it gets to the heart of the second incredibly questionable decision by Terry Francona in the first two games (for the record, the first questionable call was leaving Daisuke Matsuzaka in the game to start the eighth inning of Game 1).

paulbyrdalcs1.pngAnyone else get why this guy wasn't on the mound
in the 11th last night? Yeah, we don't either.


It gets into a lot of depth but here's the gist: Why start the bottom of the 11th with Mike Timlin when you could use a perfectly ready Paul Byrd?

Byrd is on the Red Sox roster for a reason. He's a crafty and clever pitcher, and while his guile can't get him out of every jam, it was good enough for him to rack up a 4-2 record with Boston since the Red Sox added him for the stretch run. Needless to say, plenty of his eight starts came against top notch competition (though, interestingly, none came against the Rays).

But wait, there's more. Another potential Byrd advantage is that the Rays haven't seen him this season at all! When Byrd was still pitching for the Indians, he missed the teams only two series against Tampa Bay early in the season. For some pitchers that might not be an advantage, but for Byrd it probably is. The 6-foot-1 righty uses a bizarre, double windup that has a tendency to throw off hitters, and might be just the kind of weapon to unnerve the Rays hitters.

Add to that Byrd's stats in his three most recent trip to the postseason -- last year's ALDS and ALCS -- where he was 2-0 while allowing a total of four runs over 14 innings against the Yankees and Red Sox, and one has to wonder why Francona decided against throwing him instead of Timlin.

As you can read, the post goes on to question whether Francona is saving Byrd for a surprise Game 6 start, given Josh Beckett's recent woes. For the record, I don't think that's the case, and I imagine Andy doesn't think that's the case, either (though he can speak for himself).

Still, it makes one wonder why Byrd is on the roster if not to pitch in that exact situation. Mike Timlin finished the regular season as the team's mop-up man, strictly playing in extra innings and blowouts. That seemed to be the role he was targeted for in this series, too, until he was summoned in the 11th last night. 

So what can Tito be thinking? Is he really considering giving Byrd a start in Game 6 and also trying to save his arm in case he has to be used some in Game 4, which will be started by the ever-terrifying dual persona of Tim Wakefield? It's possible, but given Francona's predilection to stick with "his guys", it seems unlikely.

Really, the whole issue is a head-scratcher, and that's what makes it so strange. Francona rarely makes decisions that beg for second guessing. Maybe he'll be right about this one in the long run, too, but it has us awful curious at the moment.




Sure, it was a punch to the gut. The Red Sox should have won Game 2. They should have won it more than once over. Still, losing 2-1 to Tampa Bay isn't the end of the world.

In fact, given the home form of both teams in this series against the other, winning one of the first two games in Tampa Bay was a huge factor. If you'd told Boston fans before the series that the Sox would win one of Games 1 and 2, it would be hard to argue that the Sox weren't right on track.

At the end of the day -- a particularly long and painful, at that -- that's exactly where Boston is: on track. The problem is that the track is a much more narrow and precarious one than they would have been on after a 2-0 series lead. Now the Sox have no room for error, and that's a dangerous position with a knuckleball pitcher taking the mound in Game 4 in chilly and occasionally drizzly Fenway Park.

Jon Lester's Game 3 start is now a must win. Tim Wakefield's Game 4 will have even more pressure sitting on it, and the Rays will certainly have their eyes trained on a win there, particularly if they can get another Andy Sonnanstine start like they got in Game 4 in Chicago.

More important to the series' complexion, however, was Josh Beckett's utter inability to compete in clutch situations. Boston got Beckett three leads, he lost all of them. Hideki Okajima, Justin Masterson and Jonathan Papelbon were all impeccable -- not to mention Manny Delcarmen, who got clutch outs again -- but those outings would have been preserving a win if Beckett had done his job.

Clearly, Beckett isn't the same pitcher everyone saw in the regular season, let alone in the 2007 postseason. Instead of three aces, the Red Sox suddenly have two and a huge question mark, and Terry Francona has to decide what to do with the rotation going forward.

Despite all of those problems, the Sox really are still on track, if barely. Now, if they can augment Dustin Pedroia's offensive awakening with more steady contributions from Kevin Youkilis and Jason Bay and anything from the uber-slumping David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury, the Sox could really be in business.

Will that happen? Time will tell. For the moment, the Sox have to think about an incredibly disappointing Game 2 for another 24 hours, hoping that the next time they get a lead, their starting pitcher will hold it.
We're up against the gun here at WMYM, so we're going to make things easy: Here's my ALCS series breakdown in terms of pitching, hitting and, finally, a flat out prediction. Here's hoping it's more accurate than Andy's stab at the ALDS.

ortizbay.JPGBig Papi and Jason Bay hope there's more to hug about in the games to come.

PITCHING:

Boston: Matsuzaka-Beckett-Lester-Wakefield-Matsuzaka-Beckett-Lester
Tampa Bay: Shields-Kazmir-Garza-Sonnanstine-Sheilds-Kazmir-Garza

It's hard to make a convincing argument that Tampa Bay has a rotation advantage, particularly with the recent form of Boston's burgeoning ace left hander Jon Lester. With Lester potentially getting the ball in both Games 3 and 7, Boston would seem to have him right in the clutch that he's been excelling at. Josh Beckett had his shakiest postseason outing ever in Boston's ALDS loss, but an extra day of rest -- as opposed to two starts in three weeks -- should have him a lot closer to being on point in this series. Daisuke Matsuzaka continue to be an enigma, wriggling out of jams throughout high pitch counts over just five innings. We still haven't seen him go deep in a postseason game. Could this be the series? And as for Wakefield ... he's Tim Wakefield. While WMYM has a shrine dedicated to him, he's utterly hit or miss at the best of times. He has, however, traditionally been dominant at the Trop, but he'll have to ply his pitches at chilly Fenway in Game 4 of this series.

As for the Rays, Shields has had rough outings against the Sox, Kazmir got drilled the last time Boston faced him in the Trop while Garza continues to seem like the scariest guy they throw out on the hill. Andy Sonnanstine was great closing out the White Sox. Great. Stay tuned. That Game 4 could look like a mismatch in the Rays' favor depending on how the series turns before it.

The bullpen, however, is another story. The Rays have a plethora of setup men without the closer they took and injury-riddled shot on in the offseason: Troy Percival. That hasn't slowed them, and it probably won't now, either. The Sox relievers looked much better in the ALDS than they did in much of the season, but there are still questions. Justin Masterson had one of his shakiest outings as a big leaguer to set the stage for Jed Lowrie's heroic walk-off. Then there's the fact that Mike Timlin earned the extra roster spot. We're longtime backers of Captain Camo, but he was almost a walking white surrender flag during the second half of this year. If he has to come in during clutch situations, watch out. The Rays teed off on him the last time he came in against Tampa. Of course, they did that against Jonathan Papelbon once, too, so you never know.

EDGE: Red Sox. The rotation should help make up for Tampa's bullpen buffer.

HITTING:

Boston: Ellsbury-Pedroia-Ortiz-Youkilis-Drew-Bay-Kotsay-Lowrie-Varitek
Tampa Bay: Iwamura-Upton-Pena-Longoria-Crawford-Floyd-Navarro-Gross-Bartlett

On paper, this is another mismatch. Unfortunately, that's paper that was drawn up over the bulk of the regular season, not a series of clutch matchups between the Red Sox and Rays and the two teams' subsequent ALDS wins. Jacoby Ellsbury seems to be waking up at just the right time for Boston, and if Ortiz can do more than he did in a miserable series against the Angels and if J.D. Drew can stay healthy, the Sox look plenty dangerous. If either of those factors don't come through ... or even don't come through the way Boston needs them to, the Jason Bay will have to be called on to hit at the blistering pace he put up against Anaheim.

Tampa Bay, on the other hand, bats a bunch of guys who many would need scorecards for. That's before you look at monstrous hot streaks for B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria, two hitters sandwiched by Boston area-native and crushing power hitter Carlos Pena. The 'los does strike out plenty, but Longoria has to be considered one of the most terrifying up and coming hitters in the majors. Navarro is another whose contributions can't be minimized. The catcher had a bushel of huge hits against Boston this year, including the ball that cost Jonathan Papelbon in the game that forever turned the AL East tide.

EDGE: Push

PREDICTION: They say great pitching wins championships, and both these teams have the potential to have it. Sure, Tampa Bay's rotation is as young as the rest of its roster, but it's got plenty of heat and talent. That being said, betting against Josh Beckett (despite his ALDS numbers) and what seems like the ghost of Sandy Koufax embodied by Jon Lester is a hard thing to do. That's before you add in hopes for Matsuzaka and the fact that the Red Sox's two most important hitters -- Big Papi and Dustin Pedroia -- almost tossed out in 0-fer in the ALDS, and couldn't possibly be any worse. If Ortiz and Pedroia hit while Beckett improves and Lester keeps cruising, the Sox should win. It says here that will happen.

RED SOX IN SIX

It Is, And Isn't, Over

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Two things were made strikingly clear after Monday night's loss to Cleveland:

1) The Red Sox will not win the AL East
2) That won't keep them from the playoffs.

Sure, the Indians found a way to wriggle out of just enough jams to escape with a victory at Fenway, a narrow 4-3 Boston loss than sent the Rays to a 2 1/2-game edge in the AL East that will be almost impossible for Boston to make up in a mere six games. Naturally, having Tampa Bay visit the always hospitable climes of Baltimore doesn't help matters, either.

beckettletdown.pngBeckett spent entirely too much time receiving relayed
throws from hits allowed on Monday.
(AP)

Still, the one night setback -- complete with an utterly underwhelming Josh Beckett start that may well be his last before a date in Anaheim -- isn't about to keep the Red Sox from the playoffs eventually. Whether it's tomorrow with Paul Byrd, Wednesday with Tim Wakefield or, at worst, Thursday with Jon Lester, Boston will finish off it's playoff journey during this series in Fenway, against Cleveland. It'll happen, particularly since -- if another loss comes their way tomorrow -- the inevitable overarching panic of an impending Yankees series without the absolute certainty that they're eliminated from the playoffs, would likely be enough to get a brilliant start from Lester.

In a way, the dual realizations of Monday night's games, both the one in Boston and the one in Baltimore, could make things better for the Red Sox down the road. If Boston isn't going to win the division, there's no point trotting out the full rotation of starters down the stretch. Clearly, Terry Francona is about a loss away from tossing in the cards and resting as many starters as possible might be a significant boon to eventual postseason aspirations. It's clear that any long term Red Sox success will depend on both the health of the pitching staff -- fourth and fifth starter aside -- and the health of the team's most significant bats. Mike Lowell has to get healthy, and get healthy fast. J.D. Drew needs to continue improving, with aims of being able to play without having to spend longer spells on the bench. Regardless of epidural shots, and Drew had his second of the year yesterday, the Sox need him and the reliable bat he brought throughout the first half once the playoffs get rolling. That's a lot more likely to happen if they don't feel pressure to use them out down the stretch first.

So, is WMYM saying that it's a good thing Boston is fading down the stretch in the division? No, we're not crazy. It'd be nice to miss the Angels, with their depth and logistical travel problems, in the first round for a change, sure. But WMYM IS saying that health in the postseason is a very close second to getting the right matchup. After all, there's no team that knows that better than Anaheim, after last year's first round exit at the hands of these very Sox.

And thus, the double-edged sword cuts through another day of the pennant race, giving us a loss that hurts but doesn't maim where one more victory can heal all wounds ... at least all the wounds that aren't suffered by Mike Lowell or J.D. Drew.

Tropic-ana Thunder

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Well, that was a whitewash.

It would have been hard to draw up a better first win for Boston in the sanitized duality of a split-crowd Tropicana Field. Not only did the Red Sox roll up a rout, they battered the Rays' ace, hit more home runs than anyone could keep count of and got Daisuke Matsuzaka another win without extending him any more than they needed to.

papilowell.pngSuddenly, not only is the division in a deadlock, the Red Sox seem to have a pitching edge tomorrow. And now they've proven that they can actually win in Tampa Bay when they need to. Add to that the continued improvement of players like Jed Lowrie and Coco Crisp in clutch situations -- i.e., the guys that weren't there last year are catching on -- and you have the makings of a real opportunity for Boston to steal something here. Not only can they grab the division lead heading down a tough stretch, they can steal momentum from Tampa Bay just days after they had taken it from the Red Sox and claimed it as their own.

Of course a Beckett meltdown and a subsequent Rays retaliation tomorrow could completely undo that shift in the blink of an eye. When you look at the schedule -- Blue Jays, Indians and Yankees for the Sox; Twins, Orioles and Tigers for the Rays -- Tampa clearly has an easier path toward the postseason. If they can scratch out a win over Beckett, that might well be enough to propel them back to the promised land of an AL East title and avoidance of the Angels in the first round. When it all shakes out, that's probably the most significant thing at stake, both tomorrow, Wednesday and in the run-out of the season.

That's why Monday night baseball was so important, and it's why Tuesday night with Beckett under the lights is so important, too. At midnight on Wednesday, everyone may have a more realistic answer when asked whether this Boston team can compete in the postseason the way the 2007 champions did.

It certainly looked like they could Monday.

Huge.

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WMYM is back from vacation. Good timing, huh?

lesteryell.pngNot only was Boston's Monday victory over division-leading Tampa Bay an enormous boon, it kept alive huge trends for both teams: For the Red Sox, it kept alive an enormous win streak that has nearly eclipsed a five-and-a-half game division deficit. For the Rays, it kept a losing streak in tact that has all but eliminated a playoff-bound edge that Tampa Bay spent all summer building up.

Far from running away, the Rays are collapsing upon themselves, weighed down by both expectations and injuries, just as Boston is putting things back together. The mastheads of the two ships are nearing each other every day, closing on the moment when they'll finally pass each other in the night, steering toward directions unknown, with the potential to run aground at the same time in Tampa Bay, or continue on to playoff points in the future.

Generic high brow metaphors aside, Jon Lester's performance -- pitching a shutout into the eighth inning of a key playoff race game -- was nothing less of revelationary. Again. And while that might seem to be a redundant statement, instead it just reveals another facet of Lester's emerging persona as an overpowering ace. First there was the Game 4 victory in the World Series, a game before which some criticized Terry Francona for throwing a still recovery Lester to the playoff wolves. Less than eight months later, there was the no-hitter, a transcendent performance that showed the lefty could zero in on the pinpoint control he flashed in the preseason and the season's opening series in Oakland.

Since then, there's been skid stopping starts throughout the summer, complete with an even more significant start on Monday, a game which not only cut the divisional deficit to a bridgeable number but also provided a decisive blow to the very team Boston is chasing.

lesterdoff.pngLester has had plenty of reasons to doff his cap this
year, and if he can keep it going, the Red Sox
will have plenty to celebrate, too.
(AP)

In the pantheon of amazing Red Sox developments this season, Lester's metamorphosis from borderline fifth-starter to one of the best left-handed arms in the major leagues is right at the top of the list. When combined with the improved control of Daisuke Matsuzaka, the improving health of Josh Beckett and only slightly surprising perfect fit of Paul Byrd, the Sox have a consistent four-man rotation with the ever present knuckleballing weekly wild card of Tim Wakefield. That might not be perfect, but it's a heck of a lot better than just about any other team can provide.

Factor in the budding MVP candidacy of Dustin Pedroia, the resurrection of the ghost of Coco Crisp's bat, the depth brought by Mark Kotsay and rookie Jed Lowrie's imperviousness to pressure, and Boston just might be on to something here. We'll probably have a pretty good idea whether they do by the end of Wednesday night.


It may seem completely cliche, but at different points of the still evolving season, three different pitchers have emerged as aces of the Red Sox staff.

dicekkkkkkkk.pngThese fans had seven reasons -- and Monster seats -- to be
thankful for Friday night, all thanks to Dice-K.
(AP)

At the outset, Josh Beckett was both the ace of the Red Sox and, based on postseason performance, all of Major League Baseball. After early injury, frustration and -- comparatively speaking -- inconsistency, Beckett was forced to take a back seat with an eye on the later part of the season.

Luckily for Boston, Beckett's backwards evolution coincided with the meteoric rise of Jon Lester. The second-year lefty not only tossed a no-hitter less than a year after returning to the big leagues while recovering from lymphoma, he built on it.

Just as Lester's gradual development was a stark contrast from the slow yet steady mental collapse of Clay Buchholz, it was equally significant in the broader context of the team's shifting reliance. Lester emerged as a dominantly consistent power pitcher while Beckett was ailing and Daisuke Matsuzaka fought with control from start to start, mixing a deft knack for escaping jams with the occasional brilliant pitch.

dicetosser.pngLately, Matsuzaka-san's performances have been full of more brilliant pitches  and less inconsistency. That's not to say that he's made it. Rather, Dice-K appears to finally be harnessing his immense talent and perfectionalism with a sense of comfort with the major leagues. On Friday, he mixed two hits with 24 outs against a team that's currently penciled in for the playoffs. That's not a perfect start, but it's awfully good.

Considering the fact that Lester hasn't exactly fallen off a cliff -- one loss in Toronto aside -- that leaves Boston with two healthy aces and one on the rebound. Should Beckett return next Friday, and Boston fans have to hope that he can find it in him to get back on the mound if this run toward the playoffs really is going to happen, then the Red Sox suddenly could find themselves with three starters stronger than any other team's heading toward October.

That's an awfully strong place to be, and it comes from out of the necessity for a new ace to emerge earlier this year, proving once again that necessity truly is the greatest mother of invention.

Here's hoping young Michael Bowden finds it in himself to go where Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz have gone before him. If he does, he very well could find himself in a bullpen with Justin Masterson and other former teammates during the most exciting time of the year, in the most exciting place to be there.

After all, Fenway Park in October is a long ways from Portland and Pawtucket in July, even if it is just in between the two minor league outposts on the road.

Cue Daniel Powter

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Has there ever been a more appropriate time for "Had a Bad Day"? Maybe not for Jon Lester and Red Sox fans.

Not only did Lester get knocked around on Saturday, he did so by one Wild Card chaser, allowing the other to close ground. After a convincing win behind newcomer Paul Byrd on Saturday, the Sox seemed to be in good shape for a timely three-game sweep in Canada, a set that would A) prove that Boston had turned the tables on a remarkably disappointing string of Toronto frustration, and B) distance itself from both the Blue Jays and Yankees, who were swept by their Canadian division mates last week.

Now, neither of those outcomes is in the offing, and the pitching shortcoming that led to that finality was one of the least likely this year: Jon Lester didn't come through.



That's right, in a year in which Lester has morphed from a fringe fifth-starter to a borderline ace, the lefty was knocked around from the early moments of the first inning Saturday, providing the pitching ammunition for Rogers Center fireworks that would make the organizers in Beijing blush. His fastball was a bit off, his location missed by inches and, as a result, the Pacific kid went from being unhittable -- literally, as he proved earlier this year -- to eminently drillable.

The result, of course, was the 11-0 whitewash that followed, a game which puts significantly more pressure on Daisuke Matsuzaka entering Sunday afternoon's series finale. If the Dice man can come through again, the Sox will close out an impressive two-of-three set in Canada, where no one has been winning series lately. If he doesn't, Boston will find itself wondering whether it has the ammunition to mount a run on Tampa while simultaneously holding off both the Yankees and Blue Jays. Between the series finale tomorrow and next week's set at Yankee Stadium, the next week will go a long way toward plotting the team's trajectory down the stretch. It's no coincidence that, just as Josh Beckett announces he'll miss a start, Tim Wakefield comes back. And Bartolo Colon throws a dominant outing in AAA.

The way things are going, they'll all need to get back. Fast.
Wednesday night's loss in Baltimore, in the capper of a three-game set at Camden Yards which the Red Sox badly needed to sweep to keep pace with the resurgent Rays, was a brutal setback.

It was a setback to Boston, which needed the win to finally gain a game on the Rays, who somehow keep piling up wins while two of their key offensive cogs while away on the disabled list.

pullingclay.pngClay Buchholz almost certainly handed Terry Francona a ball for the
final time in 2008 during Wednesday night's Baltimore debacle.
(AP)

It was a setback to the bullpen, which had responded to criticism with the help of Justin Masterson's addition to shore up many of it's prior weaknesses. Whenever an infielder starts warming up in the bullpen late in a game, it's not a good sign for a pitching staff, and Alex Cora wasn't beyond the outfield walls for a lark.

But perhaps most importantly, it was a catastrophic setback to Clay Buchholz, a rising star at the season's outset who know finds himself on a shuttle back to Portland, demoted to AA to regain composure and mental acuity, little of which he's shown this year.

A year ago, Buchholz was on the precipice of call-up immortality, a fill-in starter who would toss a no-hitter in his second major league start, combining guile and beguiling stuff to completely riddle the very same Orioles club which last night clubbed him into submission in less than three innings. A couple short weeks after his no-hitter, Buchholz was converted to a reliever for the remainder of 2007, setting the stage for the young hurler to play a key role in the team's postseason run.

Yet just days after he started his second role of the year, Buchholz complained of shoulder pain in a bullpen session, was diagnosed with shoulder fatigue and was done for the year. At the time, WMYM's prior online literary embodiment said his loss could be a crushing blow to the team's playoff hopes. Obviously, that wasn't the case. Still, such was his status that his absence from a role he had only begun days before would strike such fear in Red Sox Nation.

Not anymore. This year, Buchholz has been disappointing at best and a complete, unabetted disaster at worst. Last night's setback was his seventh straight loss, dating back to May, the first time since 2002 that a Boston pitcher dropped seven straight starts. What's worse, there have been scant moments where Buchholz has even provided reason for optimism amongst those losses. Bad pitch decision because of a reluctance to overuse his curveball -- his most dynamic pitch -- and a lack of execution turned the promising rookie from a can't-miss fourth starter to a black hole.

Clearly, this move was needed. It's been needed for a long time, perhaps even dating back to the first time Buchholz was temporarily shut down for rest. It was needed for the team's prospect for the postseason and for Buchholz's prospects for the future.

It's always easy to criticize the organization's reluctance to pull the plug on Buchholz, but in truth it would have been hard for anyone to so long as he kept racking up strikeouts. The final straw came last night when he couldn't avoid walks to load the bases, then couldn't avoid pitching over the middle of the plate. The Red Sox will survive without Buchholz -- Tim Wakefield could return as early as next week, and Josh Beckett is progressing optimistically two days after it was announced he'd miss a start with numbness in his pitching hand -- but the real question isn't about the immediate future of the 2008 season. It's about the future of the organization.

That's because as much as the Red Sox will survive without Buchholz, only Buchholz knows if he can survive and re-create his dominance outside of Boston. Both sides have to hope that journey starts in Portland, and that is starts right away.
The weekend was a walking disaster.

Three games against Toronto, for most of the season, was a ticket to a winning streak. Now, because of ignominous timing and a bad matchup in Paul Byrd's debut, because of bad weather and then a truly horrendous outing from Josh Beckett, the Red Sox hit the road riding a painful two game losing streak in need of redemption in Baltimore, just as the Orioles return from a demolition of the Tigers and surprising series win.

beckettgrimace.jpgMore outings like Sunday's from Beckett
and Boston is in real trouble.
(AP)

It's all part of a rapidly changing AL East which could wreak havoc on the American League playoff races. The interesting thing, of course, is that the three teams who finished on the bottom of the division last year are having the biggest swing effect a year later. Here's how, at least according to WMYM, it stacks up right now:

BALTIMORE: Is stunningly better than the Orioles team that started the season. The notable part of that, of course, is that the Orioles are essentially the same team, their young players are suddenly just significantly more confident. That's a testament to the entire organization, but mostly to 1) Adam Jones, who might be the most dynamic of the division's young center fielders (yes, that includes Jacoby Ellsbury), 2) Brian Roberts (is he ever going to stop producing?), 3) Jeremy Guthrie (has anyone even noticed that he's 8-2 since June 1st?) and, probably most significantly, GM Andy McPhail. We were sure that the walking disaster he created on the northside of Chicago was a product of the "real" McPhail. Evidently we were wrong. Sorry Senor Andy (yes, that is a Weeds joke).

BOSTON: Is this really a World Series team? It's hard to tell, but the fact that the Red Sox keep struggling to track down Tampa Bay, with the Rays mixing their fair share of L's in with the W's, mind you, doesn't necessarily bode well. Sure, the outfield is a hell of a lot more solid defensively with Manny Ramirez gone, and Jason Bay has done his best to reproduce the numbers ManRam was cranking out at the plate, and for the most part he's succeeded. Still, the team as a whole seems to be trucking along and winning by the skin of their teeth. And with outings like the one Joshie put up yesterday, there's a hell of a lot to be worried about.

NEW YORK: The Yankees are supposed to be the Yankees, and in truth there's still time for them to become the Yankees. But this team really doesn't like like they're ready to turn on the jets like New York teams in years past, does it? The more you watch, and the more injuries they're hit with, the more it looks like they're being completely held up by Derek Jeter and the ghost of Johnny Damon. Hell, maybe this really is the year that Jeter is finally just worn out and Damon is too injured to shake things up down the stretch. And now that we've just made that pronouncement, WMYM is going to go stab ourselves in the eyes repeatedly for putting out a reverse jinx on our own team.

TAMPA BAY: They're a young bunch of upstarts and also-rans who played the first half of the season like the best team in the bigs, and now is looking like a bunch of average players led by a trio of pitchers having phenomenal years. Of course, that might be enough to hold on down the stretch, but WMYM has said all along that, by the end of the season, Tampa Bay would look like a bunch of upstarts and also-rans. The injuries to Evan Longoria (a crippling loss) and Carl Crawford (a painful one, in more ways than one), might be crushing enough to keep them from putting together one final push. At least that's what the Sox have to hope.

TORONTO: Easily the scariest team on the schedule, because they can be a world beater one night (see: Sunday in Boston) and can look like a AAA composite the next. We've reached the point of the year where you're not beating Roy Halladay, and A.J. Burnett is going to put on the after-burners because he's ostensibly playing for a new contract. Scott Rolen finally looks comfortable, David Eckstein is still annoying and Cito Gaston is both back and fat. That's enough to make any matchup against them maddening, particularly since Gaston hasn't had time to lock into any discernable, long-term patterns yet. WMYM is already cringing thinking about Fri-Sun, not to mention that four-game Fenway series Sep. 12-14. And the three-game stretch on the 19-21.

alexriosswing.jpgIs everyone else as scared of Toronto as WMYM is?
OK, glad we're on the same page.
(AP)

Where does that put everyone? It means the Red Sox are still not sure if they're the team they're supposed to be, Baltimore currently doesn't know who it's supposed to be so it's playing better than it should, Toronto is finally realizing who it was supposed to be and is playing like it, Tampa Bay is remembering the team everyone thought it would be and is scared and New York is, well, New York is just tired? Maybe we're off base here, but when you cut through all the commotion, that's what it looks like, doesn't it?

Thoughts? And as a result, how important does that make this series at Camden Yards? Sure seems important to us.

If you were trying to script the last couple of Red Sox wins, the results you got were far too soap opera-esque to be believed.

A blown 10-run lead in the first inning? No way. Two straight games with late-inning collapses? Even against a shaky middle relief corp, seems a bit far fetched.

Well, so much for screenwriters. The melodrama from the past two days has hit the roof, and that's before taking into account an abdomen strain and DL stint for Mike Lowell or the acquisition of Paul Byrd and, seemingly, subsequent demotion of Clay Buchholz.

Still, all that truly matters are the numbers on the Green Monster scoreboard at the end of the game. For the second straight night, those were pretty good this evening, despite a disappointing three run homer given up by Mike Timlin in just the latest proof that the veteran is careening down a precipitous downlslope of his career.

Meanwhile, Javier Lopez got the Sox out of trouble, then promptly put them back in it. Only Justin Masterson's performance was reassuring in relief, and that still came with plenty of drama. Sure, Masterson allowed a fluky hit and somewhat disturbing walk. The reassurance comes from how he responded, calmly fielding his position to facilitate a double play, then egging a pop-out from Michael Young to end the game.

Of course, those up and down efforts would have been worthless if not for another sparkling outing from Jon Lester, who looked like he was ticketed for a complete game until a homer and bad bounce got him in eighth inning trouble. Lester continues to be a rock in the rotation, giving the Sox something they thought would be provided by Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka; two legitimate aces who dominate opponents and almost guarantee wins.

That's not to demean Dice-K's season, nor his bulging win total. He's immensely improved over his 2007 debut season, consistently wriggling out of the jams he often couldn't last year.  Those three starters are precisely the reason why Boston is so dangerous in the playoffs, but the bullpen's abhorent performance over the past two nights is precisely why it'll need to keep getting runs from David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and the shockingly hot Jed Lowrie if they're going to catch Tampa Bay and gather more momentum heading toward the playoffs.

Given the injuries Tampa's suffered in the past week -- devastating, multiple-week losses of outfielders Carl Crawford and rookie of the year candidate Evan Longoria -- and the fact that the Red Sox can block the Rays from adding personnel via the waiver wire, you have to like the position Boston is sitting in. Meanwhile, the Yankees haven't completely played themselves out of the postseason yet -- years past have certainly proven that -- but they're making yet another trip to the playoffs a pretty tall order entering the final six weeks of the season.

Oh, and in case you forgot, Jason Bay is looking awful good, and comfortable, in a Sox uniform. It just bears mentioning, particularly considering the fact that Manny Ramirez likely wouldn't have been playing half the time whatsoever.
Strike One: Dropping two of three to the Yankees in a series that had both Josh Beckett and Jon Lester on the mound.

bigtex.pngStrike Two: A devastating, televised meltdown by Daisuke Matsuzaka in the sixth inning of Monday night's loss to the Angels.

Strike Three: A bad loss to the Halos only hours after they, not the Red Sox or Yankees, made the move of the trade deadline season. A loss that further undermines significant concern over Clay Buchholz's development and makes one wonder whether he can contribute significantly this season ... at all.

Put them all together, and the Angels are in position to send Boston into a tailspin tonight at Fenway, all with  Mark Teixeira pulling on a Halo uniform for the first time. If that, combined with Jon Lackey's official exorcism of the ghosts that have haunted him in Boston across recent years last night, doesn't send a shiver up your spine, we don't know what will.

We've been holding on to these photos for a couple days, waiting for something that could make WMYM break down and re-hash any development that might be slightly positive. Nothing's coming. Thus, these really are the lasting moments of the last two days, disappointing as they are to Boston fans ... and uplifting to those wearing the "A" on their hats.

dicekbend.png
lackeyhug.png 


F*$k!!!!!!

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Well, there's the disaster scenario Sox fans had to be worried about.

Josh Beckett is brilliant, but still loses. Joba Chamberlain looks like a world beater in Fenway Park. The pitching shines, again, but the Yankees -- thanks to Mariano Rivera -- wriggle out of sticky situations with ducks on the pond in the eighth and the ninth.

What can Boston fans say, except !@$(&%&Q@#$&.

Suddenly, a second-straight division title running away is down to a two-game lead. Suddenly, the Yankees are surging while the Boston lineup wilts. Suddenly the tables have turned, with pressure squarely on Tim Wakefield to come through with an enormous outing ... or else.

If that's not the worst possible scenario, WMYM isn't sure what is, all of which goes to prove that some of the worst nightmares still come when you're wide awake.
Hmmm. Get swept, sweep. Nice trend.

Oh wait, no it's not.

In case anyone was lost in the blue, the Red Sox and Yankees face off again tonight, the latest adventure in the tet-a-tet warfare that has decided the fate of the AL East for the past decade. While the Rays have made things in the division a heck of a lot more interesting this time around, you may have noticed the Yankees' stunning surge back into the thick of the race. Winning 10-straight at home will do that for you.

hugebigpapi.pngGuess who's back? And not a moment too soon ... (AP Photo)

So will having a pitcher run headfirst into a renaissance year that nobody -- repeat: NOBODY -- thought could possibly happen. Mike Mussine SHOULD have made the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium, no questions asked. He's been positively terrific, emerging as a staff ace with Ching Ming "I'm so quiet it creeps the hell out of my teammates" Wang on the DL and Joba Chamberlain adjusting to a new role as a starter.

Now that Chamberlain seems to be settling in, the entire division dynamic is shifting. The Rays are still streaking ahead, but each blip on the radar screen -- a Thursday night loss, for example -- seems significantly more poignant. Each loss is no longer just a segue back to expectations, but rather a step back from a truly unbelievable run which, quite naturally, becomes a lot more believable every time they lose.

Of course, the divisional flip side of the Rays success has been an overall Yankee malaise, and it seems fair to say that's gone ... completely. It's hard to pinpoint an exact moment when New York snapped back to relevancy and a realization that they were, in fact, the Yankees. If there was one snapshot that captured their moment of their in-season awakening, however, it appropriately came in the last series between these rivals.

According to a variety of New York media sources, Johnny Damon gave a rousing, "we're not playing hard enough, we're not fighting for wins," speech before the game with the Red Sox on Independence Day. Hours later, Damon was lost for weeks because of a headfirst run into the fence that left him looking ridiculous as the ball -- a triple by Kevin Youkilis -- nearly balanced atop the fence and then left him with a serious shoulder injury and a trip to the DL. He hadn't made the play, but his reckless effort had left a hell of an impression.

Needless to say, that would be an inspiring thing for almost anyone, Yankees not excepted. According to some in the clubhouse, it was. Suddenly New York is hitting, at least more than they were before, and they're pitching relatively efficient games.

Of course, with the exception of an abysmal three-game stretch in Anaheim last weekend, the Sox haven't been huge slouches lately either. But there are more glaring concerns in Boston's lineup than at any time previous. David Ortiz makes his return to the lineup tonight, but where will Terry Francona bat him? Does he slot back into third right away? The team's power hitters have increased slugging percentage admirably in his absence, so moving them in the middle of a Yankees series might not be the best way to get Big Papi back in the swing of things. Some of the lineup headache might be mitigated with Manny Ramirez out of the lineup with a sore knee, though that would raises bigger issues, with Ramirez's bat in absencia during an enormous series that could drastically swing momentum in the AL East. Not to mention the issue it raises about how someone could possibly injure their knee jaywalking in the Pacific Northwest.

Most of the scuttlebutt in Boston has focused on a monthlong slump by Jacoby Ellsbury, and the rookie could lose his leadoff spot though, again, that would be an interesting twist to the lineup at a particularly dramatic time to make the change. There's also the question mark that is Jed Lowrie -- can he really keep hitting above .300? -- and Coco Crisp's fleeting productivity.

On paper, Boston would seem to have a pitching edge. After all, no matter how strong Chamberlain looks in bursts, Josh Beckett > Chamberlain until further notice. There's no word that notice will ever come, either. Tim Wakefield has also been spectacular despite losses in recent starts. It's hard to blame him when he can't get W's despite limiting opponents to two runs across seven and eight innings. And Jon Lester has been the Red Sox' most reliable starter of all the past month, never clearer than in Seattle, when he settled into another stirring start with more emotional pangs, this time from a homecoming where he's showing what he can do when he really is healthy. Oh, and that Mussina guy WMYM was raving about? He's not pitching (you can exhale now).

What does that mean for the Sox at Fenway? It means pressure could swing wildly. If Boston wins behind Beckett on Friday, they would be in good shape for a strong weekend. If they lose, the pressure will get intense. Fast.

Hold on to your hats folks, here we go again. And this time around, make sure to bring you Madonna wigs and stillettos. If A-Rod thought the blond bombshell treatment was frustrating last spring, he's sure throwing a lot more firewood out for the flames. 
So, we're part of a semi-annual Red Sox blogger roundtable over at Red Sox Monster, which is chock full of some great Boston bloggers and Sox talk. Still, we thought we'd give you the WMYM take a night early, before you see it with responses from a handful of other bloggers tomorrow. Extra time can't hurt, right?

1) We'll start with a biggy right out of the box: Given the recent seven-game tailspin by the Rays, who is a bigger threat to the Red Sox in the American League East: the Yankees or the Rays? Why?

We may not want to admit it, but the Yankees are definitely the bigger concern. Sure, the Rays have had a great first half, but their seven-game losing streak heading into the break exposed them for what they are: A terrific home team that's still learning to win on the road. Come September, rookies, second and third year players the likes of Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton will have to keep swinging hot sticks when it counts. It says here they'll slow down.  The Yankees, on the other hand, really can't go down from where they already are. Joba Chamberlain seems to be settling into the rotation, Andy Pettitte is practically guaranteed to come through with three, four, maybe even 10 clutch starts and Mike Mussina is in the middle of an inexplicable renaissance. Put those factors together with a veteran lineup that has yet to truly click, and you get a team that could put together a serious challenge, whether Sox fans like it or not.


2) What do you see as the single biggest thing the Red Sox struggle with in 2008? Is it in the bullpen? Timely hitting? The gaping holes that have appeared at times in the lineup? How do you fix that problem?

Clearly it's the bullpen. Thinking back to 2007, there were plenty of stretches when the lineup was mired in slumps and when the team left ducks on the pond. The difference thus far, aside from having more injuries in 2008, has been the surprisingly vulnerable bullpen. If you check out the numbers, most would probably be surprised to find that Javier Lopez has done a better job of limiting damage off inherited runners than anyone else. Javier Freaking Lopez, the lefty specialist. That's not a great sign. Manny Delcarmen's recent surge has been a bright ray of optimism and Craig Hansen seems to be getting more and more consistent, but neither has reached the status of Hideki Okajima in '07, aka a sure bridge to Jonathan Papelbon (speaking of which, turn away all Sox fans, but Paps has been a touch more hittable this year, too, despite the fact that WMYM, for one would rather have him on the mound than anyone else in the ninth). So there you go, clearly, the bullpen is the issue and Theo Epstein would do awful well to go grab a, say, Scott Linebrink at the trade deadline. Not that he's available, but someone of that ilk would sure go a long ways.


3) I've got a record for being a pretty large Terry Francona supporter and apologist at times. With that said, some of his decisions in the first half of the season have baffled me, like not sending in a pinch-hitter for the badly slumping Jason Varitek with one out and the bases loaded in the ninth inning of a 2-1 loss against the Yankees on
July 5. Where do you stand on Francona's performance and juggling act in the face of numerous injuries this season?

WMYM has always been a pretty huge Francona backer itself, so it's pretty hard for me to weigh in objectively. That being said, WMYM is standing by Francona, blemishes and all, halfway through the season. Sure, it took him far too long to catch on to Hideki Okaijima's inability to retire batters that were already on base when he took the mound, and some of his other moves to the bullpen have created some head scratching, too. That being said, WMYM would have had Varitek hit in that situation, too. If the Sox are going to bounce back, Varitek is going to have to be a big part of it. Boston might as well get him going now, or this whole "Division and World Title Defense" thing just isn't happening.


4) David Ortiz is expected to return after July 25, which is obviously a huge sigh of relief for Red Sox fans. If you were in charge, how would you incorporate him into a lineup that has produced abundantly at times with JD Drew hitting third, ahead of Manny Ramirez and Mike Lowell? Also, what do you do about the four starting outfielders the Red Sox have used while Ortiz was out, since Manny got the bulk of the at-bats at designated hitter?

This one's easy: You move everyone back to where they were, recent productivity aside. Ortiz and Ramirez have always been lethal as the three-four combo, and Mike Lowell is born for the five-hole. So All-Star Game MVP J.D. Drew hit's sixth, you ask? That's right, and congratulations for your mastery of math. With the way the guys in front of him tend to hit, that'll still give J.D. plenty of RBI opportunities, and in that situation he's more of an insurance policy, which is what the team really needs him for anyway.


5) Who wins more games this season: Daisuke Matsuzaka or Josh Beckett? What would you put the over-under number at for each pitcher, and why?

This is actually tougher than it looks, but WMYM is going with Beckett. Sure, Matsuzaka's off to a 10-1 start at the break, and he's already missed injury time which should make him a big more fresh coming down the stretch. The problem is the modifying piece of that last sentence: a bit. Anyone who saw Dice-K's late season meltdown last year has to temper expectations. Still, he's been more effective this year, so we're going with a final record of 18-6. Beckett, meanwhile, has missed a little time himself, and is a win behind at the break, entering with a record of 9-5. Yet Beckett looks to be in more command every time out, and if the division race stays close down the stretch, there's little doubt that Beckett will raise his performance again. So we're going with a final record if 19-8 for Beckett, which means we have him with a second-half record of 10-3. Sounds about right, don't it?


6) How do you see the American League playoff picture shaping up? Is this a year where the wild card does not come out of the AL East? Who makes the playoffs?

When you take a gander at the American League in total, it's hard to see another division grabbing the wild card spot. AL Central? Not by the record of it, and that assumes that the Twins can keep pace with the White Sox. Clearly Detroit's just too old. AL West? Not likely. The Angels are already running away with the division and the A's are too busy trading significant pieces to notice. Where does that leave us? Well, as much as WMYM hates to admit it, that gives us a playoff picture like so: AL East: Red Sox/Yankees, AL Central: White Sox, AL West: Angels. Sure, I'd love to see the Rays keep the Yankees out, too, but as previously stated, it's just too much of a leap of faith on youth ... which is a real shame.

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