Results tagged “Tim Wakefield” 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.
Last night, the Rays handled the Red Sox and rolled into the World Series. They did it with an overpowering starter who, all strops and headcase reactions aside, could become one of the best in baseball. They did it with a closer who had never close a game before, but may be the  best pitching prospect in baseball (who said losing never pays?). They did it the right we, and Boston just got flat out beat.

So why hadn't I been posting about this string of crazy events that led to this inexplicable Game 7 ... and it's subsequent Red Sox meltdown? Like so many superstitious Sox fans I thought I was on to something. Maybe checking in on the blog was bad luck, so I did away with it, hoping to spur on Boston and then resume blogging in the World Series.

Evidently it came up one or two Jason Varitek hits short.

Was it a memorable series? Absolutely. It was beyond that. But that doesn't make the Game 7 loss that much easier, particularly considering Jon Lester's strong start less than a week after he was shelled by the same team.

In fact, no matter how one tries to step back from the scene and take everything in, it's impossible not to be struck with the distinct feeling that, as good as the Red Sox were at times during the year, and as good as they were against the Angels in the ALDS, they just ran out of bullets. Missing Mike Lowell and a legitimate fourth playoff pitcher -- check out Tim Wakefield's splits in recent ALCS performances and you'll see what I mean -- they just didn't have the ammunition to go seven games with the Rays. Somehow they got there anyway, and the Rays came up with just enough plays to get through.

Will the Sox bounce back? Sure. But the franchise faces a lot of difficult offseason decisions about it's future. We'll be analyzing those in significantly more detail in the days to come. For now, we're going to go back to prying to pretend last night -- and much of the last nine months against the Rays, for that matter -- never happened.

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.

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.
It didn't happen.

The chances were there -- a superb performance from Josh Beckett with only one-run of offensive support, a start for Tim Wakefield in a place where he'd traditionally dominated -- but in the end, it just didn't happen. After yet another key Daisuke Matsuzaka win in the opener of a series, not to mention an encouraging bounce-back from his disappointing outing at Fenway last week, the Red Sox offense crumbled in Games 2 and 3, all but handing Tampa Bay the AL East crown in the Rays' final stand at home.

Not that the Red Sox need to be cried over. With a seven-game edge in the Wild Card standings entering the night, Boston is all but assured to walk off with a playoff place, even with a tough run out of the season.

Those games -- at Toronto, at Cleveland and against the Yankees -- are exactly why Boston won't be able to bridge the two game breach at the end of the season. Sure, Tampa Bay has struggled on the road, a factor that comes firmly back into play as they head off to finish the season as vagabonds. But that shouldn't save the Red Sox with a division title on the line. It just won't. Boston had it's chances, twice in a week, for that matter, and it just didn't capitalize on them.

In fact, that's precisely what has to be much more discouraging about a second-straight collapse in a series against the Rays. Sure, the Sox hit impressively against Toronto and fought back to claw out a 3-of-4 series against a team even hotter than they were coming in, but they haven't been able to muster any of that clutch hitting against the team they've been chasing in the division all year. In fact, they haven't been able to muster any clutch hitting against Tampa Bay OR Anaheim, a considerable worry heading into the playoffs, since a Wild Card Boston would get yet another first-round face off with the Angels.

Naturally, conjecture over first round matchups are still a ways off. The AL Central is far too close to call, and even though the Sox shouldn't be able to bridge a two-game gap with 10 games left, much stranger things have happened. One magical run, and Fenway could be hosting Chicago or Minnesota as the playoffs open instead of trekking out to the left coast to kick off another playoffs.

It could happen, but it won't. It probably should happen, but it won't. It should have been teed up, but Boston couldn't capitalize and officially lost the season series to Tampa Bay for the first time ever. Kudos to the Rays. They earned an AL East title scrappy effort by undermanned scrappy effort, and the Red Sox just couldn't execute.

Soon, it'll be time to see who can execute when it really counts.

One Down, Three to Go

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And on the sixth day, God made it rain on Fenway Park. And rain it did. But because the Blue Jays don't visit again this year, they played anyway.

Thank you, God, for raining on a Tim Wakefield start.

wawkefield.pngNot only did the rain help Wake's knuckleball tonight, it helped get the Red Sox on track at the cost of Toronto, dumping the Blue Jays rather unceremoniously just one night after they won their 10th of 11 games. In doing so, the Jays had re-invigorated their dormant postseason chances, if only slightly.

Those wild card hopes may be back on the ropes, but they're not dead yet, even after a dismal 7-0 loss in the rain.

In fact, all the Jays really need is a three-game run against the Sox, starting early tomorrow afternoon. That would close the Wild Card gap to a remarkably strike-able range, particularly considering the fact that Boston still has three games in Tampa Bay and three more against the Yankees to close out the season.

That's right baseball fans, this is a much bigger series than you thought it was. If the Red Sox take care of business, Toronto is done. If they don't, the Blue Jays will suddenly -- and instantly -- make this a three-team wild card race, assuming the Twins don't find a way to implode over the weekend.

WMYM is going to say that it won't happen because we don't think Toronto can beat both Bartolo Colon and Paul Byrd in the same day. Sure, Colon is a wild card, but if he's feeling good and locating his fastball he can beat just about anyone. Byrd, meanwhile, has been as efficient as any pitcher around. If the Sox can find a way to claw out 3 or 4 runs, Byrd will give them a shot at a win.

If, however, the unthinkable happens and the Sox drop two straight, Sunday's game will suddenly become a make or break affair for both teams.

Still, while tomorrow may hold a season's-worth of significance for Toronto, it has additional ramifications for Boston, too. Wins tomorrow keep Boston in the hunt for the AL East title. Losses kill that. Wins buoy a second baseman's MVP candidacy, losses might drag it down. Wins build steam toward the postseason, losses cool what has been -- two dramatic losses to Tampa Bay aside -- a blistering pace for Boston which rekindled a once dormant divisional race and all but sewed up a playoff berth.

Two games, one day, two directions. One keeps the Red Sox in the AL East race and all but clinches a postseason berth, the other kills off divisional hopes and throws the wild card race into flux.

It's moving day, folks. Pack a lunch and get ready for a long ride.


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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.

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.

If the Red Sox won Sunday afternoon's all hosiery face off, we all might have been watching an execution.

Sure, the White Sox are still on pace to make the playoffs, but they'd been thoroughly dominated across the two previous days, once with Mark Buerhle on the mound and with a first-time starter taking the hill for Boston. A three-game sweep would have amounted to a three-game wild card edge for the Sox over whichever AL Central contender slips in the division race, and that alone would be a huge buffer, allowing Boston to focus on running down Tampa Bay instead of trying to hold off contenders on two separate fronts.

Instead, with the pitcher who -- while impressive nonetheless -- has been most vulnerable in the past month, Boston couldn't eke out a late comeback win. After digging a true hole for the first time in the series in so far as two runs is a hole, the Sox finally rallied in the eighth and ninth but couldn't muster a win.

Just like that, a three-game cushion became a one-game edge. Cushion > edge in just about any consideration, so the setback is unfortunate at best and significantly troublesome at worst. Either way, it's definitely a momentum-staller, with a sudden need for a Monday night win if the Red Sox are to gain forward progress across an elongated weekend. Baltimore comes to town off a woeful sweep in the Tampa Bay Thunderdome, which could make them either A) angry, B) frustrated, C) dispirited or D) desperate for a win. Any of the first three adjectives would seem to help Paul Byrd on the mound tomorrow -- the Orioles have yet to see him in a Boston uniform -- while the fourth could be quite the wet blanket. Home sets against Baltimore are made for sweeping, as the Rays just showed, and the next three days will be significant for reasons both symbolic and standings-related. That's un-debatable.

Unfortunately, had Boston won on Sunday, the wild card demise of the White Sox would have been un-debatable as well. That didn't quite happen, so now it's a matter of whether momentum can be won or lost. At this time of year, that's always a significant distinction, and with Tampa Bay winning that's more true now than ever.
Not only did the Red Sox win an enormous game on Tuesday, they accomplished all of the following:

1) Won in a Tim Wakefield start, and his first back off the DL at that.
2) Proved that they can rack up hits and score runs with Manny Ramirez in the Bronx.
3) Added a game in the wild card standings between themselves and the Yankees, meaning that -- at worst -- they'd have a four-game edge two days from now.
4) Added depth and another bat to the outfield, assuming that the Mark Kotsay trade goes through.

Which of those moves is most significant remains to be seen. Another win in Yankee Stadium, and that victory would immediately take precedence over all other actions. The Yankees truly are on the brink now, there's no denying it. Losing this series to the Sox, as Manager Joe Girardi said before the three-game set started, would essentially end realistic playoff hopes for New York. Doesn't mean it wouldn't happen, but it would be severely unlikely.

Add in a near perfect bullpen session from Boston ace Josh Beckett, and you have the makings of one incredibly strong night for the Red Sox. Sure, Manny Delcarmen had another rough night -- an increasingly worrisome trend -- but he was bailed out by the burgeoning bullpen star Justin Masterson.

One huge day, one day closer to dual goals: A playoff berth and the simultaneous denial of the Yankees earning one.

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.

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.

A New Knuckler?

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That's right folks, the Charlie Zink era has officially begun.

zinker.jpgZink even looks a bit like a cleaner-shaven, younger Wakefield, doesn't he?

Maybe that's a bit strong, particularly considering the fact that this afternoon's acquisition of Paul Byrd all but ensures that this will be Zink's lone big league start this year. That still doesn't detract from the decision to go with Zink over a bevy of other options for a fill-in start while Tim Wakefield recovers from shoulder soreness and a cortisone shot, which was administered Sunday. Wake's shoulder problems go a long way toward disproving the idea that knuckleballers don't need traditional rest, but they did little to push the Boston brass away from giving Zink his first major league start.

In recent memory, plenty of knuckleballers have struggled in their first start, but that doesn't necessarily mean Zink will follow in that pattern. He's got plenty going for him. Kevin Cash, his catcher all last year in Pawtucket, is back behind him again tonight. He's cruised through this season racking up 13 wins with a sub-3.00 ERA (2.89, to be exact), and can openly attribute his success to a complete willingness to throw knuckleballs in any count.

Add to that the three days rest Zink will be pitching on -- he tossed in Pawtucket last Friday -- and Zink is likely to be significantly more relaxed than he would be otherwise in an initial big league start.

That's a good thing, because the Sox are heading into a pivotal stretch. The Yankees are reeling, losers of four straight, and despite yet another recent winning stretch, the Devil Rays have absorbed two crucial injuries in the past two days, losing both leadoff man Carl Crawford to a broken hand and rookie All-Star Evan Longoria to a broken bone in his wrist. Does that mean Tampa will fade? Hardly. But it does mean that they'll have to find a way to adapt, making their inability to add a big bat at the trade deadline even more galling.

The Rangers are in town first, so they'll get to see what Zink really has to work with. If Boston gives him some early runs to work with and his knuckler flutters the way it has at AAA this season, all bets are off.
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. 

Best Foot Forward

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This is the part of the season called keeping pace. Thus, in the interest of putting one foot in front of the next, we bring you Game 2 of the I-90 bookend series: Seattle vs. Boston.

matsuzakasmile.pngLast night's Red Sox win, a 44-0 doozie over the Mariners highlighted by Jon Lester's brilliant eight-inning shut out and Jonathan Papelbon's Houdini impersonation in the aformentioned eighth, a two-pitch double play gem that got Lester out of a bases-loaded jam (though he could hardly be blamed for the last of the three runners), was a return to normalcy.

OK, maybe it wasn't a return to normalcy. After all, how many times this year has Jason Varitek come through with the big homer? Still, it showcased more of the offense pressure fans are used to than Boston flexed in Anaheim. The team's four runs came in two different innings, included an impressive homer and clearly benefitted from hitters showing more patience at the plate, eventually getting to Jerrod Washburn despite the pitcher's relatively impressive stuff.

That brings us to tonight, with Daisuke Matsuzaka heading to the hill for his first start of the second half of the season. His personal campaign -- you can practically call it the "Yes, I really am worth all that cash" season -- kept it's positive trajectory going in his final start before the All-Star break, yet another win with big innings and harrowing escapes more typical of a mid-summer Tom Cruise flick than an mid-summer outing on a pitching rubber.

All of those steps forward, for both Matsuzaka and Boston, will get pushed to the side if they can't put together another game like they did on Monday night. Interestingly, the tables will be turned on the Sox, with their hitters facing off against ulner ligament-less knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, whose 2-4 record comes with the asterisk of limited starting experience -- he's only started seven games this season -- and his relative youth as a knuckleballer. Dickey came up as a fireballing fastball hurler, then converted himself into a gimmick pitcher after he had his ulnar ligament completely removed when one elbow surgery turned into the next without any significant productivity in between.

Dice-K, meantime, has had mixed results against the Mariners himself. After the loss in his Fenway Park debut, in which he was famously outdueled by Felix Hernandez, Matsuzaka hasn't lost against Seattle. Unfortunately, he's only won once, with a whopping three no-decisions thrown in for good measure.

One would think he'd need a bit more run support than in his earlier outing against the M's this year, when he lasted only four innings while giving up three runs. But that all depends on whether Dickey's knuckler moves.

Here's hoping Tim Wakefield hasn't been giving any lessons in the past week.
Since we started this blog with game-by-game preschool grades, it'd be hard to justify not coming out with actual letter grades when the season reaches the mid-way point, particularly since the All-Star Game comes after more than half of the season's games have been played.

But first, a general overview: Things are pretty good, aren't they? Think about it: the Red Sox found a way to enter the All-Star Game in hated Yankee Stadium with the AL East lead. They've done so despite first half DL stints for three primary starters -- Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Clay Buchholz -- and with back-and-forth bullpen shuffling that included jettisoning to members of last year's World Series champions.

Oh, and did we mention that the team is still reigning World Series champion? Yeah, that helps, too, particularly come September, when any pennant race will have to include the experience factor that Boston can rely on, with two world titles and (finally!) an AL East crown won in 2007.

So, without further ado, let's get into the grades:

Rotation: A-
Daisuke Matsuzaka is the only 10 game winner, but you could make a case for all of the Sox starters to get serious accolades. In fact, Matsuzaka hasn't even been the most consistent, an honor which, quite unbelievably, might go to second-year man Jon Lester, he of the World Series clincher and, now, no-hitter. Tim Wakefield has improved as the season has gone on, again, and has looked positively unhittable the last three times out. Josh Beckett was out of shape in camp and then dealt with nagging injuries, but he's begun to pitch like his overpowering self, and Matsuzaka continues to mystify with his ability to wriggle out of trouble, time and time again. Clay Buchholz has been a truly mixed bag, with a pair of unbelievable wins and even more unbelievably frustratingly inconsistent losses. The  gem of the first half? That might be Justin Masterson, whose meteoric rise through the minor leagues didn't slow his success in the bigs, where he was absolute quality every single time he took the mound. OK, there was the one five-run game, but outside of that, the sinkerballer was outstanding.

Player-by-player: Beckett A-, Matsuzaka A, Lester B+, Wakefield B+, Buchholz C+, Masterson A-
This post comes with rather ignominious timing and, depending on the second half of the season, could be a kiss of death. WMYM is already bracing for it, and, in truth, hoping that our gut instinct is wrong. It's all we can hope for, because our gut instinct on this one is fairly strong. Here it goes:

The Red Sox brass picked the wrong rookie starter.

mastersonyankeestad.JPGThey're both (technically) rookies, they're incredibly different pitchers, and WMYM isn't sure the
Red Sox should have sent Justin Masterson, above, to the 'pen rather than Clay Buchholz, below.

Look, we know that Clay Buchholz's stuff is as good as anyone else on the Sox staff. We know he brings an electricity with the potential for a no-hitter every time out, and he could easily hit a second half groove that makes him an invaluable addition to the Boston rotation. As WMYM said right off the bat, we certainly hope he does. But as things stand now, we can't figure out how he's a better bet as a fourth or fifth starter than Justin Masterson, a pitcher who's shown he can maximize each outing on the hill.

Instead, it's Masterson the Sox are sending to the bullpen, arming him with the chore of re-tooling his approach in the minor leagues for a call up at a time TBD. It's precisely the type of plan they cooked up for Buchholz last year before his shoulder soreness got in the way, creating a temporary void in the bullpen that led the then-WMYM to proclaim his absence a major playoff dilemma for Boston.

There were numerous reasons to write that then, but primary among them was this: Masterson could be one of the great confounding relievers of all-time. He can challenge with a fastball, drop his curve off the table and leave batters questioning which pitch is coming on a constant basis.

That's not the case with Masterson, a sinkerballer whose success is based almost entirely on velocity and location. If Masterson is having a good night, whoever he's pitching against is going to be making a lot of contact, hitting into groundouts and pop flys and various other hits for outs. He can pound the ball inside and paint the edge of the corners for strikeouts, but that's not his game. Controlled contact is.

buchholzsweat.JPGBuchholz, on the other hand, is a strikeout pitcher, a guy whose stuff may come and go inning to inning or, on good nights, game to game. He approaches every batter with the assumption he's going to strike him out, which -- combined with his remarkably frail physique -- is why his occasional dominance is so impressive. In short, you're taking a gamble when you bring him out of the pen, particularly with runners on (as you'd assume they would use him). But that chance comes with the possibility of high reward and a strong potential to bail out whichever arm is currently on the hook.

Obviously, that's not the case with Masterson. Think about it: contact is NOT what you want when the bases are loaded. At that point, any contact brings potential for disaster, particularly with a pitcher in his first major league season who, despite showing an aptitude for working out of jams, remains a relatively untested commodity when put under pressure.

So why are Theo Epstein, Terry Francona and the rest of the Boston brain trust making this move? That's easy: It's all about innings.

Think about it, the Red Sox developmental program is so focused on pitch counts and innings limits that they only half-joked about taking Buchholz out of his no-hitter in the eighth inning last year. As it turns out, they were clearly vindicated in their stringent limits, with Buchholz's shoulder injury coming less than a month later.

This year, Buchholz's pitch and innings limits have been extended, giving the pitcher more of a leash to work with on the mound. Conversely, Masterson finds himself in the binds that constrained Buchholz last summer, limited even in his best outings by a daily pitch count and, eventually, by the number of appearances he was to be allowed in during 2008.

That's why the move does make sense from a strategic position. Unfortunately, strategic positions don't play games on the field, like, say, the one that the Sox are currently trailing to the Orioles at Fenway Park. It's Buchholz's first start back, and his inning-to-inning schizophrenia is in full effect. We're going to go close our eyes while "watching" the rest of the game, hoping that the overpowering and mystical Buchholz gets the best of his alter-ego, waiting for Tim Wakefield and Daisuke Matsuzaka the next couple days. Come to think of it, Wake and Dice-K are just as likely to have WMYM looking for alkaseltzer, aren't they? Hmmmm. Must be time for the weekly CVS trip for TUMS.
Before anyone comes streaming in with pot shots on lack of entries, WMYM offers this entreaty as a peace offering: We're sorry that our vacations have been so poorly planned. Just like clockwork, as soon as the Red Sox hit two consecutive monster series, we hit the road and aren't able to update the blog through the whole trip. It's unfair, we know.

mastersonhat.JPGNo win, but a new snazzy hat for Justin Masterson in New York on Saturday. (Getty)

That being said, just as we were pining away for a platform after a fairly demoralizing sweep in Tampa Bay -- three losses that highlighted both the shortcomings in Boston's bullpen and the problems of with an Ortiz-less lineup -- the Sox go out and look unbeatable in a pair of wins in the Bronx. OK, unbeatable is a bit strong. Still, Jon Lester was absolutely phenomenal in a five-hit shutout on Thursday night (yes, we know, the Yankees swung at a lot of first pitches) and Josh Beckett was in fine form on Friday, taking care of business before eventually ceding way to the bullpen for a few innings.

In fact, the Red Sox are actually only a failed attempt to get in two runs with the bases loaded and no outs away from being 3-0 through the first three in Yankee Stadium. Justin Masterson wasn't exactly weaving a gem yesterday afternoon on national TV, but his command came to him after a shaky first couple of innings, and he eventually showed why he has kept all the talk about getting Bartolo Colon or Clay Buchholz back into the rotation mighty quiet. Maybe it was the patriot hat that got Masterson back on the efficient track? Maybe. Or maybe it was just the fact that the Yankees lineup hasn't exploded. Yet.

That, in fact, is what has WMYM worried right now. Sure, Johnny Damon is out of the Yankees lineup for the foreseeable future, which ... shockingly ... is actually significant. And yes, A-Rod is mired in the most galling public personal issues this side of Max Moseley, but the last time we checked, that never slowed his ridiculous power hitting pace in the past.

Put all those factors together, and mix in the stunning seven Red Sox named to the All-Star team (remember, Terry Francona is the AL manager), the snubbing of Mike Mussina for the AL squad and the general frustration starting to vent out of the tiny holes in Yankees manager Joe Girardi's hat, and there's plenty of motivation for the Yankees and starter Joba Chamberlain to draw on in the series finale at Yankee Stadium on ESPN.

Of course, Tim Wakefield has had some good nights at Yankee Stadium in the past. Wishful thinking? Sure. But did you see him in his last loss in Tampa last week? Put that on display tonight, and the Sox have a shot.
It was interesting week in the pitching camp of Red Sox world. Daisuke Matsuzaka made his official return, though you could hardly tell. Justin Masterson proved human, or at least had a human outing at home. Curt Schilling now officially won't return, but based on the stunning performances turned in by both Jon Lester and Tim Wakefield, he would have had to fight to get a rotation spot anyway.

Oh, and Josh Beckett proved that, even in a loss, when he's on, he's as good or better than anyone in the game.

Sounds like a mixed week, you say? Well, it was. Here's how WMYM graded it out:

Josh Beckett: A-
Inside Edge gave Beckett a B+, and we were tempted to as well, if it weren't for taking another look at his final line, which went something like this: 8 IP, 5 H, 2 R. That's right, he allowed two runs OVER EIGHT INNINGS. Better yet, he struck out eight, compared with just two walks. Sure, at his best over the past couple years, Beckett has had outings where he's walked none. Still, eight innings with only two runs is an outing in the A's absolutely any night. You can book it.

Daisuke Matsuzaka: F
The Dice-man cometh? Not so much. This is only the second game in what will hopefully be a long Red Sox career that Matsuzaka-san has received a failing grade from the back-room brass at WMYM -- the other was his September debacle on a Saturday night in Baltimore last year as a rookie -- and after that outing he immediately hit the DL with shoulder soreness. Could that be an omen for what's to come? After the loss on Saturday, the Sox might hope so. Or, better yet, maybe they should just avoid having him pitch on Saturdays. Maybe that's what it is.

Jon Lester: B
Say what you will about Jon Lester's first full season in a big league rotation -- we're not willing to count the previous part-campaigns as one when added together -- but he IS getting a lot deeper into games on the same pitch counts. By the time he hit 101 tosses against the Cardinals, Lester had been throwing for 7.1 innings, and he'd only allowed 2 ER. Sure, those runs came on a lot of hits -- nine, to be exact -- but Lester continues to show an uncanny knack for scattering opponents' base knocks across innings, and he keeps getting big outs when he really needs to. Now that we've said that, WMYM is heading to a lumber yard to go knock on every piece of wood available to make sure we didn't just ruin a solid Lester season.

Tim Wakefield: A
Raise your hand if you had Wakefield as the winner of "outing of the week" in your office pool. That's ok, we didn't have him picked, either. After all, when you're dealing with a knuckleballer closing on his 40th birthday like Big Brown running away at the Kentucky Derby (or any race, providing a shoe isn't falling off his hoof), it's pretty hard to predict performance start-to-start. Like, 7 IP, 2 H, 1 BB and O ER, for instance. That being said, a fairly inauspicious start to the year for Wakefield is starting to shake up as another fine vintage season for the pride of knuckleball fans everywhere. After all, he's the only thing GOING for knuckleball fans everywhere. After his shutout on Wednesday, even Dougie was smiling somewhere. Trust us, he emailed.

Justin Masterson: C+
Everyone deserves the right to toss out a bad game once in awhile. Masterson used that mulligan Tuesday. The sinkerballing rookie put pressure back on his attempts to stay in the starting rotation when he struggled to get through the sixth inning. Sure, three of his four runs allowed came on a single swing -- a three-run homer by Chad Tracy in the third -- but that's what made Masterson's outing so curious: he got stronger as the game went along. Rain could have been an interesting x-factor, too, with Masterson forced to sit through an uncomfortable delay while the slightly more experienced Doug Davis cooled his jets in the opposing dugout. But that's just speculation,and as Theo Epstein has proven time and again, speculation and potential don't earn a player a continued roster spot. Good starts earn that, and Masterson needs one the next time or two out to make sure he'll still have one in Boston a month down the road.

New Red Sox, say hello to the old Red Sox.

OK, there isn't that much crossover between the front offices of Arizona and Boston, but there is a lot. After all, Theo's Epstein's former go-to guy is the man responsible for the Diamondbacks rising through the NL West like a phoenix, which is appropriate since they, well, they play in Phoenix.

Currently on the scoreboard at Fenway: Milli Vanilli

No more bad puns in this post. WMYM promises. But it's hard to resist sometimes when the crossover is so obvious, as are the results.Since Epstein took over, the Red Sox have won two World Series in six years. Since Josh Byrnes left the friendly confines of the Fens for the sweltering realm of Bank One Ballpark, the Diamondbacks have gone from contraction lookalikes to legitimate contenders, if not favorites, to pitch and small-ball their way to the NL title.

And it's not all small-ball, either. Eric Byrnes has flashed a bit more power than his diminishing role in Oakland seemed to indicate he'd pull off, though he's clearly only the second best power hitter on the roster. Naturally, that role belongs to a starting pitcher, Micah Owings, who might just be the best power hitting starting pitcher since, well, Babe Ruth? Don't cringe, we're serious. In fact, Arizona NOT using Owings as the DH just caused WMYM to let out a sigh of relief. A big one.

Tonight, however, truly will be all about the pitching, with aces Josh Beckett and Dan Haren dueling it out in Fenway. With both J.D. (Boston) and Stephen (Arizona) Drew swinging hot bats, they could provide a compelling subplot, but it seems destined to fall into subhed categories because of the arms on the mound. Sure, Beckett hasn't been at his best vintage throughout much of the season, but when he's on he can be one of the game's best. As can Haren, who's hardly been any more consistent than Beckett this year: Both carry a 7-4 record with an ERA in the 3's into the game.

What should fans expect? Well, if past experience is any kind of a predictor, they should probably expect a lot of outs, punctuated briefly by breaks between innings. And maybe one or two hits. But NOT any walks. You're not going to see them. WMYM is calling it now.

For what it's worth, here's what to look forward to for the rest of the series, which really could be a doozie. Justin Masterson vs. Doug Davis? Yes please. And we'll take a helping of the Big Unit vs. Tim Wakefield old-agers start, too.
The weekend turned out to look a lot more like option B, than A, with Wakefield providing a shaky outing on Friday and Daisuke Matsuzaka returning with the shortest, and ugliest, outing of his brief MLB career. In fact, it was the shortest outing of his ENTIRE career, going back to Japanese little league, which is a fairly stunning realization.

varitekinverted.JPGIt really was that kind of series for Varitek and the Sox. (AP)

That's the bad news. Oh, wait, there's more. The Sox were apocryphally bad with runners in scoring position throughout the series, but particularly on Sunday, when Kevin Youkilis finally bailed out Jonathan Papelbon -- and himself, for striking out when a blooper would have scored the winning run in the 11th -- by knocking a walk-off homer into the Monster Seats, providing Boston with its lone win of the weekend.

The silver lining is that neither the Rays nor the Yankees could close any ground, the Reds keeping the Yankees in check and the Astros somehow doing the same with the surging Rays. The lead is still there, but the interleague momentum is certainly long gone.

What now? Well, for starters, there's a duel of aces Monday night, with Arizona stud Dan Haren going up against Josh Beckett. While Beckett won't feel like he's acting as a true stopper, his role will be pretty close. The Sox all but DID lose Sunday's game, and the long, pitcher-heavy victory will put a big onus on Beckett to pitch deep into Monday night's ESPN game.

The win over the Cardinals also puts pressure on the lineup to start producing again, a prospect a lot more easily said than done when batters are facing a powerful arm like Haren's. The hits, or at lest getting runners on base, isn't necessarily the problem. It's getting them to cross home plate that's been holding the team's oft-feared offense from clicking into gear.

A return by David Ortiz -- provided a healed wrist sheath, of course -- would go a long ways toward that. Until then, the team has to pray that J.D. Drew and Manny Ramirez keep slugging home runs at the shocking clip they've been keeping up for the past half a month. If they don't, well, there may be a lot more results like the ones on Friday and Saturday than the W's that Sox fans have grown accustomed to.

WEEKLY LINEUP CARD (Stats do NOT take Sunday's win into consideration):

Jacoby Ellsbury: B-
It was a fairly lackluster offensive week for Ellsbury, who carried both a .250 average and OBP. The amazing thing, though, is that he scored four runs while only reaching base six times, buoyed by a double and homer (what, no triple this week?). He was even caught stealing once, bringing his season total up to two. And while his output might be a good week for many hitters, anytime Jacoby strikes out five times compared with six hits, there's something more to be desired.

Julio Lugo: A-
A pretty solid week for the shortstop, which is a really good thing for him, considering the fact that he was atrocious in the field. Lugo pushed a solid .524 OBP, and he flexed good power for a change, making him more valuable in his leadoff spot. Still, the most important factor in handing out Lugo's grade this week was the strikeout-to-walk ratio -- 3:5. Clearly, he needs to keep that kind of production up to keep himself safe amidst all the throwing errors.

Kevin Youkilis: C-
.231 average, .286 OBP, and only one RBI. Not the kind of numbers the Sox have gotten used to from the Greek God of Walks. Then again, his nickname is the most striking note of a rough week in itself: Youk didn't walk a single time last week.

Dustin Pedroia: A
DP appears to be firmly out of his mini-slump, drilling 11 solid hits, two of them homers (he had three total RBI). He only had two walks to add to the tally -- that makes for an OBP of .429 -- but he kept up his amazing mark of drawing pitchers out of opposing pitchers, avoiding strikeouts for the entire week.

Manny Ramirez: C
Well, the hot streak had to cool down a bit eventually, didn't it? ManRam's average dipped below .300 with a .200 week, a seven-day stretch during which he only connected for three hits. He did draw a pair of walks, but he struck out three times. Still, with Manny you just can't get too upset, can you?

Mike Lowell: B-
The week would have been a lot tougher for Dr. Double if not for his well-trained eye, with the slugger drawing four walks compared with only two strikeouts. He also had a pair of RBI among his five hits, but the final numbers -- .238 average, .385 OBP and .381 slugging don't quite cut mustard at the B level.

J.D. Drew: A+
Can we officially call Senor Drew the Human Torch yet? As the temperatures keep climbing, so do the stats on the smooth-swinging right fielder. This week he batted a blistering .381, with an OBP of .519 and an astounding 1.000 slugging. That's right people, they were all doubles or better. Well, four of them were homers, for that matter, which padded his RBI count up to 44, seven of which came this week.

Jason Varitek: F
Where J.D. is hot, 'Tek is ice cold, pulling down a straight 0 this week. Literally. He didn't get a single hit. He did score a run on one of his walks, but there were only four of those, compared with five strikeouts. Truly, one of the worst weeks at the plate WMYM has seen in a long, long time.

Coco Crisp: A-
Five hits in four games? Three runs? Thank God for suspension appeals, huh? Crisp has stepped up admirably since moving his way back into the everyday lineup following Big Papi's wrist injury, and while his four strikeouts compared with no walks put a damper on his otherwise outstanding week of .387 hitting, his two steals helped bridge some of the gap left from the lack of walks.

Sean Casey: A-
The Mayor's getting more time folks, and that means more hits if you have him in a roto league. He played in four games last week, but when he did play he stroked two doubles among his five hits, pulling down a .385 average which improves to .429 when you factor in his one walk. Most astounding? He had a stolen base. Seriously.

While we wait for J.D. Drew to duck more batteries in the outfield, WMYM thought it might be a good idea to bring out some actual, legitimate letter grades for the rotation over the last week. With that in mind, here's the first WMYM Rotation Report Card (the goal is to crank one of these puppies out each week to track the evolving strength of different pitchers. We'll see how it goes).

Josh Beckett: A
The ace looked like an ace in taking care of Cincinnati, albeit with plenty of run support. Despite some lengthy waits in the dugout, Beckett was dominant. Not 2007 postseason dominant, but overpowering nonetheless. That's a hell of a good sign going forward.

Jon Lester: A-
Jon boy got back on track against the Orioles, and looked a lot more efficient than in his last outing against the O's, which was down in Baltimore. He's still not a guaranteed quality start every time out, but he's getting awfully close, week to week.

Justin Masterson: B+
OK, he struggled in an early inning, and that ended up costing him in his first trip on the road. Still, seven innings and only three runs in a first road start? The sinkerball specialist is making a legitimate case to stick in the rotation when Daisuke Matsuzaka returns, and that's truly saying a lot of a guy who was supposed to be a spot start fill-in. And just think: He's only using three pitches!

Tim Wakefield: A-
The knuckler had it going in Cincinnati, right when a lot of pundits -- cough, cough, WMYM, cough -- were about to consider pushing him to the bullpen. While the season has officially reached the point when you have to start worrying about Wakefield's consistency start to start, he's been rock solid of late, which could be an indication he's in for an Indian Summer style turn, just as he put out last year. Here's hoping for Red Sox fans ...

Bartolo Colon: C-
Alright, he was due a stinker eventually, anyway. And he probably could have kept pitching, if the power-heart of the Phillies' lefty-heavy lineup wasn't coming back up for the fifth inning. Still, three home runs, four runs in four innings? Not Cy Young stuff. Nor quality stuff. That doesn't mean it won't return soon, but hey, it wasn't there this week. End of story.