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Without an addition, Sox face playoff subtraction

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  August 16, 2010 01:56 PM

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Dustin Pedroia is returning to the Red Sox lineup tomorrow night against the Southern California (it's just shorter and more accurate) Angels. Great, any chance Pedey can pitch out of the bullpen?

We know Bill Hall, who has a scoreless inning to his name this season, can. Not to underplay the importance of Pedroia, who is straw that stirs the Sox' Coolatta, but with 43 games left in the season there is a better chance of Bill Belichick signing off on the Patriots being the next team to do HBO's "Hard Knocks" series than the Sox making it to the playoffs with this bullpen as currently constituted.

It's pretty obvious by now that the Sox' plan to solve the bullpen blunders internally is a bust. Michael Bowden might be able to help them down the road in a relief role, but right now he's not ready. Felix Doubront had a save and a vulture win during the road trip, but has a 7.86 ERA since being reincarnated as a reliever.

There are 15 waiver-wire shopping days left for general manager Theo Epstein to try to pull off a sequel to last August's Billy Wagner deal, giving his starting pitchers and manager some relief and this team a real chance.

We already knew the bullpen was a potentially disastrous defect of the 2010 Red Sox, but that point was driven home away from home during an unfortunate .500 road trip that was sabotaged by the bullpen. There was Manny Delcarmen's ill-fated changeup yesterday against the Rangers yesterday, the Tim Wakefield walkoff loss to Texas on Friday night, and of course, Jonathan Papelbon's Canadian collapse last Thursday.

Three winnable games, two in which the Sox held the lead heading into the seventh inning, yielded three losses and one profound lost opportunity. Pedroia or no Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis or no Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury or no Jacoby Ellsbury, the Red Sox are running out of time and real estate to catch the Tampa Bay Rays and the Yankees for a playoff spot. Leaving wins on the table is not an option.

Speaking of options. Don't criticize, manager Terry Francona for the bullpen's woes. He's doing the best he can with the options he has, which could be best described as limited (Daniel Bard and Papelbon) and none. If Francona's name were Belichick, fans would be talking about how this is the greatest managerial job they've ever seen, as winning with Hall and Darnell McDonald and Eric Patterson is the equivalent of winning with Randall Gay, Earthwind Moreland and Hank Poteat.

You want to make Bard the closer, fine. But who is the bridge to Bard? Papelbon is more likely to reprise his joyous jig in his underwear on John Henry's front lawn then embrace a set-up role. If you move Bard to the closer's role now then a bullpen duo is basically down to a solo act.

A quicker hook with Papelbon if Bard is available is a reasonable response. But games like Thursday in Toronto are the exception. There are not going to be many instances where Papelbon is in the game and Bard is still available.

All you need to know about Francona's predicament when it comes to the bullpen is that after he told reporters he wanted to stay away from Manny Delcarmen facing Josh Hamilton and Michael Young he felt he had no choice but to have the erratic Delcarmen pitch to Young.

What is a manager to do when making a pitching change feels like playing Russian roulette? Stick with his starters.

It's not a coincidence that Sox starters are averaging 6.3 innings per start and 103 pitches per start, the highest numbers since Francona became the club's manager in 2004. The 103 pitches per start ties the Red Sox with tomorrow's opponent, the Angels, for the most in major league baseball.

Daisuke Matsuzaka, who has notoriously been given a short leash by Francona, threw a season-high 115 pitches yesterday in an attempt to just get through seven innings.

Red Sox starters have thrown between 100 and 119 pitches 81 times this season, tying them with the Angels for the most in the majors. All of last season, Sox pitchers threw between 100 and 119 pitches a total of 82 times. In 2008, it happened 74 times. In 2007, it happened 69 times. In 2006, it happened 70 times. In 2005, it happened 95 times. In 2004, when Curt was being Curt, the total was 91 times.

The only other time during Francona's tenure as Sox manager that starters have averaged more than 6 innings per start and 100 pitches per start in the same season was 2005 (6.2 innings per start and 100 pitches per start). That year the Sox managed to win 95 games despite a flammable bullpen that ranked second-worst in the majors in relievers' ERA (5.17) and opponents batting average (.285).

That was the ill-fated season of Curt Schilling-as-closer experiment and Craig Hansen being rushed to the majors to try to help a stumbling 'pen. It was the season Mike Timlin finished as the closer.

You can't blame Theo for not giving up Jose Iglesias and/or Casey Kelly for Scott Downs at the trade deadline. That one had Jeff Bagwell-for-Larry Andersen redux all over it. Yet, you have to wonder what went wrong with Kerry Wood? The Yankees outbid Boston for Wood, whom they obtained essentially for cash by picking up a large chunk of his salary. There is a player-to-be-named later involved as well, but the cash was the key for Cleveland.

Wood has a 1.29 ERA in six appearances with the Pinstripes, and has emerged as a nice seventh-inning option for Joe Girardi.

Pedroia is certainly a great pennant race "addition" for the Sox, but unless they add someone to their bullpen before the end of the month they're destined to be subtracted from the playoff chase.

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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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