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Sox succeeding only to keep it close

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  May 3, 2010 08:10 AM

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One step up, two steps back. Maybe it’s time to amend our expectations for the 2010 Red Sox.

Maybe they can’t beat the bad teams, either.

At least not as regularly as they used to.

And so while there is always the chance the Red Sox could come out and clean up this week against the Los Angeles Angels and New York Yankees – the two participants in last year’s American League Championship Series – that seems like a reach at this point. The Red Sox already have lost twice as many games to the wretched Baltimore Orioles as they did all of last season, dropping the third and final game yesterday in a weekend sweep at the hands of the worst team in baseball.

It’s starting to feel like this could be a long summah – and the Sox know it.

"It doesn’t get any easier. Everyone thought Baltimore was three easy wins, and we got our [behinds] kicked three times," second baseman Dustin Pedroia told reporters after yesterday’s loss.

He added: “We’re making it pretty tough on ourselves. Tight games and we’re not finding a way to win them. It’s tougher now. We’re fighting. We’re just not winning games. It’s tough. It’s frustrating. I think everyone’s frustrated. There’s a lot of guys that have been here – we’re not used to this. We’ll grind it out, but we’ve got to find a way to start winning some games."

Count those words of angst. Tough. Tougher. Tough. Frustrating. Frustrated. The longer this malaise continues, the more the tension mounts. And the deeper the hole the Sox dig for themselves.

In a somewhat roundabout way, the Sox’s general ability to stop opponents from running played a part in yesterday’s game. On a weekend when the Sox actually seemed to show some strides in deterring opponents from looting – counting pickoffs, they have thrown out five straight would-be base stealers – closer Jonathan Papelbon locked in on base runner Nick Markakis in the 10th. Papelbon promptly chucked a pickoff attempt into the seats, advancing Markakis to second. The Red Sox closer then hung a meaty slider (extra fat) that Ty Wigginton belted into deep left-center for a game-winning hit.

Maybe Markakis would have scored from first on Wigginton’s hit. Or maybe Papelbon would have taken a different approach and tried to induce a double play if Markakis were stuck at first base. We’ll never know.

In the bigger picture, Pedroia is only half right. The Red Sox have indeed been playing tight games, but they’ve actually won more than they’ve lost. (That is the scary part.) The Red Sox have played 11 one-run games – they’re 6-5 – tied with the Orioles (5-6) and Kansas City Royals (5-6) for most in the league. Next on the list are the Chicago White Sox (6-4).

Combined, those four clubs are a whopping 24 games under .500, supporting a theory that Red Sox officials offered shortly after taking over the club in 2002 – namely, that bad teams win one-run games more than good teams do. The logic? Bad teams simply are not good enough to blow anyone out. (This theory is further supported by the fact that the Yankees are 0-2 in one-run games thus far.)

Of course, all of this comes back to the Red Sox's theory of "run prevention,’’ which, of course, is only half the equation. In the AL East, especially, is it truly realistic to think a team can assemble a playoff-worthy season by winning 3-2 and 4-3, over and over? Of the six games the Sox have played against the Orioles this year – the Orioles – five have been one-run affairs. The Sox have won two of those games and lost three, a record that places equal blame on run production and run prevention.

Even when Mike Cameron comes back, is he really going to change that? As for Jacoby Ellsbury, his return certainly would help. At the same time, Marco Scutaro has a .356 on-base percentage in the leadoff spot this year, virtually identical to Ellsbury's .355 last season.

As we all know, things can change quickly and the Red Sox have some good arms, particularly in the starting rotation. Over the weekend, both John Lackey and Josh Beckett turned in solid efforts. Red Sox starters are bound to go on a run soon – even in spite of Daisuke Matsuzaka’s season debut – and they are likely to be quite competitive in virtually every game, against good teams and bad.

Nonetheless, we all know the only question that matters.

Can they win them?

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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