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For Red Sox, four losses only reinforce five concerns

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  April 6, 2011 07:56 AM

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Terry Francona looked on as the Red Sox lost to the Indians Tuesday night, 3-1. (Leon Halip / Getty Images)

The maddening Daisuke Matsuzaka hasn’t even stepped on the mound yet, but already the Red Sox possess far greater concerns than their torturous No. 5 starter. In the span of just a few days, after all, the Sox have traveled from the top of the American League to the very bottom, and the results still have not changed.

Yes, there is a great deal of talent on this team. Yes, they will play better than this. That is obvious. As surely as no team in baseball history has ever gone 162-0, not one has gone 0-162, either. What the inquiring mind should want to know is whether any of Boston’s difficulties in its first four games are signs of things to come, indications that the Sox might have more issues than anyone might have imagined.

To that end, with 158 to play, we give you five things that should concern you the most about what the Red Sox have shown us in the first four games:

5. The pressure

A losing streak can make even the most animated team look lifeless and dispirited, but the Sox have been nothing short of what former manager Joe Morgan would describe as “dead-assed” during the first four games. Rather than embracing the expectations that come along with a $180 million payroll, the Sox seem burdened by it. That is not a good sign.

We said this before and we’ll say it again: the most important quality the Red Sox possessed in 2003-04 was the fact that they simply did not give a damn. They were not afraid to lose. Those Sox played as if they did not have a worry in the world, which is precisely what was required given the burden of team history. The worst that could happen was that the Sox would end up like every team before them.

Right now, this club could use some of that attitude.

4. The bottom of the order

For all of the talk about the depth of the Red Sox batting order, the bottom third has been a sinkhole thus far. Jarrod Saltalamacchia got on base twice last night and J.D. Drew also had a hit, but the Nos. 7, 8 and 9 hitters in the batting order are still 4 for 37 so far this year. That’s a .108 average.

For what it’s worth, New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi has done some shuffling at the bottom of his batting order already, too. Nonetheless, the Yankees opened the season with a bottom three of Jorge Posada, Curtis Granderson and Russell Martin. Compare that group to, say, Drew, Saltalamacchia and Marco Scutaro. Which would you rather have?

The bottom line: if the Nos. 1-6 hitters are going to get on base as much as we think they are, the Nos. 7-9 hitters had better be able to get some key hits.


3. John Lackey

We all know that Jon Lester has been a slow starter through his career, but the same is true of Lackey. With Saturday’s beating at Texas, Lackey is now 13-11 in April during his major league career with a 5.14 ERA that is easily the highest of any month during the season.

Fine. At the very least, we know that Lackey is better than he pitched on Sunday. But during his Sox career, Lackey is now 14-12 with a 4.69 ERA while allowing 13 base runners per nine innings. We can certainly chalk last year up as a mulligan. But if Lackey ends up posting the same kind of totals this year that he did last, many of us will deem him a borderline bust.

Do we really know if Lackey can succeed against elite competition? During his career, the five offensive teams in the American League have been Seattle, Kansas City, Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Oakland. Against those five clubs, Lackey is 53-25 with a 3.29 ERA. Against everyone else, he is 63-58 with a 4.32 ERA. Make of that what you will.

Next up: the Yankees in the home opener.

Yikes.

2. Josh Beckett

For a man who allegedly missed time last year with a back problem, Beckett suddenly looks suspiciously like a man rehabilitating from a shoulder injury. With each passing day, in fact, he bears a greater resemblance to Pedro Martinez during the spring of 2002, that year Martinez tried to reinvent himself and declared himself to be in “Wonderland.”

Here’s the question: is Beckett capable of doing what Pedro did? Or, as he always been a thrower more than a pitcher? Last night, the Indians swung and missed on just three fastballs. Three. And if you thought he threw an inordinate number of changeups, you’d be right. According to the game log on mlb.com, Beckett threw 24 changeups, as many as he might have compiled in 3-5 starts from past years.

Meanwhile, the left-handed batters who killed Beckett last year (a .940 OPS) went 5 for 14 with three walks and a sacrifice fly last night, good for a .357 batting average and .389 on-base percentage. Not good.

1. Carl Crawford

Again, let’s get this out there: Crawford is a good player. The problem is that he is now toting a $20.3 million annual price tag that might be a curse as much as it is a blessing. Find the list of players who have made an average of at least $20 million per season. They’re all sluggers. Crawford is well-rounded and dynamic, but not a home run hitter.

As we’ve all noted, many players come to Boston from larger markets and need a year to adjust to the intense climate. Some, like Edgar Renteria, can’t get out fast enough. Whenever Crawford gets comfortable here – and he will – he will be a good, exciting player. In the interim, does anyone else find it worrisome that, as Peter Abraham noted today, Crawford was sitting in front of his locker with his head in his hands after last night’s game?

In the first four games of the season, Crawford has hit in three different spots in the lineup. The Red Sox need to figure out how they’re going to use this guy and where, exactly, he fits.

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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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