Playing nine innings while wondering if Anthony Ranaudo ranks among the Sox' top five prospects already . . .
1. Believe it or not, that picture is not a photoshopped, ever-so-slight dramatization of how the baseball looks to hitters coming out of Josh Beckett's right hand these days. It's a shot from spring training 2006, his first season with the Red Sox and his worst (16 wins, 5.01 ERA, 95 ERA+) . . . until now.
Dale Arnold mentioned this on WEEI today, and it's something I've been thinking about as the stench lingers from Beckett's last two starts, the no-show in New York and the blown 8-2 lead in Texas: No player is more responsible for the Red Sox' current outside-looking-in status in the playoff race than Beckett. We thought he was hurting them in is absence; turns out he's killing them in his presence.
It's unfair to criticize him for being injured; we all know the team picture should be taken in front of the MRI tube this season. But it's completely fair to criticize him for being lousy, and with three victories in 13 starts, a brutal 6.51 ERA, 1.53 WHIP and 67 ERA+, lousy is exactly what he has been.
Here's a dose of ice cold perspective: Remember what a mess Jeff Suppan was after the Sox acquired him at the July 31 deadline in 2003? He was better in 11 starts that season -- three wins in 11 starts, 5.51 ERA, 84 ERA+ -- than Beckett has been in a similar workload '10. Once more, with emphasis: Jeff. Freaking. Suppan.
I'm not at the point where I wish the Red Sox hadn't re-signed him to a four-year, $68 million deal in spring training; he's only 30, he's no doubt embarrassed by this, and hopefully he has gym installed in his favorite hunting blind this offseason.
But the internal groan becomes audible when you realize the Sox committed more than $150 million to Beckett and his most statically similar pitcher in history -- yup, that would be John Lackey -- this offseason. That's a painful amount to pay for Nos. 4 and 5 starters.
2. I'm not interested in any further battles of semantics between Jacoby Ellsbury and the Red Sox, and I hope it doesn't resort another clubhouse reading of Jacoby's Injury CliffsNotes again after his latest rib injury.
But man, it's hard not lament the lost season, not to mention the lost luster on a career that should be peaking for the 26-year-old center fielder.
It's unlikely we'll ever get the whole story since both sides have too much to lose by being completely honest, and so we're left to draw our own conclusions from what we think we know. And what we think we know is this: The Red Sox doctors' diagnosis may have been a bit too casual in blurring the line between a bruise and a break; Ellsbury has been seriously hurt, and this latest injury makes you wonder if there's some unusual and perhaps chronic problem that will ail him the rest of his career; and he's built a reputation among his teammates as being high-maintenance to the point that he doesn't get the benefit of the doubt.
Listen, there's no denying that his popularity among fans who aren't necessarily at Fenway for the ol' ball game is annoying, and his breathtaking grace and speed tend to exaggerate his contributions compared to the truth on the stat sheet. He's overrated by a large segment of the fandom who don't -- or don't care to -- recognize nuance.
Yet . . . you remember that his performance in the 2007 World Series was so spectacular that it's probably underrated to a degree, that this is a guy who batted a more-than-respectable .301 with 70 steals last year, that the Red Sox are more well-rounded offense when he's doing his thing.
And that's when, despite all of the nonsense this season, you still find yourself hoping such a dynamic (if flawed) player can overcome his injuries and the bruises to his reputation and enjoy his early prime here before Scott Boras takes him to free agency.
Too bad you also have to wonder if the point of no return has already been passed.
3. Let the record show that the Red Sox went a respectable 23-21 in Dustin Pedroia's absence, a .523 winning percentage.
With the essential second baseman returning to the lineup tonight, it's fair to say the Sox need to amp up that winning percentage by about 150 points over their final 39 games if they're going to swipe a spot in the postseason. To do so -- to play spectacular baseball and earn 26 or so victories from now until Game 162 versus the Yankees Oct. 3 -- Pedroia has to be himself immediately.
While he's the last player we'd doubt when presented with a challenge, that could be a lot to ask. Ellsbury was hitless in his first 19 at-bats after he returned. Victor Martinez has one homer and five doubles in 20 games since coming back from his injury.
With time running short and the Sox treading water when they need to be gaining ground (New York, Tampa Bay, and the Sox are all 5-5 over their past 10 games), there's no time for Pedroia to shake off any rust.
He was on a tear when he got hurt -- as my friends at Maple Street Press pointed out on Twitter this morning, in the 14 games before his injury, he batted .491 with 26 hits, four homers, five doubles, an .814 slugging percentage, and a .548 OBP.
The Sox can't ask him to be that impossibly brilliant. Just being his usual self would be perfect.
4. He'd been away so long that I actually forgot how annoying Jed Lowrie's fundamental flaws -- or flawed fundamentals -- are as a defensive player. Not only does he sling the ball off-balance when it's not always necessary, but he's as inaccurate as a Broncos backup quarterback when he does so.
His Nomar-style, off-target sling to first Friday night against the Rangers allowed Josh Hamilton to hustle home with the tying run, and it was reminder that while Lowrie doesn't make many errors as a defensive player, he makes plenty of mistakes.
5. It's probably wise to resist projecting a 22-year-old player with 14 games and 50 plate appearances of major league experience as a regular for a big market team the following season. It's tough to separate the Burkses and Greenwells from the Benzingers before the league has had a chance to adjust, and the player has had a chance to re-adjust.
With that pathetic qualifier said . . . I'm convinced Ryan Kalish can handle close to a full-time role next season. Consider what we know to be his strengths:
A strong throwing arm and the versatility to play three outfield positions well . . . speed and relative savvy on the bases for a young player . . . and most importantly, a discerning eye at the plate, which is going to help him reach base even during the inevitable slumps. He's going to be a hell of a player someday -- at his peak, he could be an amalgam of many of the attributes of J.D. Drew and Trot Nixon.
It's not out of the realm of possibility that someday means immediately in Kalish's case.
6. Lost in the Red Sox' angry sea of injuries this season is the one that got the whole miserable Year of The Walking (And Limping) Wounded started.
Young righthander Junichi Tazawa required Tommy John surgery after feeling pain in his elbow in late March. While it's essentially been a case of out-of-sight, out-of-mind with him since he was lost so early and was unlikely to make the Opening Day roster, with hindsight you can't help but think the 24-year-old, who had his encouraging moments during his first year stateside, might have been a solution in a bullpen that 123 games into the season still has has far too many unsolved problems . . .
7. . . . Not that I'll ever fault Theo for his refusal to overpay for potential relief help down the stretch. Toronto lefty Scott Downs would have been an ideal fit here -- and pretty much anywhere else, given that he's among roughly a bullpen's worth of big league relievers who've made a recent habit of being consistent from season to season.
But for the price Toronto was allegedly asking -- righthander Casey Kelly and shortstop Jose Iglesias, when either/or wasn't even acceptable -- was far too steep to consider, and again his prudence won out over the quick fix, an underrated and extremely valuable attribute in a GM.
That doesn't mean there isn't reason for frustration, though. If Theo made any mistake, it's that he left the Red Sox short in the 'pen from the beginning, trying to catch lightning in a bottle with a collection of pitchers who no longer had lightning in their arms. I mean, did he really expect Scott Schoeneweis, Alan Embree, or Joe Nelson to contribute?
8. Adam LaRoche was a member of the Red Sox for a magical six games last season before the odd trade for Casey Kotchman sent him to Atlanta, where he had his usual monster second half (12 HRs, .957 OPS).
After settling for a one-year, $4.5 million deal with the Diamondbacks in the offseason, he's tearing it up again after the All-Star break (seven homers, 28 RBIs, and a 1.007 OPS over the past month) Plus, there's this potential added benefit: He's been pestering the Diamondbacks staff to let him pitch.
So who knows, maybe the son of longtime lefty reliever Dave LaRoche is the answer to the bullpen woes. (No, I'm not going to tell you if I'm being facetious.)
9. As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:
You know what? At this point, if he wants to pitch the sixth and seventh himself when necessary . . . go for it. I'm all Okicarmened out.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.