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Can The Red Sox Hold On Much Longer?

Posted By "Baseball Brenda" Sepanek On Sep 23 2011 @ 11:01 am In Boston Red Sox | 1 Comment

With six games left to play in the 2011 season, the Boston Red Sox are up a creek with one paddle. Their hopes and dreams are not entirely squandered, but they are certainly making it a little too dramatic here in Boston. It is a bit shocking to see them finishing the season they way they started. Back in April, all I could do was laugh it off and I didn’t think it could get any worse. But, unless they win every one of their remaining games they will finish the month of September worse than their dismal month of April. And how do you get worse than April?

April: 11-15 Record

September: 5-16 Record (with 6 games to play)

Oh how I wish we could turn back the clock. Shall we?

September 1: Red Sox had a .5 game lead in the American League East DIVISION and were 30 games over .500 with a 83-53 record. The Yankees were the Wild Card leaders. The Tampa Bay Rays were 8.5 games back and the Anaheim Angels were 9 games back.

Today (September 22): They are 88-68 and have dropped to 20 games over 500. They have the worst home record (45-36) since 2002. The hopes of winning the AL East Division are over as the New Yankees clinched the division Tuesday. Not to take anything away from them but I feel like the Sox handed that one over. They left the door wide open, put the keys to the car on the table, the combo to the safe on the fridge and left it to whoever walked in next. When we discussed the AL Standings at the beginning of August, there was no reason for me to think that the Sox wouldn’t or shouldn’t win the division, but as I always say, “that’s why they play the game.” We knew it would come down to the wire as it always does, but this meltdown was completely unexpected. It has left them with their pants down after a cold dip in a lake with a measly 2 game lead in the Wild Card standings. Talk about shrinkage!!!

The Sox won F-I-V-E games in September…FIVE! I know collapses happen, but twice in one season? To the team that was expected to win over 100 games this year and go straight to the World Series? How the hell does this happen? Who do we point our fingers at now? Because in Boston, after a baby is delivered, in order for them to leave the hospital it is written in “Title Town Law” that you need a well operating pointer finger to exist in this town.

With that said….LET THE FINGER POINTING BEGIN.

In all truthfulness, there isn’t a long laundry list to pin the blame on and thankfully it doesn’t fall all on one person. It is a collective team issue and if they don’t pull themselves together ESPN magazine will regret running an entire issue about Boston’s dominance in the sports world. Ok, all joking aside, the main problem of September, is pitching and fundamentals (22 errors in 21 games). Plain and simple!

The bottom line is the starting pitchers are not going deep enough in games and they are going to their bullpen much too early. Of the 21 games in September, there were 15 games the starting pitcher did not last more than 5.1 innings. Only 6 times they lasted until the sixth. For the month of September the starting pitching is AVERAGING 4.6 innings per outing with a 5.98 ERA.

Fenway Flop (most recent 10 game homestand)

Record: 3-7

ERA: 5.30

Batting Average: .301

Runs/Game: 6.8 (two times they score a season high, 18 runs)

Home Runs: 11 (24 in Sept)

What do you gather from this? I see we have one problem. Pitching. They are losing games but are maintaining a .300 batting average, averaging almost seven runs a game, and continue to clobber home runs (although in both July and August they hit 40). The offense continues to show up, but they are always playing from behind. In fact, Tuesday night’s game was the first time in 8 games they scored the first run and they had been notorious for being the first ones to strike all year.

Struggling Starters (last 4 games)

Starters: 19.0 Innings Pitched, 20 Earned Runs, 5 Home Runs Allowed

Bullpen: 17 Innings Pitched, 4 Earned Runs, 0 Home Runs Allowed

The starters have suddenly put a huge burden on the bullpen and there doesn’t seem to be a quick or easy fix to the situation except let the problem work itself out. People tend to want to point fingers at Terry Francona for leaving guys in too long or not long enough but it really needs to stop. During Daniel Bard’s complete September meltdown, I heard many fans questioning whether he should be out there at all. REALLY?

Daniel Bard’s September Slump

The first five months of the season, Daniel Bard was one of the most feared setup men in the league. From May 23rd to Aug 1st, his impressive scoreless streak of 25 games, spanning 26.1 innings captured Red Sox nation. For those that stopped following Bard’s progress, after the streak ended, he gave up 3 runs that night and another run Aug 6th and went on to pitch the rest of August (9.2 innings) without surrendering a run. As the calendar month changed so did our flawless Daniel Bard. In eight appearances (8.0 innings pitched) this month, he has given up 11 runs and issued 6 walks. Of his five blown saves this year, three of them went down in recent weeks.

April: 5 Earned Runs, 3 Walks
May:  5 Earned Runs, 4 Walks
June: 0 Earned Runs, 3 Walks
July: 0 Earned Runs, 3 Walks
August: 4 Earned Runs, 2 Walks
September: 11 Earned Runs, 6 Walks

It’s no secret Daniel Bard has put a kink in the bullpen’s plan heading into the playoffs. It was working so well. Alfredo Aceves in the 7th, followed by Bard in the 8th, and Jonathan Papelbon to close things out in the 9th. If Bard can’t right The Black Pearl (the given name of the bullpen

pitchers) it will continue to sink but by no means should he be walking the plank. But that’s just it, the Red Sox NEED Daniel Bard if they are going to win. Fans flooded WEEI radio, questioning whether Francona should be resting Bard or trying something new. How can you rest one of the best set up men in the game with 3 weeks to play in the season? Bottomline, the will win with him and they will lose with him. He is crucial to the success of this team and the only way he will rebound is getting back out there each and every night.

Silent Hero

Jonathan Papelbon who has impressed the hell out of me this year is probably one of only two players this season that has 100% escaped criticism from the media this season. Those two words “escaping criticism” in Boston, don’t go in the same sentence people. But he and Jacoby Ellsbury have managed to do just that. This is the closer that in my opinion has completely transformed himself back into the “get it done” guy he was a couple years ago.

2006: 68.1 IP, 35 Saves, 6 Blown Saves, 75 K, 13 BB
2007: 58.1 IP, 37 Saves, 3 Blown Saves,84 K, 15 BB
2008: 69.1 IP, 41 Saves, 5 Blown Saves, 77 K, 8, BB
2009: 68.0 IP, 38 Saves, 3 Blown Saves, 76 K, 24 BB
2010: 67.0 IP, 37 Saves, 8 Blown Saves, 76 K, 28 BB
2011: 60.1 IP, 30 Saves, 2 Blown Saves, 81 K, 10 BB

It is very interesting looking at his stats above because clearly this will go down as his most unproductive season on paper. However I completely disagree. Will he finish with less saves? Yes. But he had less opportunities. The Sox were either blowing teams out of the water this year or they were tanking it in April and September. The stat I am most impressed with is his 2 blown saves this year. In both 2009 and 2010, I wanted Paps “shipped OUTTA Boston” even if the Dropkick Murphy’s had to personally escort him. His ego had boiled over and it showed in his performance with a season high 8 blown saves and 28 walks last year. I don’t know what Papelbon did in the off season, but he certainly dialed his brain back to reality and aside from his low save total, he should finish with some of his best numbers of his career in terms of blown saves, strikeouts and walks. I know that Jacoby Ellsbury is the hands down favorite for comeback player of the year, but Jonathan Papelbon deserves a lot of credit for turning his career around. Just look at the way he handled his 2nd blown save of the season after Tuesday’s game. Francona knew he needed two innings of work from either Bard or Paps Tuesday due to Aceves being overworked the night before. Bard pitched a 1-2-3 seventh, but couldn’t get out of the eighth, so Tito turned to Papelbon to give him the two innings he was looking for. Unfortunately, he came in with one out and 2 men on base and couldn’t get the job done ending his very silent scoreless inning streak of 22.0 dating back from July 17. It was the longest streak in MLB and the third longest in Red Sox history.

What was Papelbon’s reaction to all this? ”This game’s on me. We were put in a situation where the team needed me. I didn’t come through. So I don’t want to hear anything tomorrow about Tito bringing in guys early, the lineup not coming through, or anything else. This game is on me. My job when I am called on is to go out there and finish the game. I didn’t do that, so this game’s on me. And I take full responsibility for that,” said Papelbon.

Wow!!! I could not have summed it up any better myself. You can’t ask for more accountability than he gave and that is exactly what the team and fans need to hear going into these final six games. All season long whenever fans come down on Francona, I get so frustrated because in the end, it is the players that are not performing and Papelbon said exactly what I have been trying to say for years.

Alright folks, buckle your seat belt. It should be an interesting next six days with three games in the Bronx starting tonight, and another three in Baltimore to finish the season. The leadership of Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Josh Beckett need to pull this team together and sprint to the finish. It’s either that or get Kevin Millar in that clubhouse with some Jack Daniels, stat!

Things to look out for:

Jacoby Ellsbury who just got his 200th hit of the season Tuesday night is honing in on 100 RBIs which is an astonishing feat for a lead off hitter. He has 98. Adrian Gonzalez also hit the 200 mark and now has the all-time single season record by a Red Sox first baseman with 208 and counting. The last time two Red Sox players had over 200 hits in one season was back in 1986 when Wade Boggs hit 207 and Jim “Mr. Snuggie” Rice hit 200. These guys have delivered all season and let’s hope they keep delivering for the next six days and then some.

Speaking of 100 Wins…

On opening day I was stopped by a local news channel and asked how many wins the Sox would finish with. It seems as if I was the only realistic one around these parts predicting 96. [4] (1:54 and 2:08 mark). And even I didn’t come close.  I got backlash from friends that saw my prediction thinking I was crazy. Who is the fool now suckas??? Maybe the Red Sox need to come to me next time instead of going to some MIT professor, clearly they have nothing on Keene State Alumni :)

GO SOX!

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[4] It seems as if I was the only realistic one around these parts predicting 96.: http://www.necn.com/04/01/11/MIT-Prof-Predicts-101-Sox-Wins/landing_sports.html?blockID=495850&feedID=5453

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