August 11, 2011
The Boston Red Sox have the best record in the American League. The Red Sox took 2 out of 3 from the rival Yankees last weekend, own a 2 game lead in the division, and are all but a lock to make the postseason. Yet the season to this point has been anything but the cakewalk many predicted it would be after the Red Sox acquired Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. Even when the Red Sox were tearing through the month of July compiling a 20-6 record it wasn’t as if they were exactly firing on all cylinders. MVP candidates Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia, and Jacoby Ellsbury were carrying the team, but that was seemingly covering up for a number of holes in the roster. And going into the series with the Yankees the team seemed to have more question marks that exclamation points -
Number three starter John Lackey was having a second terrible season. J.D. Drew was having the worst year of his career giving the Red Sox almost nothing out of right field. Crawford wasn’t giving them much more out of left. Catchers Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek were both struggling to throw out base-stealers. Shortstops Marco Scutaro and Jed Lowrie both battled injuries and ineffectiveness. Can the Red Sox really win the division with a number three starter who routinely gives up more runs than innings pitched. Can they contend for a world series getting little from the catching position, less from left field, and nothing out of right? Can they really succeed with both shortstops either injured or inconsistent?
The answer all these question is probably no. If the Red Sox are going to contend for a World Series they need these players to be better. The lack of production from these key positions has raised serious doubts as to whether the Red Sox are really good enough to win the World Series. They haven’t been firing on all cylinders all year and Ellsbury, Pedroia, and Gonzalez can only carry this team so far. If they are going to make it to the promise land they need these key cylinders to start firing. However the fact is the Red Sox still have the best record in the American League while getting next nothing from a number of key contributors. Without these key cylinders firing the Red Sox could be in trouble. But if they do start firing this team could get really scary and the last few games has shown me that this may be about to happen.
The first and most important cylinder is John lackey. Lackey came to Boston with a huge contract and a reputation as a battler. He didn’t have overpowering stuff, he was going to give up hits, but he was a grinder and every time out gives the team a chance to win. In his first year and a half in Boston Lackey has been anything but. When he’s been good he’s been merely decent, maybe giving the Sox a chance to win, maybe not. But when he’s been bad he’s been absolutely awful, destroying any chance the team had by the third inning. He hasn’t been a grinder and has routinely gotten knocked out of games early. His only good performances have been against bad teams. Up until his last start against New York I was convinced that the John Lackey we signed never left Anaheim.
However in game 2 of the weekend series against New York that John Lackey finally showed up. It wasn’t pretty. He gave up hits, he gave up runs, but he ground it out. He made big pitches in big spots (particularly his 4th inning back to back strikeouts of Curtis Granderson and Mark Texeira) and ended up pitching 6 innings of 3 run ball. That is the Lackey the Red Sox thought they were getting and that is the Lackey they need. They don’t need him to be an ace, but they need him to be good. John Lackey has to give the Red Sox a chance to win against good teams. I’ve been waiting a year and a half for him to show me something and last weekend he finally did. If he can be that pitcher down the stretch and in the playoffs the Red Sox are in good shape.
While Lackey’s struggles has been widely publicized, Carl Crawford’s season to forget has been largely overlooked. Perhaps this is because the Red Sox really haven’t had any issues scoring runs. But there is no getting around the fact that this has been easily the worst year of Crawford’s strong career. However he has been consistently improving since coming of the disabled list in June and absolutely torched the Yankees last weekend to the tune of 9 hits in his last 10 at bats. Right behind Crawford was Scutaro who single handedly rescued multiple innings that the Red Sox almost squandered coming through with numerous key hits out of the number nine whole. These two have given the Red Sox next to nothing all year, but if they start producing like this the best lineup in baseball just got ten times better.
Add in the fact that Josh Reddick has been a revelation in right field since taking over for J.D. Drew, and it all of a sudden has become impossible to steal on Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and a Red Sox team that two weeks ago looked like it had way to many holes now looks bulletproof. Make no mistake without Clay Buccholtz the Red Sox don’t have the pitching Philadelphia has. Getting nothing out of Bobby Jenks has hurt the bullpen. Things are never as bad or as good as they seem. However if a team that has gotten this far on what amounts to half an engine can finally get the whole things running they could quickly go from good to great. If and when they start getting a total team effort the rest of the league might be in trouble.