It’s that feeling again. You know, the one in the pit of your stomach? That particular feeling where things are going completely wrong and all you can do is watch the inevitable? Like a car wreck on the highway, you don’t want to rubberneck, but you somehow can’t turn your eyes away from the carnage. Been watching much NESN lately? The Red Sox have given up the A.L. East lead and then imploded Tuesday night just when the game was in hand and there was a chance to get a game back from the Yankees. Last night? You know you faithfully watched all nine innings of that fiasco, hoping for some sort of rally. We were cruising until the week before the All-Star Break, what in the name of Don Zimmer has happened? After Tuesday and Wednesday night I’m almost too disgusted to try to figure it all out.
Luckily the answer is fairly easy. We haven’t been hitting. Earlier this spring it would have been considered sacrilege to criticize Jason Bay, even though he hasn’t really been hitting since April when he hit .324. After his hot start his batting average dipped to a still respectable .264 in May, but has cooled by 30-plus points a month in June (.230) and July (.192). His current total on the season is .251. JD Drew, hitting .092 less in July than his June average of .292, needs to pick it up too. Unfortunately the problem does not stop there and only gets bigger. Kevin Youkilis has not been hitting either. It was an improbability that his .400 start would last for long, but even dependable old Youk has been in a funk at the plate, .244 in June and .230 in July. Mr. Greek God of Walks himself had four strikeouts last night and only managed a .302 OBP this month. Not fair to compare it to April’s .505, so we’ll compare it to May’s .441. I’ll leave Pedroia out for now on the grounds that until last night he was the only (ONLY!?) Red Sox hitter currently posting an average above .300, Jacoby Ellsbury has re-joined him at that apparently unreachable level, scraping in at .300 even, but Pedroia has seen his share of struggles this year too.
Sidenote: Nice year Ellsbury has going for himself, he’s been hot, hitting .318 since the All-Star Break, and its been fun watching him develop and put all the pieces together, so what if he’s not a leadoff hitter?
We’ve seen a huge drop in production in the heart of the lineup through June and July. With everyone slumping at once we’d be dead in the water no matter what, but compounding the problem is the fact that the Red Sox lineup is not designed to overpower anyone this year. Everything has to be ground out, we have to have production up and down the lineup to be successful. We have a team of great contact hitters, but without replacing Manny with a similarly fearsome hitter and Big Papi just not up to par, there is no one to count on for a towering blast when you need it mosts a solid hit sure, but no reliable, instant game changing fire power. With the trading deadline upon us it’s time to find a another bat.
On to pitching. The John Smoltz experiment aside, and his ERA is still under Matsuzaka’s by a full run by the way, we really can’t find all that much fault in the starters. Beckett has found his gear and is cruising with a 2.43 ERA and 7-2 record in June and July. Lester is turning out Pedro-esque stats for June and July with ERA’s of .185 and .186 respectively with 72 Ks. Penny has been respectable (lets hope last night was just a hiccup) and the Red Sox need to quit messing around with Clay Buchholz and bring back Wakefield. Yeah, yeah, he’s “hurt.” How convenient, Wake goes down just in time to parade Buchholz for the trade deadline. Buchholz is good trading bait now, get Wake off the DL and back on the mound, he was winning games and giving us innings. I’m still not convinced we desperately need him, but the way things stand now I’d give up Buchholz and a little more to get that Halladay fellow everyone keeps making a fuss over. The bullpen, Tuesday night aside, is still doing a solid job. Papelzaka is putting men on, posting high pitch counts and getting lucky, (we won’t count Tuesday night, and he REALLY needs to clean that up NOW) but overall I don’t think we can hang too much of this slump on the mound. We should have won Tuesday and had opportunities to comeback last night. We can’t win if we don’t score runs.
They were boring in Spring Training. They came out flat in April. They cruised through May and June with barely a ripple in pond. The Red Sox are lacking in personality this year. The quiet, hard-working professionalism displayed by this team has merits, but part of the reason the 2004 Idiots were successful is because they were idiots. They worked hard, but they played for fun. Has our team gotten a little too professional and lost sight of the fun and games that made us successful in the first place? There is no Kevin Millar to remind us all that playing Major League Baseball is living the dream and every day spent on the field should be enjoyed like the childhood fantasy it largely is. Loosen up guys, relax, and play with the spirit of the Little Leaguers you all once were.
The good news? Time is still, just barely, on our side. It’s not likely that a team can get smoking hot in July and maintain that pace all the way through October. Calm down New York, July counts for nothing on its own. We’ve got plenty of time to get back in the groove and hit our stride in heading into September.