Monday, May 3, 2010

Red Sox doomed by slow start

After being swept by the cellar-dwelling Orioles, the Red Sox now sit at 11-14, in fourth place in the AL East and seven games behind the division-leading Tampa Bay Rays (5.5 behind the Yankees).

Last year, Tampa started in a similar hole at 11-15 after winning the AL pennant. The Rays didn't make the playoffs and there are plenty of similarities with them and the Sox this season.

Both teams were in fourth on May 3rd. Both had 11 wins. And both have two teams in front of them that could legitimately be considered the best team in baseball. It's an uphill battle the Rays couldn't win last season and the Red Sox will lose this season as well.

General manager Theo Epstein made moves in the offseason to shore up the Red Sox defense, adding Gold Glovers Adrian Beltre and Mike Cameron. But Boston is near the bottom of the American League in errors and, while Cameron has been battling injuries along with Jacoby Ellsbury, their defense isn't as good as it was on paper heading into the season.

Whenever you put an emphasis on defense, your lineup is bound to suffer. I predicted Boston would finish below the Yankees and Rays for this major reason and so far I've been right.

This team desperately needs production out of David Ortiz, the only 30-home run threat in their lineup. But with a .159 average, 3 home runs and just 6 RBI, Ortiz isn't much of a threat at all. The only regular hitting over .300 is Beltre, who doesn't have a home run this season. Dustin Pedroia leads the team with six so far but considering his career high is 17, he might not even reach 20.

If bad defense and a lack of offense wasn't bad enough, Boston's starting pitchers have also struggled. Clay Buchholz is the only Red Sox starter with an ERA under 4.50 (2.19) and if anybody expects Daisuke Matsuzaka to save this team they are foolish. In his first start this weekend against the Orioles, he allowed 10 baserunners and 6 earned runs in 4.2 innings.

Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and John Lackey should get on track as the season goes along and if Buchholz continues his strong pitching, the Sox rotation should be fine. But their impotent lineup will ultimately be their undoing, as both the Rays and Yankees are in the league's top three in runs scored.

Boston has five months to get their act together and come back from a nearly double-digit deficit in the division through just 25 games. I know the baseball season is a long one, but it's going to be even longer for Boston fans this season when they watch their team languish behind Tampa Bay and New York all season. Just don't expect me to say I told you so (although I just did?).

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