15 April 2011
Pitching. Pitching. Pitching. Each of us touched on it during our pre-season columns and mentioned it as the key to a successful year. John Lackey and Josh Beckett were frequently cited as being the keys to a Sox resurgence and a late run in the post season along with stabilization of Daisuke Matsuzaka. Beckett’s first start was solid, not terrific, but then the Sox shouldn’t need terrific to be successful, solid should suffice. Terrific, however, was exactly what they got last week in his second start against the Yankees. Beckett was the Beckett of old. His velocity was mid-90s, which is something we haven’t seen in a few years, and the curve ball was drop off the table deadly. He was able to throw the curve for strikes and that combination made him nearly unhittable. Whether that type of outing is sustainable throughout the season is something we’ll need to wait and see, but the fact that it is still possible is great news to Sox fans everywhere.
Lackey, on the other hand, has been thoroughly dismantled in each of his starts – even though he managed to grab a win. His ERA over the two game span is over 15 and, more disconcerting in my eyes, is the opponent’s batting average against of nearly .400! If one start was a shellacking and the other fair enough you could chalk it up to a one bad outing, but both games were a disaster. I can understand the logic of skipping his turn in the rotation rather than just pushing the start back after the rain out with Tampa Bay. The regular season is no time to pitch out of a funk. Watch some tape and work on what you need to in order to get right before heading out to the mound and surrendering seven runs in five innings.
I laughed the other day as a friend of mine called for trading Matsuzaka. I had to ask the obvious question: Who would give up anything for him? For what we’ve seen the past couple of seasons he’s overpaid so the Sox would have to eat a great deal of salary and so far this season he’s pitching to an ERA of over 12. It may be too soon to call it a day on the Dice-K experience, but there has to be more going on there than meets the eye. Whether he needs to head to the PawSox to work it through (if Scott Boras allows that, of course) or if new pitching coach Curt Young can work through his issues with him to get him on track, something needs to be done and done quickly. He and Lackey in the middle of the rotation is a hole that is beyond gaping and if that hole isn’t welded shut right now, it is going to cause this season to founder and the ship to eventually sink.
I’ve listened on ESPN as the talking heads have posited that perhaps Lackey is caving into the daily meat grinder that is playing for Boston as opposed to the less scrutinized Angels of Anaheim. Maybe that’s the issue overall? The pressure of the pre-season hype is causing too much pressing – on the mound and at the plate. Carl Crawford hasn’t exactly shown up as advertised so far this season and even stalwarts like Youk are having a tough time getting untracked. Dustin Pedroia’s explosion against the Yankees was certainly a delight to watch, but we can’t make a living off of feasting on the Yankees and getting smoked by the rest of the league – of course if this season continues down the crapper my guess is that’s the way we’d prefer it to go.
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