Every week, The Lineup will take a comprehensive, numerical and often uproarious look back at the previous week of Red Sox action both on and off the diamond. We'll go one through nine, from top to bottom in the order, covering all you need to know about your favorite team.
Without further ado, let's get this party started:
Entering Thursday night's tilt against the Yanks, 21-year veteran John Smoltz had a 2-4 record and a 7.12 ERA. There was hope he could shake off his early issues as a member of the Red Sox and come up with a big start against their rivals in the Bronx.
Not so much.
His line from Thursday: 3 1/3 innings, nine hits, eight earned runs, four walks, three strikeouts and two home runs allowed.
In his last four starts, he's thrown 20 innings, allowed 35 hits and has an ERA of … gulp … 11.25.
"He's had some frustrations," Sox manager Terry Francona said of Smoltz a few weeks ago. "It's so easy to have the big picture get lost here. I sat here for the last six months and laid out Smoltz's plan, and then when he gives up runs, it all seems to go out the window.
"[According to public opinion], he's either going to be enshrined in Cooperstown or be released depending on a couple starts, and that's not how it can work. That's not a good way to make it work."
But neither is it good to go out and get shelled every time out. In fact, it's hard to imagine that the patience shown thus far by Francona, John Farrell and Theo Epstein is going to last much longer.
Thanks to recent blowups from both Brad Penny and Clay Buchholz, the Red Sox starters in the last four games have thrown a combined 19 1/3 innings, allowing 27 hits and 21 earned runs, an ERA of 9.78. And that's with Jon Lester's six innings of one-run ball on Tuesday.
Lester and Friday's starter Josh Beckett have been excellent, no question. But when Tim Wakefield makes his return from the disabled list, Buchholz could be headed back to Pawtucket or Penny could be headed to the bullpen. Don't be shocked, either, if big-time Triple-A prospect Michael Bowden makes another appearance with the parent club.
Over those same last four games, the normally steady Red Sox bullpen of Daniel Bard, Manny Delcarmen, Hideki Okajima, Ramon Ramirez, Takashi Saito and recent call-up Billy Traber, who got shelled early and often Thursday in the Bronx (to the tune of nine hits and five earned runs in 3 2/3 innings) hasn't been particular dependable either. They've allowed 22 hits and a swollen ERA of 5.89 in 18 1/3 innings.
Not exactly playoff material on the mound.
Except for Jonathan Papelbon, who has had only four save chances since July 17.
Did anyone else think that Mark Melancon's plunking of Dustin Pedroia in the eighth was going to result in a Red Sox hurler throwing at a Yankee (Derek Jeter, maybe) in the following frame setting off another bench-clearing brawl and adding even more oomph to an already amazing and ruthless rivalry?
Um, me neither.
Ali wasn't the only dignitary in the crowd of 49,005 Thursday night. Actor Bruce Willis, singer Paul Simon, ex-New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and baseball Hall of Famer Eddie Murray were also there, as was the current and well-publicized object of A-Rod's affection, actress Kate Hudson.
I say we round up Matt Damon, Bennifer and Casey Affleck, Stephen King, Denis Leary and all the other famous Sox fans and bring 'em down to the Bronx tomorrow night. We'll show them city slickers whose got the heavier Hollywood hitters!
The Red Sox have continued losing since the trade deadline, but don't blame that on recent pickup Victor Martinez. In the five games since the trade, the former Indians slugger is hitting .417 with a .481 on-base percentage and has a homer and six RBIs. Not only has he been a solid addition to the middle of the lineup, but he's been good both behind the plate and at first base.
The question still to be answered is how the pitchers have adapted to him behind the dish. Their recent performances suggest it might take a bit longer to feel comfy with V-Mart back there. But with Jason Varitek still splitting time, hopefully there will be ample opportunity to work Martinez into the mix without too many more evenings as disastrous as Thursday.
But Jason Bay goes down with a strained hamstring, missed Thursday's loss in the Bronx and will probably be out of the lineup again on Friday.
In batting practice, Rocco Baldelli fouls a ball off his ankle so hard that he's put on the DL with a contusion. That even sounds painful.
Now newly returned Jed Lowrie leaves Thursday's game with an irritated left forearm. (Not sure on which strikeout the injury occurred.)
The Sox may have some depth in the rotation (despite the somewhat questionable futures of Smoltz, Penny and Buchholz), but in the field, there's a little less room for error.
Case in point: Kevin Youkilis playing left field Thursday against the Yankees. I know he's played there previously. And don't get me wrong, he played solidly … and I'd do anything to keep him in the lineup right now. But there's a point in important games when you need a real outfielder playing the outfield and you need Youkilis at first or third base. Once Bay returns, don't expect this experiment to go on much longer.
No, winning the series didn't mean as much to the Red Sox as it did the Rays (and that showed!). But it's clear that, like TC wrote, there are now three teams in the race for the AL East.
Once again, maybe it was my general negativity (I am a longtime Red Sox fan, after all) or the fact that the series took place in the less-than-friendly confines of Tropicana Field, but the result in the 13-inning opener seemed like a four-hour, 57-minute inevitability. Even with that ridiculous throwing error by Daniel Bard that should have scored the go-ahead run in the eighth inning — a miracle call by the umpires that gave the Red Sox four extra innings of life — there was an underlying feeling that the Rays always had it in the bag.
Now, thanks to their sweep, Tampa Bay has won five of its last six games and has crept to within 2 1/2 games of the Sox and sit six games back of the Yankees. And with the Red Sox planning a trip back to St. Petersburg to start off September, there are sure to be more meaningful games against the devilish Rays as the season progresses.
Papi No Talkie
Last Thursday, after the New York Times report came out linking David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez to PEDs, Ortiz was quick to assure both journalists and fans — collectively known as "you guys" — that he'd have something to say soon on the matter:
"You guys know I'm a guy who never turns my back on you guys. I've always been a true guy with you guys, and honestly, right now, I don't have any information about it. I'm going to get more info about the situation, and I'm going to honestly tell you guys what's up. But right now, I don't have no answer, no information."
An excuse? An apology? An explanation? C'mon, you guys deserve something, right?
Well, so far us guys have heard absolutely nothing. Papi, reportedly still seeking the 4-1-1 himself on his alleged positive test from 2003, sounded mildly perturbed on Wednesday.
"I'm trying to [get the information]," Ortiz said. "It's frustrating, but I'm trying to get to the bottom of this. I think about it every day."
Well, the answer may be forthcoming. According to Major League Players Association spokesman Greg Bouris, Ortiz will be talking to the media with MLBPA director Michael Weiner before Saturday's Sox game in New York.
So you guys have that to look forward to.
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