Even though the Red Sox picked up their first win on Friday at Fenway Park, it was an uneven performance. They still had yet to put together a complete effort emblematic of teams expected to accomplish great things.
Still, it was a step forward, and perhaps that would serve as a springboard to something more complete Saturday, a day that saw Boston with a decided advantage in the pitching matchup, at least on paper.
If we've learned anything in the first week-plus of the season, what's written on paper means little between the lines. Lately, it has meant even less on the mound, where Boston pitchers continue to find an alarmingly low rate of success.
A day after John Lackey was fortunate enough to get a win, Clay Buchholz became the latest starter to get knocked around. Buchholz gave up five runs — four earned — on eight hits and three walks in just 3 2/3 innings, getting outlasted, albeit slightly, by the unproven Ivan Nova. That's the second time in eight games that a Red Sox starter has not been able to finish four innings and the seventh time he has failed to provide a quality start.
The Yankees have a great offense, as do the Texas Rangers, who hit four home runs off Buchholz on Sunday. But with the Boston team ERA sitting at 7.09, it's no time to be wondering how much it has to do with the opponent. The pitching has to be better than this, much better, for the Red Sox to survive.
Buchholz knows this, and for that pins the poor start on the rotation.
"I know everyone on this team is better than what our record is now," Buchholz said. "We're battling right now and trying to find ways to win games. It's going to start with us as starters, going out there and giving some innings to where you can keep the team in the game rather than throwing three, four, five innings and having to give way to the bullpen."
After Buchholz's early exit, the starters had provided 41 innings in eight games, just over five per contest. The bullpen's workload is now up to 25 innings. That is an extremely damaging ratio that will only makes things more difficult down the road. The two entities have combined to give up 19 home runs, six more than any team in baseball entering the day.
While the offense has not been providing much help, with the exception of the home opener, the thought remains that it is only a matter of time before they break out. One of those who has, the red-hot Dustin Pedroia, is recognizing how hard it is to be playing catch-up all the time.
"We have got to pitch better," Pedroia said after his second straight three-hit performance.
It's a rather obvious statement, but coming from the second baseman and emotional leader, it means plenty. The Yankees hammered four home runs — two by No. 9 hitter Russell Martin — and had runners on in each of the first seven innings on Saturday, keeping constant pressure on Red Sox pitchers. Even efforts like that of Pedroia, which included a two-run double that pulled Boston within 5-4 in the fourth, are going to waste amid a consistent barrage by opposing batters.
"It's surprising. We have one of the best rotations in the game," designated hitter David Ortiz said.
Manager Terry Francona said that the relationships involving new pitching coach Curt Young and the rotation and starting catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia are not the reason why starters are failing to last deep into games. He said it's simply a matter of execution, and for whatever reason almost nobody on the mound is doing so, all at the same time.
"All the things that we talk about that we want to do is being done to us right now," Francona said. "And you're right, we're getting some early exits. We're asking a lot of our bullpen, especially early in the season."
With the second turn through the rotation incomplete, there is plenty of time for guys to get it right.
When they do, and when the offense improves on a .197 average with runners in scoring position, which is not helping matters any, the wins could pile up.
For now, however, the fact that the rotation is falling far short of its daily goal is severely hurting the Red Sox. The struggling offense is constantly trying to chip away at leads and the bullpen is doing everything it can to keep those leads from getting away.
When the starting pitching is right, everything else can fall into place. When it is not, you have 1-7 starts.
"We're not even two turns through [the rotation]. I don't think it's been a very good turn and a half," Francona said. "I don't think we're going to pack it in. We need to try to get better. I think we all feel that way."
Powered by WordPress.com VIP