After the Red Sox completely sank the playoff ship in September of 2011, expectations for a fast start were high going into 2012. Needless to say, things haven’t gone as planned and the Sox find themselves in hot water with a disgruntled fan base. There was no excuse for September and these guys were expected to make amends for their mistakes–it’s still early, but there are several concerns heading into the home opener Friday at Fenway Park.
Here I’ll give you the 5 biggest concerns for the stumbling ball club.
1.) Josh Beckett’s Thumb
As the poster boy for the beer, chicken and video game “scandal” from ’11, Josh Beckett was expected to make amends to the fan base by returning to his mid-2011 form when he had a low 2.00 ERA. Things didn’t go as planned in his first outing as he got shellacked to the tune of 5 HR, 7H, 7 ER, 1BB in 4 2/3 IP against the Detroit Tigers.
During spring training Alfredo Aceves “leaked” a story that Beckett had visited two doctors to address an undisclosed thumb issue. Beckett confirmed the story and added that he’s had issues with the thumb going back 18 months– that’s an issue. On a team lacking arms, the Red Sox can’t afford to lose Beckett or send him out in the form he displayed on April 7th.
If they can’t get this issue straightened out, the Sox may be in trouble in terms of an already ineffective starting rotation.
2.) The Bullpen Won’t Cut It
The loss of Jonathan Papelbon to free agency was supposed to be offset by acquisitions of Mark Melancon and Andrew Bailey in the offseason. Problem is, Bailey hasn’t thrown a pitch and likely won’t until June or later as he injured his thumb in a spring game and required surgery to repair the UCL.
Mark Melancon has thrown some pitches for the Sox but is yet to prove that he can get American League hitters out.
Alfredo Aceves finally got an out in the Red Sox’ only win of the season but there is still concern as to whether or not he can consistently close games.
The bottom line is there’s too much uncertainty in the Sox’ bullpen to begin the season. Until the roles can be defined and the back end can be solidified, this team will have trouble locking down wins in the late innings.
3.) Kevin Youkilis Looks Out of Place
For a guy who had the worst season of his career in 2011 and required surgery in the offseason, a hot start was the best thing that could’ve happened in 2011. Unfortunately it’s been the exact opposite.
Through his first 20 at bats, Youkilis has just 2 hits for a .100 BA, and even more telling of his struggles is the fact that he has yet to draw a single walk. For a player like Youk who excels in on-base skills, this is concerning.
Watching his at bats tells the story better than any statistic could. He looks terrible. I’m worried that there are still physical issues with Youkilis and if that’s the case it will hurt the Red Sox in several ways. Anybody anxious to see a Punto, Aviles left side of the infield on a daily basis?
4.) Will Clay Buchholz Be Effective?
The importance of an effective Clay Buchholz in 2012 could prove even more significant if there is something wrong with Josh Beckett but either way his success will play a huge role in the teams success.
In that regard, his start against the Tigers was a bit concerning. Buchholz again showed inability to finish hitters off and get quick outs–a problem he had in ’11 before the back injury that sidelined him and ended his season in June.
There’s a good chance Clay turns it around soon as he gets comfortable in game situations again but if you’re a Sox fan it’s still in the back of your mind. With a young back end and possibly an injured number 2 starter, the Red Sox will depend on Buchholz more than ever before.
5.) The Clubhouse Still Reeks of Negativity
When the hammer came down after the ’11 season, the Red Sox were damaged in more ways than a few. There was a PR nightmare, personnel changes, reputations ruined and players calling out teammates. It was a circus and the carousel still spins today in the Red Sox’ clubhouse.
Just yesterday, Buster Olney told WEEI’s Mut & Merloni radio show that during spring training he overheard a heated conversation between two players who were still trying to figure out who the mole was that revealed the beer and chicken scandal to the media.
Before that, Josh Beckett told Rob Bradford of WEEI.com that “they can go [expletive] themselves” when referring to anyone who thinks he was wrong for worrying about off the field issues.
It’s quite clear that the negative impact September had still permeates through the clubhouse. Until the team can get over this and form an identity they won’t be able to get back to the level of play needed to compete in the loaded AL East.
The Red Sox had many questions heading into 2011 as well and they were still the best team in baseball through August so maybe these things will work themselves out but until they do, the Red Sox will have a hard time breaking out of this slump.
Tags: Alfredo Aceves Andrew Bailey Aviles Buster Olney Clay Buchholz Featured Fenway Park Jonathan Papelbon Josh Beckett Kevin Youkilis Mark Melancon Mut & Merloni Popular Punto Red Sox Rob Bradford September Tigers WEEI