Pending Examination, Youk to Play Monday
By Brian Phair
After the 10th inning loss on Sunday, there weren’t many positive comments coming from the Sox clubhouse. The slight ray of sunshine came from Kevin Youkilis, who said he felt good and was planning on playing on Monday after being scratched with a sore groin on Sunday. Although Terry Francona didn’t dispute Youk’s comments, he did add a caveat that Youk will undergo an examination before being cleared to play on Monday versus the Los Angeles Angels. With the Sox tripping over their own feet, they need Youkilis to stay in the lineup and return to being a run producer like he has been the past several years.
Throughout this season, the biggest concern has been the Sox pitching staff. As we watch the rotation show signs of hope (with the exception of Dice-K), the bullpen has found a way to waste some solid starts. It starts at the back-end with Jonathan Papelbon, who has a decent 2.08 era, but has 2 losses in just 12 games this season. He was looking stronger over the past week or so until last night he gave up the walk-off double to Ty Wigginton in the 10th inning. When you add in Hideki Okajima’s 2 appearances of 0.1 innings total while allowing 2 earned runs this past week, there are some justified concerns.
Turning to the offense, there have been some solid outputs this year, as the Sox have scored 5+ runs in 12 of their 25 games, and are averaging over 4.5 runs per game. Those numbers are not bad considering the sheer panic across the area this off-season concerning a lack of offensive fire-power. The Sox rank 4th in the majors with 33 home-runs and sit 8th in slugging percentage (.438). The bats have rarely come alive in late game situations, but the major difference has been the lack of confidence in late-inning situations. That being said, the Sox offense has needed to come-from-behind more often than in the past, making it difficult for the Sox bats to continually rally late.
The focus has been on David Ortiz’s and Victor Martinez’s weak offensive performances to begin the season, because it is easy to pick on the offense, but the pitching staff has to take most of the burden for forcing the offense to constantly be in a hole. The staff as a unit sits 23rd in the majors in era with a 4.78 mark and are in the top 10 in runs allowed, hits allowed and home runs allowed. Every member of the Sox staff has allowed at-least 2 earned runs and, although some have been worse than others, not a single pitcher is getting the job done consistently. If this continues, the Sox may be forced to make a move or two in order to stabilize a shaky staff.
It is only a matter of time until John Farrell begins to take more of the heat. I am a fan of Farrell and think he does a great job with the personalities and attitudes he works with, but in a ‘what have you done for me lately’ and a ‘blame the coach/manager first’ environment, I am truly surprised the media has not called for his head yet. The pitching staff can’t hide behind injuries like the offense can (with the exception of Dice-K) and the over-working of the ‘pen is concerning as the season wears on. Just to be clear, I don’t think John Farrell deserves all the blame for the pitching woes of the Sox this year, but wouldn’t be surprised to see criticism of him rise to the surface soon.
Ultimately, something or someone needs to change ASAP if this team has a shot at turning 2010 into a competitive campaign. This team is flat and with a 1-5 record in extra innings, doesn’t have the will and desire to win when they have the chance. Complacency is unacceptable and it is slowing becoming a way of life for these players. As much as I don’t like GM’s meddling in the daily affairs of the club, this may be the time for Theo Epstein to step in and make a move or two. I’m not panicked at 11-14, but am certainly not optimistic about the future. Change isn’t always a bad thing.