Monday, September 12, 2011

Time to Panic?

This is far from an original post, as seemingly every Red Sox blog is running some variation of this article on their site. However, after being swept by the Rays over the weekend and seeing their wild card lead wither down to 3.5 games (3 in the loss column), panic seems to be spreading throughout Red Sox Nation.

The Red Sox entered this weekend to all but put away the Rays, holding a 6.5 game lead with just three weeks left in the season. Taking two out of three would have put them 7.5 games up with 16 games left. Instead, combing a sweep at the hand of the Rays with losing 10 of their last 13 overall, the Red Sox are in serious danger of missing the playoffs. The question now becomes, is it time for the panic to be real, or should we still be plenty confident in this team making the post season.

The first thing it comes down to, like always, is pitching. And right now, the Red Sox pitching makes me want to puke. The rotation of Lester, Wakefield, Lackey, Miller and Weiland is far from the near-juggernaut people were looking at before the season began. Of course, Josh Beckett could be returning into that mix as early as this weekend. However, as it is currently constructed, this is not the rotation of a playoff team, especially one that has been a World Series favorite all year. The only strong point in this starting staff is Jon Lester, who, despite a 4-inning 4-run performance yesterday, still has an ERA under 3 since August 1st, and a FIP under 2 since September 1st.

Another huge problem has been the bullpen. Closer Jonathan Papelbon has been outstanding all year, and currently has not allowed a run since July 16th, and just four hits in twenty innings of work since July 17th. However, Papelbon's running mate in the back of the bullpen is Daniel Bard, who has struggled as of late, with an ERA above 17, and an opponents' triple-slash line of .313/.450/.500 since September 1st. If you want a bigger sample size, that ERA is 6.75 since August 1st. The once-dominant 1-2 punch in the 8th and 9th inning has not been so reliable down the stretch. Even the rest of the bullpen has been problematic, especially one Matt Albers, who started off the season as one of the major surprises on this Red Sox roster. However, since August, Albers has been a shell of himself. In that time, Albers has thrown 16.2 innings with a 10.80 ERA. Even if this team does make the playoffs, if its starters don't last long into games, there will be major problems.

In the end, let's hold off on the panic button for now. While I do have my finger close enough where I can press it on a moments' notice, I am not ready to jump ship just yet. The reason for this is mainly the schedule the rest of the way. Both the Sox and Rays play all AL East opponents the rest of the way. This week holds the key to the season. The Red Sox have today off, and two against Toronto on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Rays have three against Baltimore on Monday, Tuesday, Wedneday. After this, the two teams play again in a four game series this weekend at Fenway. If the Red Sox make it out of that series alive, they should be good, as Boston will have seven more games with Baltimore and three against the Yankees, while Tampa will play New York seven more times. However, if play keeps going the way it has been, the panic button may be pushed by this time next week. Just hold off for one week.

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