This 2010 Boston Red Sox team goes up and down and up and down more than a Six Flags roller coaster. It appeared after the off-season signing of former Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim ace, John Lackey, the Red Sox starting pitching would be stacked. The top three starters consisting of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and Lackey, all can be considered an ace (although none of them will claim that title), and all three have won the clinching game of the World Series: Lackey in 2002 for the Angels, Beckett in 2003 for the Florida Marlins, and Lester in 2007 for the hometown Red Sox. Along with Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield, and Clay Buchholz, Boston appeared to have the best and deepest pitching in Major League Baseball. But any fan who has watched for years knows, you can never take anything for granted.
When the Red Sox opened up against the rival New York Yankees on April 4, it looked like the pitching match-up of Beckett and CC Sabathia was going to be be an exciting pitcher's duel. Both aces ended up getting knocked around and knocked out early. Beckett was in line for the loss until the Red Sox bats game alive in the final innings, led by a Dustin Pedroia home run. Although it was a "W" for the hometown team, against the Evil Empire no less, Beckett was starting off the season with a rough performance, similar to 2009.
However if Red Sox Nation had known how the Sox would play over the course of the next few weeks, Opening Night would have been nothing to get worried about. After Opening Night, the Sox went on to lose 10 of their next 13 games, losing their 3-game series in Minnesota against the Twins and getting swept at home on Patriots Day Weekend by the Tampa Bay Rays. The series against the Rays included losses by Lester and Lackey. Lester, like Beckett, also has a history of getting off to slow starts.
The season appeared to be turning around slowly after a series win against the Texas Rangers, in which the Red Sox had two come-from-behind, walk-off wins off the sub-par Rangers' bullpen, as well as a series win against the Baltimore Orioles, and a sweep in Toronto against the struggling Blue Jays. But then the Red Sox traveled to Baltimore to play the Orioles, a team they had dominated for over 10 years. But this time, the Orioles returned the favor. They rocked co-aces Beckett and Lester. Matsuzaka who made his season debut after battling back and neck pain, pitched well through his first 4 innings, but was hit hard in the fifth. The Sox were swept in 3 games.
Following the frustrating weekend in Baltimore, the Red Sox returned home to face the Angels, a team that not only lost their former ace Lackey to free agency, but whose struggles were mirroring those of the Red Sox. They were a team with much past success and talent but had gotten off to a 12-14 start. The first game put to rest any concerns of lack of offense for the Red Sox. They pounded out 20 hits, and scored 17 runs, winning 17-8. In the second game, Lester finally showed his true colors, pitching 8 innings, only giving up 1 earned run. The Red Sox won 5-1. In game 3, Lackey provided 7 innings of 1-run baseball against his former team. David "Big Papi" Ortiz, under much scrutiny from the press for lack of production, homered to left, helping the Red Sox to a 3-1 victory. In the final game, Matsuzaka (who, let's face it, is absolutely frightening) got off to a rough start, and it appeared that he might not make it out of the first inning, but he settled down. He was helped to a 4-RBI night from Victor Martinez, including a home run. The Red Sox won the game 11-6 to complete the 4-game sweep.
During Spring Training, all the buzz was about the Red Sox starting rotation. It didn't seem to occur to the press or to fans that Beckett and Lester might start of slow again. The questions and concerns revolving around the Boston Red Sox included: Where would the offense come from? How would Jason Varitek adapt to being a back-up catcher? How would Mike Lowell fit into the Red Sox 2010 roster? And would Oritz produce? But shockingly, the inconsistencies of the starting rotation and the bullpen are the primary concerns now.
So what about the offense? The Red Sox have 5 or more home runs out of Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, JD Drew, and yes, even Varitek. It was unknown how Varitek would fit into the line-up and when he would get to play. As of May 7, Varitek is hitting .324 with 5 homers and 9 RBI's in 12 games played. He is unofficially Beckett's personal catcher (unofficial, because Red Sox manager, Terry Francona, will not acknowledge it, even though Varitek has caught each one of Beckett's starts since Martinez handled the duty on opening night). The Red Sox can hit, as they have proved over the past month, and they will only improve once outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury returns from the hairline fracture to his ribs he sustained in a collision with third baseman Adrian Beltre on April 11.
So the big question lately has been Ortiz vs. Lowell at the designated hitter spot in the order. The Red Sox attempted to trade Lowell to the Texas Rangers in the offseason, but the deal fell through when it was discovered that Lowell required surgery on his right thumb. Although he is still with the Red Sox, there are still rumors of him being traded, especially if it gives him a chance to play more often with another team. As for Ortiz, in 2009, he didn't hit his first home run until May 20. The Red Sox were certain not to have as much patience again in 2010. If Ortiz struggled early, Lowell was available to DH. While Oritz has 4 home runs to to date, he's only batting .171 and .120 with runners in scoring position. There's talk about the Red Sox releasing Ortiz if his struggles continue at the plate. It's almost impossible to picture the Boston Red Sox without the man who helped re-write the team's history.
The Red Sox have a challenging test this weekend, squaring off with the Yankees at Fenway Park. Friday night, the Sox have Beckett going up against young Yankee pitcher, Phil Hughes. The Yankees opted to skip Javier Vazquez's spot in the rotation this weekend, due to his struggles this season. Vazquez is 1-3 with a 9.78 ERA. On Saturday afternoon, the Sox have Buchholz going up against Sabathia. This is Sabathia's first start against the Sox since being tagged on opening night for 5 runs in 5.1 innings. Buchholz has made 3 career starts against the Yankees and is 0-1 with a 5.74 ERA. Sunday night features Jon Lester for the Red Sox and A.J. Burnett for the Yankees. This season, Burnett is 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA, and is 5-2 with a 4.30 ERA against the Red Sox. Lester, after starting off the season on a shaky start, has seemed to calm down. He is 3-1 in his career against the Yankees with a 4.19 ERA.
So where will the Red Sox be come October? Will David Ortiz and Mike Lowell still be wearing a Red Sox uniform? Who will be in the Red Sox starting rotation down the stretch? Will Varitek continue to be productive off the bench? Will Wakefield stay in the bullpen for the rest of the season, or will Francona put him back in the starting rotation? Putting Wakefield back in the rotation gives him a shot at the Red Sox all-time wins record, a record currently held at the top by Cy Young and Roger Clemens, who each have 192 wins. Keeping him in the bullpen would probably deny him of that, but would give the Red Sox a solid long relief man. Will Beckett, Lester, and Lackey all pitch like the aces they have shown themselves to be in the past?
The question to all of these questions is, I guess we'll see.