Sports

Red Sox stumbling in closing wild card race

Carl Crawford has not lived up to the expectations the Boston Red Sox had when they signed him to a seven year, 142 million dollar contract. (credit: courtesy of Keith Allison on flickr) Carl Crawford has not lived up to the expectations the Boston Red Sox had when they signed him to a seven year, 142 million dollar contract. (credit: courtesy of Keith Allison on flickr) The Boston Red Sox have stumbled to the finish, making the AL Wild Card race a close one with the Tampa Bay Rays. (credit: courtesy of Keith Allison on flickr) The Boston Red Sox have stumbled to the finish, making the AL Wild Card race a close one with the Tampa Bay Rays. (credit: courtesy of Keith Allison on flickr)

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to say this, but the Boston Red Sox are chokers once again. In the midst of the start of the NFL season, many casual baseball fans have overlooked the epic choke that is going on in Boston. Just two weeks ago, they were up a full nine games on the Tampa Bay Rays, the second-place team in the wild card race. Going into Sunday’s games, the Rays are now only down 1.5 games, and the Sox still have to play the Yankees in a doubleheader, while the Rays get the Blue Jays for a game. How sweet would it be for the Yankees to knock their most hated rival out of the playoffs? In the eyes of a Yankees fan, that would be the best thing to happen all season.

For a team that had high expectations coming into the season, this is the opposite situation that the Red Sox were expected to be in. The Red Sox were the “winners” of the off-season, trading for slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, signing speedy outfielder Carl Crawford, and upgrading their bullpen without giving up too much major-league talent. Now, the Sox are fighting to even compete for the right to a playoff spot. What those experts failed to realize, and what we now see in this Sox team, is that its pitching depth is mediocre at best.

Let’s take a look. The Sox began their season with a rotation that was considered to be one of the better ones in the MLB, boasting two top-notch pitchers in Josh Beckett and Jon Lester as their aces. Following them were the young stud Clay Buchholz, the veteran John Lackey, and the Japanese-born Daisuke Matsuzaka. At first, it looked like a rotation with a lot of promise. But as the season started, Lackey and Matsuzaka were largely ineffective, with the latter on the 60-day disabled list and the former with an abysmal earned run average of 6.49. The fact that Lackey is still in the rotation, especially pitching big games, is a sign that this team wasn’t as good as everyone thought. Along with Buchholz’s yearly injuries, you get a rotation that leans heavily on two starters to get through every five days. This wear and tear on Beckett and Lester over a full season is taxing when two starting pitchers are depended upon so heavily. Sox fans will look to the ancient knuckleballer Tim Wakefield and Lackey to pitch Sunday against the Yankees in a double-header, probably the two biggest games of the season for the Sox.

Another big reason for the Red Sox’s failures falls strictly on their big free agent splash, Carl Crawford. The ex-Ray was supposed to be a sparkplug at the top of the Boston lineup, setting the table for their big hitters. This year, Crawford has a .295 on-base percentage (OBP), which is one of the worst in the league, especially for a player of his caliber. Not only that, but Crawford only has 18 steals on the season, just a year removed from leading the league in that category with 47 steals, and two seasons after posting a monstrous 60 steals. Crawford even went out of his way to apologize to the Boston faithful this week for his awful season, one that would be even more magnified if not for the other free agent busts around the league.

Going into the final week of the season, the Red Sox will have to fight for their playoff lives against the Yankees and eventually, the bottom-dwelling Orioles, while the Rays finish their series against the Blue Jays and then close out against the Yanks. All things point in favor to the Red Sox somehow holding on, but after losing 17 of 22 games, nothing seems like a given at this point.