McAdam: One problem after another for Red Sox

McAdam: One problem after another for Red Sox
April 23, 2014, 11:15 am
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More than looking like a bad baseball team, the Red Sox currently more closely resemble a broken-down car -- when it's not one thing, it's another.
     
When the transmission gets fixed, the brakes go. After you repair the brakes, the exhaust system needs an overhaul.
     
For a while, the Red Sox couldn't hit. Now that they've begun to hit -- Tuesday's three-run effort against the redoubtable Masahiro Tanaka notwithstanding -- they've encountered issues with their pitching and defense.
     
Shoddy starting pitching and suspect defense make it tough for any team to get on a streak and vault over the .500 mark. And just when it seemed that Sunday's dramatic walkoff win over the Baltimore Orioles -- against the backdrop of all the emotion surrounding the one-year anniversary of the Marathon bombings -- the Sox slid backwards again.
     
On Monday, Clay Buchholz couldn't get through the third inning and the come-from-behind effort was sabotaged by some ill-timed fundamental miscues.
     
Tuesday, Jon Lester was hit hard -- he allowed 11 hits, one shy of a career high -- and added to his woes with four walks. But his defense did him no favors, committing two errors which led to five(!) unearned runs. And that doesn't count the number of plays that weren't made, but didn't quite rise to the level of error.
     
"We've given some extra outs," said John Farrell, charitably. "At this level, when you do that, you're asking for trouble. It's something we continue to address, work at internally. There's not going to be wholesale changes made. We have to execute with greater efficiency."
     
It's hard to tell whether Farrell made his remarks out of frustration or as part of a threat.
     
No, there won't be wholesale changes, but such changes, three weeks into a season, are neither possible but practical.
     
For the most part, the Red Sox' lineup is full of established players, many of whom are under long-term deals.
     
Two everyday players, of course, are not established -- shortstop Xander Bogaerts and center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr -- and the fact that they play critical positions in the middle of the field makes their issues even more problematic.
     
Bradley's shortcomings have been more of the fundamental variety - overthrowing a cutoff man, failing to set himself before a throw, etc. Those can be overcome, and even allowing for his mistakes, he's shown himself to be the team's best outfielder defender.
     
Bogaerts is more of a concern, if only because he's shown less range at short than anticipated, especially on balls hit up the middle. A couple of sloppy, errant throws have added to the problem.
     
The imminent return of Shane Victorino -- whose activation will be delayed a day so the Red Sox can get some reinforcements for their overworked bullpen -- will help solidify the outfield. (The same benefit won't be realized when Will Middlebrooks retakes third, as he's only an average defender, but his power threat will be welcomed back.)
     
As a team, the Red Sox aren't converting enough balls in play into outs. Baseball Prospectus ranks them 29th out of 30 teams in defensive efficiency.
     
If the formula for winning baseball is based on defense and quality starting pitching, the Red Sox are 0-for-2. After two weeks of mostly good outings from their starters -- the Sox had 14 quality starts in their first 18 games -- the rotation has come unglued the last time through.
     
On the current homestand, only Felix Doubront has given them a solid start. In the other four games, the Sox have found themselves behind big, early. Tuesday night marked the third straight game in which the opposition has scored four runs before the Red Sox could muster even one.
     
"This turn through the rotation, it's been less than we've shown in the past,'' admitted Farrell. "It's been less than expected. For us to play with consistency, we need our starting rotation to lead us through that and we're not getting that.''
     
Indeed, over the last five games, the Red Sox starters sport an 8.02 ERA -- and that includes Doubront's Saturday gem in which he gave up just two earned runs in 6 2/3 innings.
     
It's not unreasonable to project that veterans like Jon Lester, Jake Peavy and John Lackey will pitch better than they each in their last outings. Clay Buchholz is another matter, since his arm strength is not yet 100 percent.
     
Still, there's plenty than needs fixing. Now that the Red Sox have figured out how to swing it again, it would surely help if they could also improve the pitching and catching part of the game.