Pitching fails Red Sox on recent road trip

Pitching fails Red Sox on recent road trip
September 3, 2012, 12:54 am
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OAKLAND -- The Red Sox run of futility isn't very hard to explain.

In losing six straight on this road trip with three games to play, the Red Sox have been outscored 33-5. In nearly every game, the starting pitching has been the culprit.

Such was the case Sunday as the Sox established their longest losing streak of the season with a lifeless 6-2 loss to the Oakland A's.

Daisuke Matsuzaka, who had attacked the strike zone with an aggressiveness he's seldom shown in his last outing, was back to his old tricks Sunday, picking at the corners of the strike zone.

He missed the strike zone too often, but sadly for the Red Sox, the same can't be said for the Oakland bats.

Two batters in, Seth Smith's home run to right with Coco Crisp aboard gave the A's a quick 2--0 lead. A solo homer by Stephen Drew in the second pushed the lead to 3-0 and two walks helped contribute to another two runs in the third.

It was 5-0 before you knew it.

This caused two problems. It once again put the onus on the offense to dig out from an early hole. In five of the six games on the road trip, the opponents have scored in the first inning. And in four of those five -- including Sunday -- they've scored multiple runs.

"We just don't have the firepower to come back," lamented Bobby Valentine.

Indeed, they don't. With two run-producing bats -- righthanded Will Middlebrooks and lefthanded David Ortiz -- likely gone for the rest of the season and Adrian Gonzalez, who led the team in RBI now in a Dodger uniform, the Sox lack muscle in the middle to make up any deficits.

The lineup Sunday featured just three players the Sox identified as regulars at the start of the season: second baseman Dustin Pedroia; outfielder Cody Ross; and Mike Aviles, who began the year as the starting shortstop but Sunday, served as the DH du jour in Ortiz's absence.

The rest are a collection of minor league journeyman -- Pedro Ciriaco, Mauro Gomez -- and young players who've yet to become established in the big leagues such as Ryan Lavarnway and Jose Iglesias.

Is it any wonder that the Sox have averaged just over two runs per contest in the six games to date?

"Obviously it's not easy," said Ross. "But we're professionals. We have to come back from being down. That's the name of the game. At the end of the day, we've got to score more than they do. We just have to keep fighting. It's unacceptable."

Beyond the stress being placed on the lineup, there's a negative impact on the bullpen, too, which, even with expanded rosters, is being asked to shoulder too much of the innings load day after day.

In the Oakland series alone, Red Sox relievers had to eat up 14 23 innings. The fact that four Red Sox pitchers from the bullpen combined for 4 13 shutout innings in relief of Matsuzaka is almost irrelevalant: there's a toll that shows up the following day when the bullpen is overworked.

"I'm really disappointed as a starter than I wasn't able to my job today," said Matsuzaka, who dropped to 1-4 with the defeat, "especially since I knew that I needed to pitch deeper into the games, knowing how much the bullpen has been used in recent games. I knew they needed a break and all I wanted to do today was pitch as long as I could."

That plan resulted in failure -- just like almost everything associated with the Red Sox these days.