As the starters struggle...

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As the starters struggle...

So, how was your weekend?

Better than the Red Sox I hope. Then again, Im not sure how it could have been worse.

I think Joe Paternos statue had a better weekend than the Sox.

And of course, you cant talk about Bostons pathetic weekend sweep at the hands of the beat up Blue Jays without mentioning the biggest and most consistent problem currently facing this team.

Aaron Cook.

Its like, come on, man. Its pretty simple. When youre the meat in a weekend sandwich and the two pieces of bread are a pair of stale, past-their-prime, journeyman spot starters, you cant afford to be less than your best. When the team gives you a three-run lead, you cant mess around. You need to lay down the hammer. You need to rip out the hearts and hopes of the opposition and crush them like youre Bartolo Colon sitting on a grape.

Three earned runs over 6.1 innings?

What is this, AA Portland? Were you auditioning for the Spinners?

Ill tell you what, Aaron. If thats the kind of effort you plan on giving for the rest of the season, why dont you just tell us now. Because if thats the Aaron Cook we have to look forward to for the next 10 weeks, then theres nothing to look forward to at all. We might as well go pitch a tent down at Gillette and stare at the field until Training Camp starts.

Annnd . . . Ive played this joke out long enough. Too long, actually. And Im sorry, but I just didnt feel like being the 1000th writerreporteranalystfanhuman being to mention that the Red Sox are screwed unless Jon Lester and Josh Beckett wake the hell up.

At this point, we all know and understand this concept far too well. We watched it play out last September. Its been the major theme of the last three months. Still, after this weekend, the starter hysteria is at an all time high. So are the struggles.

Lester just completed what is, hands down, the worst three-start stretch of his career. Hes never pitched fewer innings (12.1) over three consecutive starts. Hes never given up more runs (21) over three consecutive starts. He now has the fourth worst ERA (5.46) of any American League starter, and the fifth worst WHIP (1.46). Hes given up more runs (79) than any pitcher in baseball.

Meanwhile, Becketts 1-4 in his last eight starts, and while some of those losses might fall into the hard luck category, the overall numbers arent deceiving. Bottom line: Becketts been bad. Maybe not as bad as Lester, but thats not saying much. Johnny Pesky would be an upgrade over No. 31.

But unfortunately, there are no upgrades on the way.

As much as everyone involved or at least the fans and the pitchers themselves might enjoy a trade and a change of scenery, its silly to get our hopes up. Lester and Beckett each have only one start before the trade deadline, and unless they pitch a pair of perfect games, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which the Sox will get enough in return. It's far more likely that we'll see them suck up it for one more season and say: "Sink or swim, this is who we are."

So, who are they? Well, as of today they're back to .500. They're back in last place. They're about to embark one of the most difficult stretches of the season with nine games in 10 days against the Rangers, Yankees and Tigers.

Who will they be? They'll only be as good as Beckett and Lester allow them to be. This isn't any grand or earth shattering statement. You can go around to almost every city in the majors and assume the same: If a team's No. 1 and 2 starters are awful, said team won't be successful. It's really that easy.

And in a way, that's comforting. For all the problems that Red Sox have had this season, between injuries and drama and poor production from players across the board, at this point, things have been simplified. The bullpen is still in good shape. The line-up is finally coming together and once David Ortiz returns, will be whole for the first time all season. After a little slump, Felix Doubront has settled down. Clay Buchholz is healthy again, has won four of his last six starts, and that doesn't include last Thursday's dominant no decision against Chicago.

Look at this team right now, what's keeping them from success? What's standing between them and baseball's upper echelon?

You know the answer. Or more, the two answers.

You know that nothing is going to change unless something changes with Josh Beckett and Jon Lester.

That is, unless Aaron Cook finally starts pulling his weight.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Giardi: John Farrell has been ‘handcuffed’ by roster

Giardi: John Farrell has been ‘handcuffed’ by roster

Mike Giardi and Trenni Kusnierek debate whether or not John Farrell should be fired after a rough month of June.

McAdam: It's make-or-break time before the break for Red Sox

McAdam: It's make-or-break time before the break for Red Sox

Not long ago, the final homestand of the first half of the 2016 season looked like an opportunity for the Red Sox.
      
Now, however, it looks more like a survival test.
      
Are they contenders or pretenders? 
     
Is this a month-long downturn or a preview of coming attractions? 

      
The Red Sox still possess a winning record and are tied for one of the wild-card spots in the American League. The season isn't shot. Yet.
      
But it could be soon if the Red Sox don't execute a turnaround and thrust themselves back into the divisional race. At the precise moment the Red Sox are in freefall, the Baltimore Orioles are streaking, and doing what the Red Sox have failed to do: take advantage of some breaks in the schedule.
      
While the Red Sox dropped two of three to a Tampa Bay team which had lost 11 in a row -- four at the hands of the Orioles themselves, it should be noted -- the Orioles have steamrolled over lowly opponents to go 7-1 against a steady diet of nothing by the Rays and Padres.
      
That delivers some additional urgency to this upcoming homestand, which features three games each against the Los Angeles Angels, the Texas Rangers and the Rays again.
      
While Dave Dombrowski continues to hunt for pitching help, how the Red Sox play over the next nine games could either intensify his search or reduce it to unnecessary.
      
Should the Red Sox lose further ground while at home, it might result in Dombrowski refusing to mortgage any of his organization's future for a team that hasn't proven worthy of an upgrade.
      
Why sacrifice prospects in exchange for a starting pitcher or bullpen piece when the playoffs drift out of reach? And, yes, the Red Sox are going to need reinforcements to the rotation and the bullpen for next year either way, but if the Sox don't show signs of life soon, that effort can be put off until after the season.
      
Due to simple laws of supply and demand, the already exorbitant cost of pitching skyrockets before the trade deadline, since there are a handful of needy teams convinced that one additional arm could spell the difference between a trip to the World Series and missing the postseason altogether.
      
If a team isn't in need of immediate help, it's best to wait for November and December, when there's less of a sense of desperation to the whole exercise.
      
Beyond the matter of determining whether the Red Sox go all-in on 2016, there's the matter of job security for manager John Farrell.
      
Should the Sox continue to stumble, the All-Star break might give Dombrowski time and cause to evaluate whether it's time to make a change in the dugout.
      
If Dombrowski determines that the season can still be salvaged with a change of voice in the dugout, Farrell would be vulnerable. And if he decides that, regardless of playoff aspirations, he's seen enough in a half-season of observation that  Farrell isn't his choice to lead the club going forward, the four-day break would be time to reflect, then act on that evaluation.
      
Farrell challenged his team in a postgame meeting Monday, exhorting them to play to their potential, to trust in their teammates and play hard.
      
If that push doesn't yield tangible results in the next 10 days, a dark uncertainty -- for himself and the team he manages -- lies ahead.
      
The All-Star break offers upper management and ownership a time to take stock in what they have. If they don't like what they see in the next week and a half, the consequences could be felt soon.