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

Quotes, notes and stars: Red Sox 'a pitch or two from finishing the job' vs. Rays

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Quotes, notes and stars: Red Sox 'a pitch or two from finishing the job' vs. Rays

BOSTON - Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox' 4-3 loss to Tampa Bay Rays:

QUOTES:

"Part of that job is, when you miss, you have to miss to the extreme.'' - John Farrell on the role of eighth-inning reliever Clay Buchholz, who mislocated a fastball to Evan Longoria.

"We're putting ourselves in position to close games out and yet we've found ourselves a pitch or two from finishing the job.'' - Farrell on the team's bullpen woes.

"Fastball. I was trying to throw it up-and-away, and I pulled it, more inner-third. That's a spot where he hits the ball a long way.'' - Clay Buchholz on the game-winning homer by Longoria.

 

NOTES:

* The Rays and Sox have played 21 one-run games in the lasr four seasons and four in the last week.

* David Ortiz's sacrifice fly in the sixth was his 26th go-ahead RBI, fourth-best in the A.L.

* Xander Bogaerts collected his 500th career hit, and became the fifth Red Sox player to reach that milestone before turning 24.

* Brock Holt's double in the fifth lifted his average to .337 with two outs.

* Hanley Ramirez's home run was his first against Tampa Bay since May 21, 2011 when he was with the Marlins.

* Ramirez has 19 extra-base hits in the last 27 home games.

* Dustin Pedroia was 1-for-3 and and is now 15-for-his-last-19 at Fenway.

* The Sox dropped to 7-37 when they score three runs or fewer.

* Brad Ziegler was unavailable, suffering from the flu.

 

STARS:

1) Evan Longoria

It wouldn't be a Rays win over the Red Sox without the third baseman doing some damage. Sure enough, he smoked a tape-measure shot over everything in left in the eighth to provide the winning margin for the visitors.

2) Luke Maile

Drew Pomeranz struck him out twice, but Maile more than got revenge in the seventh with a two-run homer into the Monster Seats to tie the game.

3) Hanley Ramirez

The first baseman had a three-hit night, including a solo homer and a run-scoring single, accounting for two of the three Red Sox runs.

 

First impressions: Longoria makes Buchholz pay in Red Sox' 4-3 loss to Rays

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First impressions: Longoria makes Buchholz pay in Red Sox' 4-3 loss to Rays

BOSTON - First impressions from the Red Sox' 4-3 loss to Tampa Bay:

* There's a steep learning curve for a set-up man, as Clay Buchholz discovered.

Although he's pitched out of the bullpen for the last couple of months, most of those appearances weren't of the high leverage variety. More often than not, the Sox had a sizeable lead, or Buchholz was brought in earlier in the game. Or they were behind and he was mopping up.

But Tuesday was different. The Rays had battled back to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh, and after Matt Barnes got the final out in that inning, Buchholz came in to start the eighth.

After getting Kevin Kiermaier on a groundout to lead off the inning, Buchholz threw a four-seamer to Evan Longoria that the Tampa Bay third baseman launched toward the Charles River, clearing everything and putting the Rays up by a run.

It was a reminder that in late innings of close games, one pitch, with missed location, can really hurt.

 

* Hanley Ramirez knocked in two runs. He was sort of lucky.

In the fifth inning, Ramirez hit a twisting opposite-field fly ball down the right field line. It landed just past the Pesky Pole in right, measured at 307 feet, the shortest homer in baseball this season, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

Then, an inning later, Ramirez hit a pop fly that drifted into shallow right. Three Rays defenders converged -- first baseman, second baseman and right fielder -- and somehow the ball dropped in between all three for a run-scoring single.

Two cheap hits, two RBI.

At times, you'll see hitters mash the ball, only to have it hit right at someone for an out. Rotten luck, and all.

Tuesday night, Ramirez got to experience the flip side of that.

 

* Drew Pomeranz had an excellent outing -- until his final pitch of the night.

Through 6 2/3 innings, Pomeranz had allowed a single run on four hits while walking two and striking out eight.

He had retired 10 of the previous 11 hitters he had faced, and while he was approaching his 100th pitch, showed no evidence of tiring.

Then, Pomernaz hung a curveball to No. 9 hitter Luke Maile -- with two strikes, no less -- and Maile hit into the Monster Seats for a game-tying, two-run homer.

It was the first homer on a curveball allowed by Pomeranz in 153 innings this season, and all of a sudden, the outing wasn't so special.