By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
The recent freefall by the Red Sox has, understandably, consumed fans for the last few weeks.
What was once a safe and secure lead for the American League wild card spot is now very much in play and the team's poor performance over the weekend against Tampa Bay only inflamed tensions.
The team's doubleheader split with Baltimore took a day off the calendar, kept the lead at two games and knocked a game off the Magic Number -- it now stands at eight.
The Sox are in clear survival mode. They don't care how they win or how they get there. The object is to hold off the Rays and win one more game than their closest pursuers.
Style points aren't of much consequence now. Moreover, the Red Sox can convince themselves that shouldonce they reach the playoffs, they can hit the re-set button and start fresh.
But the Monday night win, needed as it might have been, obscured two salient facts as the Red Sox stumble toward the finish line.
1) The Sox have won three games on their current homestand and two of those have taken place when they've scored 18 runs.
Again, a team desperate for wins isn't about to refuse any because they don't fit the mold. This isn't about aesthetics; it's survival, pure and simple.
But it should be more than a little troubling that the Sox are being forced to out-hit their pitchers' mistakes.
John Lackey spotted the Orioles a 3-0 lead Monday night and even after the Red Sox rallied to provide him with nine runs in the first three innings, Lackey couldn't pitch long enough (five full innings) to qualify for the win.
Should the Red Sox reach the post-season, they won't have the luxury of facing Brian Matusz, who's allowed at least five or more runs in seven straight starts.
Instead, they'll be matched against one of the three best teams in the American League, against starters with ERAs which begin with the number three or four, rather than, say, 10, as is the case with Matusz.
For the Sox, it was nice to see Jed Lowrie contribute a three-run homer and for Conor Jackson to get some playing time and chip in with a late-inning grand slam.
But if the Red Sox think they can win in October the way they've won twice in the last week, they're fooling themselves.
Which leads, indirectly, to another ongong issue...
2) The Sox still have no one capable of taking the ball for a Game 3 start in the Division Series.
Despite the Red Sox' win, Lackey's ERA actually increased to an unsightly 6.49.
He fooled nobody in the Baltimore lineup and allowed 13 baserunners in just 4 13 innings. After, in his post-game press conference, Lackey seemed nearly as lost as he did on that night in May in Toronto when he confessed: "Basically, everything in my life sucks right now.''
Lackey looked just as long on the podium as he did on the mound -- without the requisite eye-rolling and hand-raising that accompanies him in games. He confessed to be without answers for his poor performance, though, in true Lackey form, he managed to indignantly point out that he had pitched "pretty well'' in his previous start and that, at least once during the debacle against the Orioles, he had been the victim of a ball "dropping in.''
He still has the worst ERA of any qualifying starter in the American League. He still has a bloated WHIP of .163. And he still has a batting average allowed of .310.
Perhaps help will come Tuesday night in the form of Erik Bedard, who hasn't pitched in 13 days and who, because of the layoff, will be somewhat restricted in terms of pitches thrown.
Before he was sidelined by knee and lat issues, Bedard was at least keeping his team in games, a minimum requirement for a post-season starter, so perhaps Bedard could still claim that No. 3 spot with a good showing Tuesday followed by another on the team's final road trip.
The uncertainty that surround the rotation, however, is a reminder that the team's problems are far from solved and that things have to improve -- and fast -- for their post-season qualification to mean anything.
Just because the math is slightly better this Tuesday morning that it was 24 hours earlier doesn't mean the Red Sox' problems have gone away.