Looking for a third Ace

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Looking for a third Ace

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

On paper, the Red Sox recently completed the most explosive offseason in franchise history, but for the smoking hot winter to translate into another World Series title, two carryovers from the 2010 team will have to step up their games.

And Im not talking Darnell MacDonald and Daniel Nava.

This week, both Josh Beckett and John Lackey arrived in romantic Fort Myers ready to move on from less-than-stellar seasons. Beckett clearly understands how deeply he disappointed Sox fans in 2010. John Lackey? Not so much. But theres one thing both players and the rest of the free world can agree on:

This year, the two supposed-to-be aces need to be better. If not, despite all the Hot Stove success, the Sox might find themselves in the same predicament as last season, and possibly, the same place in the standings.

Thats kind of dramatic. Im not trying to rain on our World Series parade. Its been a long time since Bostons been this confident about the team. Its been a while since the Sox have been so primed for a title.

They grabbed the best two free agents on the market; two killer bats that will be added into an already lethal, and finally healthy, line-up. They also went out and bolstered their bullpen with two legitimate veteran arms, which, combined with a more mature Daniel Bard and more focused Jonathan Papelbon, will give Boston one of the deepest and most reliable crews in the league.

Unlike last year, no ones worried about scoring runs (although despite low expectations and a high mortality rate, offense wasnt even the Sox issue last year: They still led the majors in OPS, were second in runs, second in homers and third in OBP); no ones worried about preventing runs, no ones worried about holding leads. No ones worried about anything except whether they can get off work for the Rolling Rally. And if all goes to plan, maybe it will be that easy. Maybe theyll win 100 games like Beckett suggested on Tuesday. Maybe the Sox will cruise.

But their ability to do so isnt resting on that new-and-improved lineup or the refurbished bullpen. Its about the one unit that remains untouched from last season; the one group most capable of taking the 2011 Sox from Paper Champions to legitimate juggernaut. And the two guys who, despite the pretty resumes and deep pockets, somehow still have the biggest fleet of doubters.

Beckett and Lackey. Lackey and Beckett. Beckey and Lackett. Whatever.

They need to step for the Red Sox to follow suit.

Becketts struggles last season arent much of a mystery. Fresh off his 68 million extension, he injured his back early, never recovered and was a non-factor. He finished with only six wins over 21 games and a 5.87 ERA so bad it offended Matt Clement. On Tuesday, he was asked about his lost season and predictably didnt mince words.

"At times it was a physical struggle," he said. "But things still should have been better than they were."

We can all agree.

Lackeys situation is a little less cut and dry. The big man certainly didnt live up to expectations last season, but speaking to the media on Monday, he downplayed the disappointment.

"There's definitely room for improvement," he said. "But there were definitely some numbers I can look at that were pretty good. My innings were good and there were a lot of quality starts. Honestly, I think all the evaluation was overblown a little bit. I'd only won more than 14 games once in my life. I led the team in quality starts and innings."

Thats how he chooses to remember it, but I think Sox fans are less impressed with the innings and more concerned with the fact that he set a career high in WHIP. That he tied a career high in walks and earned runs. That he pitched into eighth inning only six times in 2010 (with zero complete games), after doing so 10 times (with three CG) in 2009. That he honestly thinks reminding fans that hes only won more than 14 games once in his career is supposed to make them feel better.

Yeah, theres the fact that he led the team in innings, throwing seven more than Jon Lester. But theres also the fact that in those seven extra innings he gave up 66 more hits, 30 more earned runs and struck out 69 fewer batters than Lester.

And theres the 82 million contract.

Overblown evaluation or overpaid pitcher? You decide.

But this season, the decision belongs to Beckett and Lackey.

If were being honest (we are, right?), they dont even both need to come up big. The Sox could survive another mediocre season from either Beckett OR Lackey. But at least one guy needs to shake off the silliness of last season and become a third dominant force in the starting rotation. They cant leave Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester out on an island, they cant leave the team in a position to have to rely on Dice-K. They cant sit back and let another season on a high seven-figure deal slip away.

Theyre supposed to be the leaders. They should be pacing Lester and Buchholz, not the other way around. Theyre the two big money arms. Theyre the two World Series MVPs. Theyre the guys who youre supposed to roll out there once a week and know the other teams scared. The fact that Buchholz and Lester are as dominant as they are should be icing on the cake. People should be talking about the Sox in the same league as the Phillies Big 4. Or if not quite at that level, then at least to the point where those four starters, the new-and-improved lineup and the suddenly deep bullpen would absolutely run away with this division.

No one can match that. And no one would.

But right now, whether its a matter of physical or mental concerns (or a combination) with Beckett and Lackey, those two guys arent there, and for now, thats the largest hurdle standing between the Sox and the team everyone hopes theyll become.

And its up to either one (or both) of the veterans to carry the Sox over the top.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

McAdam: Price not exactly hitting stride with postseason on horizon

McAdam: Price not exactly hitting stride with postseason on horizon

NEW YORK -- The division title was there for the taking Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium. When you've won 11 straight and steamrolled every other team in the division, what's one more?

One too many, apparently.

The Red Sox' 6-4 defeat to the New York Yankees postponed the Champagne party for at least one night. In and of itself, that's not a huge concern. The Sox' magic number remains one with five games to play and the club's epic hot streak had to come to an end eventually.

A better night by either David -- Ortiz or Price -- might have resulted in corks popping and on-field celebrations.

Ortiz was 0-for-5 and stranded a total of seven baserunners. When he came to the plate in the top of the ninth against Tyler Clippard with two outs and two on, it almost seemed scripted.

Here was Ortiz in his final Yankee Stadium series, about to inflict one final bit of misery on the rival Yankees with a three-run homer in the top of the ninth.

Talk about drama. Talk about one more famous, final scene.

Alas, Ortiz took some feeble swings and swung through strike three for the final out. Not even Ortiz, for all his clutch performances, can conjure a game-winner on-demand every time.

A far bigger concern was the work of Price. Perhaps the best thing than can be said of him for now is that he almost certainly will not have to face the Yankees again this season, against whom he's compiled a gaudy 7.89 ERA this season.

More troubling, though, is that Price is not exactly hitting his stride as the postseason appears on the near horizon. In his last three starts combined, Price has pitched 19 1/3 innings and allowed 27 hits and 14 runs.

That isn't the line of someone at peak form at the right time. To the contrary, after a run of outings in which it again appeared Price had figured everything out, he's regressed in his last three.

Most troubling Tuesday was a repeated inability to turn back the Yankees after his team had pulled close on the scoreboard.

Price spotted the Yankees a 3-0 lead, and the Sox finally scored twice in the top of the 6th to close within one at 3-2. But Price quickly gave anther run back in the bottom of the inning.

Then the Sox scored two more times in the seventh to tie things at 4-4. . . but Price gave the two runs right back in the bottom of the inning.

"Very frustrating,'' sighed Price. "It's something I talk about all the time. It's a very big deal. And it's something I feel like I've struggled with this entire year. Whenever you're going good, it's something you're doing very well. And whenever you're going bad...you get a lead, give it right back. . . that's tough.''

It also doesn't portend well for the postseason, where Price, as you may have heard, has a spotty track record.

With some strong starts in the final few weeks, he could have reached the playoffs with both momentum and confidence.

Instead, he's got one more start -- Sunday -- to straighten things out.

Ortiz? His postseason bona fides are set.

Price, meanwhile, has no such reservoir of success upon which to draw. And starts like Tuesday's only reinforce the doubts.

 

Quotes, notes and stars: Ortiz goes 0-for-5 in loss to Yankees

Quotes, notes and stars: Ortiz goes 0-for-5 in loss to Yankees

NEW YORK -- Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox' 6-4 loss to the Yankees:

 

QUOTES:

"I went 0-for-5 today, so I ain't got (anything) to talk about.'' - David Ortiz after turning around and seeing a small army of reporters waiting for him in front of his locker.

"To have a chance to clinch the division for us here (and come up sort), it's not acceptable. If my offense scores me four runs, I feel like I should be able to go out there and win.'' - David Price.

"The bottom line story to this one was (Price) mislocating within the strike zone.'' - John Farrell.

 

NOTES:

* Boston's season-best 11-game win streak was snapped with the loss.

* David Price took his first loss since Aug. 7.

* Price is 1-3 with a 7.89 ERA against the Yankees this season.

* Aaron Hill contributed his first pinch-hit homer in his career.

* Mookie Betts saw his streak of reaching base in 38 straight road games stopped.

* Dustin Pedroia posted his third straight multi-hit game.

* For the 20th time this season, Xander Bogaerts enjoyed a three-hit game.

* In his last 12 games, Andrew Benintendi has eight extra-base hits.

* Hill's pinch-hit homer was the third by the Red Sox this month.

 

STARS:

1) Tyler Austin

The rookie first baseman snapped a 4-4 tie in the seventh with a two-run homer and also added two more hits in three at-bats.

2) Gary Sanchez

The first-year catcher continues to amaze, hitting his 20th homer in only his 51st game, sending the Yanks out to a quick 2-0 lead in the first inning.

3) Luis Cessa

Cessa took a big step forward from his last start against the Red Sox by keeping them scoreless through the first five innings before allowing two runs in the sixth.