By Bill Chuck
Special to CSNNE.com
I have to admit that I am as stunned writing this as I was watching it. I fully expected to be writing a column this morning about the Red Sox being the worst team in the postseason, but instead Im writing about how they are the best team not in the postseason.
Everything that you read and hear about the Sox is going to be painful from now until . . . until . . . until the Sox win the Series again. This is going to be painful for a very long time.
Ask Phillies fans, whose 1964 team led by 6.5 games over the Cardinals and Reds with 12 games to go and ended up one game back in a tie for second.
Ask Met fans, whose 2007 team had and lost a seven-game lead on Sept. 12.
Ask Red Sox fans, whose 1978 team led by 14 in July and still held a 7.5-game lead with 32 games remaining, then Bucky Dent earned his middle name.
Maybe because its so fresh, maybe because it is local, but if this seems to be the worst collapse ever, it's because it is. The Cardinals overcame 8.5 game September deficits in 1964 and this season to the Braves (yes, there is someone in Atlanta who is writing a similar column this morning). But no team ever trailed by as much as 9 in September and ended up in the postseason like the 2011 Rays.
But the Red Sox are a team of superstars and superlatives, which is why this collapse is super-painful. But understand that the loss last night was not just a microcosm of the month, but in many ways the way the team lost in the final game was the result of the problems of the entire season.
Now in no way am I blaming Jonathan Papelbon. The Red Sox were 76-0 when leading after 8 innings . . . until last night. And, to his credit, Papelbon took the blame last night. He admitted that he was so pumped up after striking out the first two batters that he started throwing as opposed to pitching. He said he wasnt tired, but how much did he have left after throwing 29 pitches Sunday night and 28 pitches Tuesday night? There were six times that he threw 27 or more pitches in a game this season and including September 5, three times were this month.
But the reason why Papelbon was in there for so many critical pitches, why Alfredo Aceves was used over and over, why Red Sox Nation had to hold their collective breath as Daniel Bard shakily faced batters, begins and ends with the performances of the Sox starting pitchers. I know youve heard it before, but get used to it, you are going to hear it over and over: the problems with the Sox start with the starters.
ESPN.com has a host of baseball experts and before the start of the season, seven chose Justin Verlander to win the Cy Young Award while 22 of them predicted Jon Lester would win it. Last night, Lester pitching on three days rest, threw six effective innings only permitting two runs, but for the season ended up with a 3.47 ERA, the worst of his career. His 1.26 WHIP was the worst of his career. His 191.2 innings pitched marked the first time in four seasons he did not throw 200 innings. He was 1-3 in September with a 5.40 ERA.
Josh Beckett reclaimed his spot as the ace of this staff by going 13-7 with a 2.89 ERA. However (Im really beginning to hate that word), an ace needs to step up when the team needs him most. Coming into September, Beckett lost just one game each month of the season, but he was 1-2 this month with a 5.48 ERA. Only twice this season Beckett gave up as many six runs: September 21 and 26. Was there an indicator that this might happen? Damn right there was. There were three times that Beckett gave up five runs this season: June 28 against the Phillies was Becketts mulligan but the other two times were on August 13 and August 31. Over Becketts last eight starts, he gave up five runs four times.
Tim Wakefield is a 200-game winner. Ill be honest, if there is any place where I can fault Terry Francona its with how he handled Wake. But there is a caveat. Wake was 7-8 with a 5.12 ERA making him 11-18 with a 5.22 ERA and 1.354 WHIP over the last two seasons. Over Wakes last 10 appearances, nine starts, Wakefield was 1-4 with a 5.24 ERA and the team was 3-7. I felt that Terry stuck with Wake too long in games in the hope of seeing that 200th victory. Wakefield simply was a burden on the bullpen. Over the last four seasons the percentage of Quality Starts for Wake has decreased from 60 in 2008, to 57 in 2009, to 47 in 2010, and 35 this season. Might I remind you that a QS is six innings allowing three or fewer runs in a start. Wake was quality starting pitcher only in eight starts this season. But then theres the caveat: there was no better replacement.
Erik Bedard came to the Sox on July 31 from the Seattle Mariners and was only able to make eight starts in two months. He was 1-2. He had a 4.03 ERA with a 1.553 WHIP. In eight starts he threw 38 innings, thats less than five innings per start. On July 30, the Detroit Tigers acquired Doug Fister, also from the Seattle Mariners, and he went 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA and 0.839 WHIP in 11 starts. Fister will start game 2 of the ALDS.
Kyle Weiland was in way over his head. He was 0-3 with a 7.66 ERA and 1.662 WHIP. In 14.2 September innings he gave up 13 runs, 12 earned.
Andrew Miller proved neither to be Freddie Garcia or Bartolo Colon. He had a 5.54 ERA on the season and an ignorable 6-3 record. He couldnt be counted on at any time of the season but in two September starts he was 0-2 with a 15.63 ERA.
Clay Buchholz last pitched in a game on June 16. He was not great in his 14 starts, but he was missed . . . a lot. The Sox never came close replacing him in the rotation.
Daisuke Matsuzaka last pitched in a game on May 16. He had a 5.30 ERA and he was replaced by Wakefield. He wasnt missed.
Only two other pitchers made starts for the Sox. One was Alfredo Aceves, who made just four starts, but did everything the Sox asked of him and more. He had a terrific season going 10-2 with a 2.61 ERA and he pitched 114 innings in 55 games.
There were two problems that stood out for the Red Sox starting rotation, one was that Theo provided no replacements and that John Lackey was not replaced. To call John Lackey a .500 pitcher because of his 12-12 record is giving him too much credit. He had a 6.41 ERA and gave up 114 earned runs, more than any other pitcher in baseball. Among MLB pitchers with at least 20 starts not only did Lackey have the worst ERA but it was .70 of run worse than the Reds Edinson Volquez 5.71. He destroyed Ramon Martinez 6.13 ERA record, previously the worst in Sox history. Lackey is now 26-23 with a 5.26 ERA in his Boston career. To top it off, his attitude has been as good as his performance.
The Red Sox on the field problems began with their starting pitchers. The Sox starters were 64-50 with a 4.49 ERA. They threw two complete games, the same as Cleveland and Kansas City for the fewest in the AL. They walked 358 batters, more than any other teams starters. They had a 1.367 WHIP.
But this is the stat that this team will have to deal with all off-season and beyond: In September, the starters were 4-13 with a 7.08 ERA and a 1.753 WHIP with just five Quality Starts.
You can point the finger where you want, but from the start of the calendar year this team was deep in left-handed hitters and shallow in starting pitchers. The team may have died on the last day of the season but they were flawed from the start(ers).