Monday, July 28, 2008– The Boston Red Sox have the horses - batters and fielders - to make a run for the pennant, but their pitching is another matter entirely.
Although Daisuke Matsuzaka’s record looks excellent on paper, he never has looked particularly strong to me. I never get the impression that he’ll be able to win the game, until the last out is recorded!
But it’s not really the starting pitching that’s going to be the problem, but the bullpen… which stinks.
Papelbon has already blown a few saves this year, and Hideki Okajima hasn’t been the dominant force this year that he was last year. Whether it’s because he’s losing his stuff or because the players have gotten used to what he’s throwing remains to be seen.
Big Papi - David Ortiz - has returned, and that adds some pop at the plate, but one never knows if Manny Ramirez will go to the plate and try to get a hit, or if he’ll pout because of some imagined slight and not bother to lift the bat from his shoulder. (He was sent in to pinch-hit in the bottom of the ninth a couple of weeks ago, and watched three straight pitches go by in the strike zone. He should have been benched after that miserable performance.)
Rookie Jacoby Ellsbury, whose batting average had been hovering in the .280s for much of the year, has been struggling at the plate. And since he can’t get on, he can’t steal.
For myself, I don’t think the problem is so much Jacoby’s hitting, as the fact that the umpires are ruining him. Jacoby is very disciplined, he doesn’t swing at many bad balls. Unfortunately, the umpires rarely give him the correct call, so he’s been called out on strikes on more than one occassion.
So now he’s pressing and swinging at balls out of the strike zone, because he knows he’s not going to get the correct call.
I hope that Jacoby will go back to his old, disciplined ways, and each time the ump calls him out on a strike that clearly should have been a ball, he should point out - “If that had been a strike, I would have swung at it.” (Those are the immortal words of the splendid splinter, Ted Williams, last man in the majors to hit .400.)