I caught just a few innings of last night’s Sox-Royals game because “Idol” was on and my wife can’t miss it. (Okay, so I watch it too. Every year I swear I’m not going to, and I think J-Lo and Steven Tyler are utterly worthless as judges, but somehow I get sucked in.) When I did flip to NESN to check in on Jon Lester, he looked less than sharp and not at all like the dominant force he’s often been in the last five years. Fittingly, the score was 3-3 or 4-3 against a pretty bad team, and I thought, “Here he goes again, finding a way to pitch slightly worse than the other guy.” Later on, I learned that the three first-inning runs he gave up were the fault of two misplays by the outfield: Marlon Byrd misreading a fluttering liner to dead center and Cody Ross sort-of-but-not-quite making a nice running play on a ball to the gap in left-center. Lester should’ve been out of the inning on the Byrd play, and Ross could’ve held onto the ball on the next play to minimize the damage. So, we could just blame those outfielders for blowing those plays. Or we could remember that Ross would probably be on the bench, and Byrd would still be with the Cubs, if Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury were not on the DL. And we could also remember that the ball that Ross almost caught was hit quite well—something that doesn’t happen when Jon Lester is “on”—and the ball that Byrd missed could’ve been in Salty’s glove by way of a swing-and-a-miss. But that hasn’t been happening very much. Lester has 42 innings and just 28 strikeouts to his name. In his best years, he’s averaged slightly more than a strikeout per inning. It’s still early, and the sample size is rather small, but something is amiss. And to his credit, Lester has acknowledged this.
That inning of last night’s game, and the whole game itself, epitomized what’s wrong with the Sox right now: good pitchers aren’t pitching nearly as well as they’re supposed to, and several position players are currently positioned on the DL, hurting the team on defense and on offense. We can hate on Josh Beckett for golfing, and we can speculate on the rotten or heartless or apathetic core of this team’s collective “character,” but I think we’d be missing the point. They need their best pitchers to pitch well, and they need their best hitters get back in the lineup. Period. If just one of those issues gets resolved, I think they’ll be a .550 team. If both get resolved, I think they’re a .600 team and they’ll get into the playoffs despite this wretched spring.
Read WEEI beat writer Alex Speier’s post for a deeper look at the “talent gap” in the current Sox roster.