Thursday, August 14, 2008

Lester Too Much for Texas

A day after the incredible scoring put in by both the Sox and the Rangers, the Sox bats stayed hot, but the Rangers ran into a more formidable pitcher in Jon Lester. It has been truly fun to watch Lester grow and develop into a real top notch starter this year. He has incredible confidence combined with talent and an ever-growing understanding of how to get professional batters out.

Jon LesterLester carried a shutout into the 8th inning, when he finally began to falter. In the 8th, he got the lead off batter out, but followed that with a solo home run given up to Ian Kinsler and back to back singles. Lester's night was done, but what a nicely pitched game. Mike Timlin replaced Lester and did not exactly shine. With 2 men on, Timlin threw Milton Bradley a 93 mph fastball right in the hitting zone, but Bradley just missed getting a hold of it and fouled it off. We all know, if you want to get a good hitter out, don't throw the exact same hittable pitch twice in a row. The first time you can get lucky, but not the second. Sure enough, Timlin's second pitch was 91 mph, with not a lot of movement, and in the exact same spot. Bradley was all over that one and launched it for a 3 run home run, pulling the Rangers back into the game, the score now sitting at 8-4.

Fortunately, Timlin, with a little help from Javier Lopez, escaped the 8th without further damage. Justin Masterson was given the 9th inning to end the game, but got himself into trouble right away, surrendering a double and a walk to the first two batters he faced. Facing Ian Kinsler, Masterson managed to get him to ground into a double play, setting up the final out - a pop-up by Michael Young to end the game.

Kevin YoukilisThe offensive damage from the Sox came from the middle of the order, and all off of Ranger's starter, Luis Mendoza. Mendoza gave up all 8 runs along with 9 hits. Of those 9 hits, 6 of them were doubles, three for Kevin Youkilis, and one each for Dustin Pedroia, Jason Bay, and Jed Lowrie. Youkilis remains on a tear, and seems to enjoy batting 4th in the lineup. Meanwhile Jed Lowrie is doing everything he can to make us forget Julio Lugo. The big difference for Lowrie lately is that when there are runners in scoring position, he has been coming through and racking up the RBI's. That's what we love to see!

Winning is certainly fun, but is everything rosy in Red Sox Nation these days? Not exactly. My big concerns are injuries. Tim Wakefield's injury is the same one that he suffered at the end of last season and which kept him out of the playoffs. It took Wake a while to come back from that, and as a pitcher in his 40's, you have to worry how well he can bounce back with only 41 games remaining in the season. Clay Buchholz has failed to follow in Lester's footsteps so far, and is doing his work back in Pawtucket now. That leaves the Sox with 3 (excellent) starters, Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jon Lester.

Paul ByrdTo help address this issue, the Sox made a move and picked up 37 year old Paul Byrd. Byrd was having a sub-par season until the All Star Break and has looked good since then. At 37, Byrd is no long term solution, but the Sox hope he can give them some quality starts for the next two months. Byrd seems very motivated to get to the World Series, and has done well in pressure situations in the past, so hopefully he will be effective. The fifth spot is still up in the air, but I imagine the Sox are hoping Bartolo Colon can (once again) bounce back from injury and fill a key spot down the stretch. He is pitching well in Pawtucket, but may need another week or so to get back up to Boston.

Then, Mike Lowell goes and injures his oblique. That can be a tough muscle to heal quickly. Bad oblique pulls have been known to sideline players for weeks. With Lowell out, the Sox will mostly move Kevin Youkilis over to third, but they'll hate losing his glove at first. Sean Casey will get more playing time at first, and he should fill in nicely. Also, depending on the pitching match ups, the Sox can play Lowrie at third base with Alex Cora stepping in to shortstop and letting Youkilis head back to first base.

Factor into all of that the fact that Manny Ramirez is gone from the lineup. In his 11 games with the Dodgers, Manny is batting .476, has driven in 14 runs hitting safely in 10 of the 11 games. That kind of production will be missed, and the Sox lineup, while producing well against Texas, has been a bit of a jumble since Manny left. With Lowell out, that jumble will not go away.

So, there are some concerns, but if Byrd pitches well, Casey fills in well for Lowell, and Colon can solidify a spot in the rotation, then the Sox should get through August in good shape. That should make for a fun September. A chance to catch up to the Rays (they play each other 6 times in August), and a chance to try and squash the Yankees hopes of hobbling into the playoffs. Looking forward to an exciting playoff run!

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)


Suldog said...

And now we get word of Tek's personal problems. Maybe some of that has to do with sub-par hitting? Some guys block out the personal when they get to the park, using it as a haven from their problems, while some guys always carry stuff with them. Who knows? Anyway, good luck to the guy. Always a tough situation.

Rooster said...

Yeah, I just heard about the 'Tek situation a little while ago. Look how much domestic issues seemed to have affected JD Drew last year. Definitely could be having an impact on the Captain.

Fenway West said...

that and all those games behind the plate and getting older...Tek will find his grove before the end of the season.