Injuries to key players like Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, Dustin Pedroia and projected closer Andrew Bailey have weakened the roster, and the club has placed 22 players on the disabled list at some point this season.
Adrian Gonzalez, Pedroia and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (even with his 18 home runs) have struggled for long stretches at the plate, and before he was traded, Kevin Youkilis contributed little with his bat.
Dating back to spring training, manager Bobby Valentine’s relationships with his players have been rocky, and according to numerous media reports, few players like him. There is even a reported rift between Valentine and pitching coach Bob McClure, and it appears that coaches that were retained after Terry Francona departed (including bullpen coach Gary Tuck and bench coach Tim Bogar) don’t care for the embattled manager.
Even with all the aforementioned obstacles and drama, there are two reasons why the Red Sox are 48-48 this season and occupy last place in the American League East. The culprits are Jon Lester and Josh Beckett.
Over the weekend, the Red Sox had a prime opportunity to put space between them and Toronto. The Sox were riding momentum from taking two out of three at Tampa bay and three out of four from the White Sox at Fenway Park. Instead of distancing themselves from the Blue Jays, the Red Sox were swept in the three-game series. Two of the losses happened when Beckett and Lester were on the mound.
On Friday, Beckett served up two runs the first inning and two runs in the second on the way to a 6-1 Red Sox loss. He logged six innings in the outing, allowing five runs (four earned) and seven hits. In the first inning this season, Beckett has a 10-plus ERA.
On Sunday, Lester was hammered for 11 runs and nine hits in four innings, walking five and coughing up a career-high four home runs. The damage started when Brett Lawrie clubbed the first pitch of the game over the Green Monster. Lester became the first Red Sox pitcher to permit 11 runs in a start since Doug Bird on May 24, 1983. The 28-year-old left-hander has lasted no more than 4.1 innings over his last three outings and has surrendered 21 runs, 25 hits and five home runs.
The joint downfall of Lester and Beckett can be traced to Sept. 11, 2011. Lester was the starter on that day at Tampa Bay, and the Red Sox lost, 9-1. Before the game, he had a 2.93 ERA while Beckett carried a 2.49 ERA. Since then, Lester and Beckett have a combined record of 14-28 with a 5.39 ERA. Not coincidentally, Boston is 53-60 in that period.
Even with the rash of injuries to key players; lack of production from Gonzalez, Pedroia and Saltalamacchia; and tension between Valentine and his players, the Red Sox would be in the American League East race with the Yankees if Lester and Beckett gave the team this year what they provided last season, up to Sept. 11.
To win in the post-season, a team needs offensive production and stoppers atop the rotation. Boston has the bats to thrive in October. The Red Sox are first in the majors with 479 runs and sixth overall with a .268 batting average. Boston”s Achilles heels are Lester (5-8, 5.46 ERA) and Beckett (5-7, 4.44 ERA) The duo is supposed to serve as the team’s joint aces. Instead, their numbers are reflective of a No. 5 starter clinging to a rotation spot.
The Yankees have CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda atop their rotation, and the club is 23-13 when they pitch. Tampa Bay is 25-14 when David Price and James Shields are on the mound, even though Shields has struggled this season.
Last year, at this mark of the season, Boston was 26-14 in starts made by Lester and Beckett. The team’s record was 24 games above .500. The Red Sox are 13-23 when the pair takes the mound this year, and the ballclub is at .500.
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington could make a bold move and deal Lester or Beckett, who has 10-5 trade rights, before the July 31 trade deadline. Likely, they will keep both arms, at least until the off-season. Chances are, Boston will acquire a starting pitcher before July 31. On Monday, they were said to be interested in Miami’s Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez, a former Red Sox farmhand. Yet, regardless who they acquire and how many runs they score, their playoff hopes rest with Lester and Beckett turning around their forgettable seasons.