Friday, May 2, 2008

Even With Makeup, It Is What It Is

So the Sox didn't win 1-0 in the ninth tonight. Quelle surprise. Instead, they dropped a 3-0 decision to A.J. "Carol" Burnett, the Poor Man's Josh Beckett, who has never, ever, ever, once lost to the Red Sox. Despite issuing five walks in his 7+ innings, Burnett managed to silence all of the minor Sox scoring threats, the most spectacular silencing being Aaron Hill's fantastic diving play in the 4th that turned what looked like a Brandon Moss run-scoring hit into a line drive double play.

Canada-haters should take heart in the fact that the Sox still took two of three from the Jays, and that Burnett will inevitably come up with some ultra-bizarre injury that will sideline him for at least 18 starts. (This year's leading candidates: tragic hotplate incident; sprained earlobe; and nippleitis.)

But I'm not here to talk about where on the Harden Scale Burnett's injury woes fall. No, I'm here to talk about dressing up a pig. As the old saying goes, you can dress up a pig all you want, but it's still a pig. In the same way, you can dress up these Sox games all you want, but... they still aren't hitting. At all.

The Blue Jays have talent on the hill, to be sure. Halladay is a machine, Burnett is among the best in the league when fully healthy, and Dustin McGowan has been a reliable and solid third-slot starter. Shawn Marcum and Jessie Batboy Litsch are raw talents, but showing signs of getting the consistency they need. But the pieces weren't gelling for them coming into this Fenway series. with Litsch breaking the team's seven game losing streak last Sunday against the Royals. Quality pitching was on hiatus during this stretch, as both the Mighty Royals and the Devilish Rays battered the Jay pitching.

Then they got here, and apparently the Christy Mathewson juice kicked in. The Jays gave up only three total runs over three games -- and lost two of the three. I don't know who (the Jays or the Sox) that reflects the most poorly on. All I know is that this Sox team right now is NOT playing like the 2004 or 2007 teams. The base hits aren't there. You can blame the injuries and the ZOMBIE FLU! that has been spreading through the clubhouse; each are valid reasons for the team's production to drop. But don't deny that there's a problem right now.

Those last-at-bat walkoff wins sure are pretty, but they're still makeup on a pig. A pig that's having disturbing troubles with is offensve production. But why is the production poor? Aye, there's the rub.

The ZOMBIE FLU! has done more than made several players ill, it's disrupted the patterns and flow of the clubhouse. Guys like Bryan Corey, Craig "MMM-bop" Hanson, and Justin Masterson are up, then down, then up again, then down again as relievers are needed to be stopgaps in the bullpen. The rhythm of the bullpen's designated roles is upset; guys don't intrinsically know when they're going to be pitching; training routines are shifted and altered to accommodate, and everyone gets all befuddled. The same happens when guys like Varitek can't do their usual freakish level of preparation due to their illness. Things fall apart; the center cannot hold. In baseball terms, you get "underachievement".

The Sox are clearly underachieving right now -- a lack of offense against the Halladays and Burnetts of the world could be excusable, but it's the way their lack of offense against them took hold. Guys overly anxious at the plate clearly swinging at pitches outside the zone. Balls landing precisely where the infielder/outfielder is positioned for them, because batters aren't making the appropriate adjustments to counter that. Freakish plays that both give (Wells bobbling the ball in CF on Tuesday) and take (Barajas blocking the plate perfectly on Wednesday).

Under-achievement like this isn't failure per se; it's more like a malaise that settles onto a team. (And onto an economy as well -- yes, Mr. Carter, sure.) It's a holistic New-Agey bad mojo sort of thing. And when it starts to catch everyone, as it did tonight, it can derail entire seasons. Now, I don't think the Sox will stay this torpid for very long -- all it takes is one person to start rapping out the solid hits that will energize the offense -- but let's just say that I wouldn't be surprised by a Tampa sweep this weekend. I also wouldn't be surprised by a Sox sweep. It's April; the team hasn't truely found its stride yet at all. Lowell has yet to get going, Manny has cooled down in the past week, and ... well, we all know about Ortiz. Ellsbury and Pedroia, who have been remarkably reliable so far this season, are both banged up. That leaves your bench enders -- Brandon Moss, Kevin Cash, and Covelli C. Crisp -- to make something happen. Coco has shows signs recently. He's not getting hits, but he's hammering balls and making good contact. If he keeps that up, the balls will start finding the holes and he'll be back on track

I don't have any sort of overt criticism of the team to make here. I just want us all to realize what this team is: a struggling team. A pig. It's got some pretty jewelry, like the twin walk-offs, but that doesn't mask the fact that this pig of a team has been struggling to score runs for over a week now. Something's gotta give, before... you know... breakfast.


Unfortunately, the surging Devil Rays aren't necessarily the best cure (get it? cured bacon? Um... never mind...) for what ails the Red Sox bats. A 1-2-3 punch of Jackson, Shields, and Kazmir is formidable, especially now that you can't always rely on the Rays' bullpen to blow any lead given them that is under 8 runs. O the times, they are a changin', my friends; the times, they are a changin'.

Help us, Mothra! Help us!

Ed. note: APNDR submitted this game wrap while under the influence of a mild strain of zombie flu, plus a recently-taken Ambien. If any of the words above are garbled, nonsensical, or completely made up in some sort of twins language, we do apologize. APNDR is now safely away from his computer, contentedly chasing the little pink Christina Aguilera monsters that are trying to pinch him.


futuremrsrickankiel said...

SOME day, you man-whores will learn how to proof your own GAT DAMN HTML.

JK i luvvvv u xoxo !!1! 4eva

Also, I'm simply dying to know what combination of search terms you tossed into Google Image to get that picture. Do tell...

Sh!tShow said...

It's... uh... May.

dubbschism said...

i don't get it. the pawtucket shuttle of the relievers is the reason for the offensive woes? because i think that's what i just read.

also, team stats for sox, (AL Rank)
avg: .278 (T-1st)
OBP: .351 (2nd)
SLG: .415 (T-4th)
Runs: 136 (4th)

a week's worth of games is nothing to fret over, esp when facing some of the best pitchers in the AL east. mcgowan has ace stuff - he's not a #3. i don't think this will derail their season at all.

Sh!tShow said...

You're not thinking fourth dimensionally, dubb!

The lack of anything resembling an offense this week is unnerving. The Blue Jays have a legit staff, as do the Rays, but the fact remains that we have to play these guys a shitload over the season and our offense can't seem to produce against them (yet, of course).

But I agree, the season is far from over. It's just been a frustrating week.

Sh!tShow said...

Offensively, of course. Pitching staff has been ballsy.

futuremrsrickankiel said...

I, too, am reluctant to freak out over our lack of offensive "gelling" at this point. I feel like Tito is still fiddling with the roles he wants Ellsbury and, ultimately, Lowrie to play, not to mention settling back into a lineup with Lowell. A batting lineup needs time to find its rhythm, and I'd much rather we have that rhythm down pat in August than in May.

Moreover, I've actually become MORE optimistic about our pitching after seeing it this week. I'd been less excited about our starters (especially Lester, whom DaveR summed up my views on pretty accurately) than I care to admit, and it was great to see the boys bring the heat this week.

Phew! Can you tell I have the day off work?