Sunday, May 16, 2010

Another Expected Win Squandered by the Pen

Can you control chaos in baseball pitching? My gut tells me you can, but what the hell do I know from my teak-veneer, living-room table for an office desk.

The baseball cliche "you are only as good as the team you put out there" is in direct conflict with the idea that you can manage bad pitching when it's happening in front of your face. Francona puts faith in his players and doesn't like to overreact. But with this bullpen, I think past performance does not always translate in to present success.

Last night was one of those games when a guy who had been running well in the pen for the last 6 appearances suddenly stunk up the joint. This time: Hideki Okajima and it was pretty obvious that he didn't have much there.

It was 6-4 in the 8th and Oki couldn't get outs giving up hits, a walk and 2 runs to the first 4 batters he faced to tie the game up at 6-6. A shorter leash might have been in order here, Tito. Instead, it became an extra-innings game. Instead, Ramon Ramirez ends up walking in the winning run for the Tigers in the 12th (he threw 4 straight balls nowhere near the zone). 

These are the kind of games that separate the teams at the top from the teams that flounder in the middle to the bottom of the standings. Emotionally, you feel like every step forward with this team to get over .500 baseball is let down by late-inning inadequacies and situational failures. You know how talented this team is supposed to be, but it simply doesn't matter. The Yankees and Rays are playing hot baseball and win close games regularly.

The Sox are not in the same class as these teams in mid-May 2010 and it comes down to the bullpen.

In a night when the starting pitching and offense are clicking, when a hot Lester, Drew and Ortiz stay hot, when a utility guy like Bill Hall hits another home run, when Papelbon goes 2 innings and a third, the morning after hangover of disappointment and disgust is glacial.

The Red Sox bullpen--despite Papelbon and Bard--is a steaming heap of crap.

Lester pitched quite well despite the 4 runs he gave up. He was dominate for most of the outing striking out 10 and throwing a cut fastball to righties that dropped out of the zone. He looked great again.

It may not be completely fair to pin the game on one person last night... You could make the argument that Lester let the Tigers back in, that he was left in too long, and that the offense wasn't able to muster any extra inning magic. You could also say the Tigers pen is that much better than the Red Sox. Ok, sure. Go ahead and make your reasoned thinking.

But a 6-5 lead in the 8th inning and one of the best closers in the game waiting to get the save, you end up keying on that one guy who could not get it done. If Oki isn't throwing well by allowing base hits and a walk, bring in Delcarmen or someone else (Bard was not available last night). Don't rely on your faith in a guy when he simply isn't getting the job done. Slow the game down. Make V-Mart walk out and talk to Oki. Send Farrell out there. Get guys ready. Okajima would be the first one to tell you he did not have it and he's not going to be hurt if you have to take him out.

A little more tough love for the pen to protect a lead and win a game is in order here as is proactive bullpen management. Take them out if you have to, please!