Wakefield reaches milestone; Red Sox continue to struggle
After eight attempts, veteran Tim Wakefield finally notched his 200th victory. Leading up to the milestone victory, though, he tried to downplay his personal accomplishment and concentrate on the team’s status, which hasn’t been exactly stellar of late.
First let’s give Ol’ Wake his due. He certainly did not take the easy route. It took 18 runs from his teammates to finally get the monkey off his back. His first victory came in 1992 with the Pirates. To put that in perspective, teammate Jose Iglesias had not even celebrated his second birthday yet. Back then, Jeffery Dahmer was sentenced to life in prison. Bill Clinton’s transgressions in the Oval Office had not occurred. Michael Jordan was en route to his second championship.
At 45 years young, Wake becomes one of the oldest players to reach 200. It has been more than 80 years since a pitcher his age has joined this elite group.
His latest win could not have come at a better time for Boston, which was on a five-game skid. They saw a comfortable wild card lead slipping away. Unfortunately, Wake’s performance only briefly pulled his team off the schneid.
The Sox have since dropped two more games, the wild card lead dwindling to just three games. The division appears to be lost, but with three games left in the Bronx, it is not out of the realm of possibility. The weekend series at Fenway vs. the Rays looms much larger at this point. Having dropped the first of four, it is conceivable the Sox enter next week trailing by a game for the playoffs.
Due to a slew of injuries, the remaining pitching match-ups appear to favor the Rays. Tonight they will send James Shields out against Josh Beckett. Prior to Beckett’s ankle sprain, the Sox would have felt pretty good with Beckett taking the mound. There is just no way to tell just what kind of stuff Beckett will bring tonight.
To make matters worse, Shields is on one of the hottest streaks of his career. He has lost just once in his last eight starts. Most recently tossing 8.1 IP of one-run ball against the Sox this past Sunday. He has quietly accumulated 15 wins and has a sub 3.00 ERA.
Tomorrow is Boston’s best chance on paper to right the ship. Lefty Jon Lester faces Jeff Niemann. Lester did falter a bit in his last outing, coughing up four runs in just 4.0 IP. Uncharacteristically throwing 111 pitches early in the game.
Bad news is that while Niemann’s stats aren’t overwhelming he has performed above-average against Boston. In two starts his line had read 17.0 IP, 1.06 ERA, 20 K and held the Sox to a .086 AVG. Including a complete game August 16th.
Things will not get easier Sunday as David Price goes up against — you guessed it — Tim Wakefield. Wake is the only Sox pitcher with a victory in the last eight games. He will have a formidable task to gather victory 201 against Price.
Price has had the Sox number this year, too. Last time they faced each other, Price threw eight shutout innings and earned his third victory of the year against the Sox. Even in his one loss to the Sox, he only yielded three earned runs.
The Sox bullpen has not fared much better than starters as of late. Most alarming has got to be Daniel Bard. Until recently Bard had been a lynchpin for the late innings, more than adequately bridging the gap to closer Jonathan Papelbon.
Coming into September, Bard had held opponents scoreless in eight straight appearances, tallying one victory and six holds. Since then, he has blown three saves and been on the wrong side of three straight decisions.
His last three outings have been some of the poorest of his young career. Stinging the worst had to be Wednesday’s eighth-inning collapse. The Sox were poised to push their wild card lead to five games. Instead, hard-throwing Bard allowed a two-run single to Adam Loewen, which had his ERA ballooning to over 30.00 in his last three appearances.
Reinforcement from manager Terry Francona and Bard himself does not seem to have calmed the mounting panic in Boston over the latest pitching miscue. Accusations of overuse continue to fly, and other bullpen help does not seem to be on the horizon.
Off-season acquisitions Dan Wheeler and Bobby Jenks have more than under-produced. Jenks has been near invisible. The biggest, and perhaps unexpected, relief has come from former Yankee Alfredo Aceves. He is 9-2 on the year and has stepped up when the Sox need him.
Seems the best news about this weekend’s series is that the Sox Nation will be spared the plus 6.00 ERA of John Lackey, and they will not have to endure another subpar outing by trade-deadline bust Erik Bedard.
Needless to say, the AL wild card picture will be much clearer come Monday morning. I believe the Sox magic number sits at 10, completely a sweep of the remaining three games would lower that to four and almost assure the Sox of another trip to the postseason.