By the time Orioles pitcher Chris Tillman strode to the
mound last night at Camden Yards and fired his first pitch toward home plate,
the Red Sox were clinging to a threadbare half-game lead over the Tampa Bay
Rays in the American League East.
When the game ended some two-and-a-half hours later,
Baltimore reliever Jim Johnson had given up one hit – one of only four the Sox
would scatter among the nine frames – and the Boston nine were no longer the
leaders of their AL East brethren.
The Red Sox now find themselves a half-game back of the Rays
in the division. The team that had led the division since late May is now in
second place, just three games ahead of the third-place Orioles.
For the third time in four days, a potent Red Sox lineup
(the team has led the league in several significant offensive categories for
much of the season thus far) was shut down by very good pitching. Tillman’s 7
IP, two-hit, eight strikeout gem last night pales next to the complete game
masterpieces tossed by Rays pitchers Matt Moore and David Price recently, but
the O’s starter is now 13-3 on the season – he must be doing something right.
It is far from panic time, dear Friends of Fenway, but one
has to wonder whether the plucky, friendly, team-oriented, bearded 2013 Sons of
John Farrell are a team designed more for regular season success than playoff
punch. There remain 58 games on the regular season schedule, so anything can
But, against playoff-caliber starters (I’m including the
Rays’ Roberto “Don’t Call Me Fausto Carmona” Hernandez in this mix, despite his
poor record) in the last four games, the Sox have scored just seven runs.
They’ve given up 16 runs and been shut out twice.
It appears the Yawkey Way brain trust is focused primarily
on finding a starting pitcher (Jake Peavy? Cliff Lee?) by Wednesday’s trade
deadline. There are offensive concerns GM Ben Cherington should consider,
Cuban phenomenon Jose Iglesias has seen his batting average
dip steadily since the heady days of June, when the fill-in third-baseman was
hitting well above .400. We still don’t know what kind of hitter he ultimately
will be in the majors.
Shortstop Stephen Drew has been terrible this season.
Mike Napoli and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are streaky hitters. Both
could either carry the team or hinder run production at any time. It’s hard to
tell when either will occur.
Meantime, the Rays and their cadre of excellent starting
pitchers show no signs of slowing.
Again, it’s early. Please, step away from the ledge.
Ryan Dempster will take the hill tonight in Baltimore and
try to right the good ship Red Sox.