As the Red Sox head north to take on the Yankees in a two game set, they bring along a lot of question marks with them after losing 3 of 4 games against the Rays this weekend. Anyone who thought the Rays were one season wonders after their exploits last year, had their eyes opened this weekend as they trounced the Sox in just about every aspect of the game. The vaunted attack of the Sox barely made an appearance during the series and were clearly outshone by the likes of Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford, and Jason Bartlett, among others. What is going north with the Sox at this time is a load of questions that need to be answered over the next month to month and a half if this season is to become the one that Sox fans have been anticipating all winter.
One of the biggest questions, in my opinion is, who is the real Josh Beckett? Beckett is now in the early portion of his fourth season in a Red Sox uniform and we still don't know what to expect from him as he heads out for a start. Few can argue that he is one of the top post-season pitchers of this decade but his regular season performances have been rife with inconsistency. Beckett's 2007 season, both regular season and postseason, appeared to be the breakout campaign for what seemed to be an ace for years to come. Apparently not, however. Aside from the stellar 2007 season, Becket has been just above a .500 pitcher with an ERA exceeding 4.50. Not the stuff that aces are made from. The Sox need him to revert back to 2007 form or they could be in trouble in the pitcher rich AL East.
Beckett isn't the only starter with problems. Jon Lester has been inconsistent, Daisuke Matsuzaka has been invisible, and Brad Penny has been trying to shake off the rust. Were it not for outstanding performances by Tim Wakefield and Justin Masterson (until the trip to The Trop) the Sox would be in a world of hurt. These guys have to turn it around in the next couple of weeks or the bullpen could be in shambles.
Speaking of the bullpen, while it has come as advertised to this point, there does appear to be one component missing, a long man. All of the relievers that the Sox are carrying, now that Masterson is in the rotation, are set-up men or closers. They pitch 1 to 2 innings, at the most, and are done. They are lacking the reliever who can contribute four, even five, innings when needed so when the Sox run into a start where they have to pull the pitcher after 3 innings, they hammer the bullpen for the next few days because they have to run 4-5 pitchers out there to finish the game.
On the offensive side, David Ortiz still remains in a funk. While he appeared to be finding an answer during the recent homestand, whatever was gained here at Fenway was lost on this road trip. He is admitting frustration and that is only going to hurt him in the long run. If this lack of productivity continues during this Yankee series, Terry Francona has to consider letting Papi sit for a couple of games, or more, and try to work out some of these issues on the side. While most on these boards feel Ortiz is done as a force, I don't agree but until he stops pressing, Papi will have difficulty being the contributor that the Sox need at this time.
With all of this being said, as this is being posted the Sox are a mere one game out in the lost column in the AL East. Kevin Youkilis is proving that last year was not only not a fluke, it was just a stepping stone to bigger and better things. Mike Lowell's return from injury has been nothing short of sensational. Dustin Pedroia is showing that he can still do it all and is an on base machine. Jacoby Ellsbury is demonstrating how important he is to the Sox lineup and Jason Bay is showing the Sox fans just why the Red Sox administration has to do whatever it takes to get him signed for the long-term.
Questions abound for this team but as one looks around baseball there isn't one team who isn't facing the same amount of uncertainty. This short series in New York can be an opportunity to answer some of these questions to the affirmative and it will be a solid gauge for the Sox resiliency after their weekend debacle at The Trop.