1. This year has not been kind to future Hall of Famers and buddies Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. First, Glavine gets dumped by the Braves just when he was finishing a minor league rehab assignment -- and then no team wanted him. Now, Smoltz, in the wake of one of the worst of his 474 big league starts Thursday night for Boston against the Yankees, gets designated for assignment, essentially cut from the Red Sox in what could be a humbling end to a Hall of Fame career.
Smoltz is 42, coming off shoulder surgery, and had lost velocity off his fastball and tilt off his slider, didn't have a feel for his splitter, and simply didn't have enough stuff right now to swim in the rough waters of the AL East. There were times at Yankee Stadium Thursday night, especially against left-handed hitters, when he stood on the mound and knew he was unarmed against an unforgiving Yankees lineup. He knew he had nothing he could throw in or close to the strike zone to get left-handers to miss. It had to be an awful feeling for one of the fiercest, proudest competitors in baseball.
"And when I did throw the splitter it was horrible," Smoltz said after the game. "And against that lineup, with the left-handed hitters they have, it's like being out there with a straitjacket on."
Smoltz is the kind of athlete you never count out too early. You don't rule out a bounceback, but as even he said, "But time might not to be on my side if this continues." The Red Sox could give him no more time. Junichi Tazawa will start Tuesday, unless he is needed out of the bullpen tonight or tomorrow, in which case Michael Bowden will get the ball against Detroit.
Smoltz recorded only 10 outs while giving up eight earned runs. Only once before, way back in 1994, did he ever give up more earned runs in a start. It was sad to see, not just Smoltz getting hit like this, but lingering in the dugout with doubts in his mind, and standing at his locker not knowing if he gets the ball again or what is left in his arm. He might well pitch again, perhaps as a situational righthander for a contender. (Glavine, because he did not pitch a big league game this year, will be on the same Hall of Fame ballot as Greg Maddux, not to mention Mike Mussina; Smoltz, assuming this year is his last, would be on the ballot one year later.)
Once the Red Sox had pitching depth that was the envy of baseball. But Diasuke Matsuzaka is a mess, Tim Wakefield can hardly tie his shoes, Smoltz is gone, Clay Buchholz has been inconsistent, Brad Penny is 1-4 with a 5.60 ERA in his past eight starts and Justin Masterson is in Cleveland.
The Red Sox gave 41 starts to Smoltz, Penny, Buchholz and Matsuzaka -- and they are 16-25 in those games. Tazawa is up next.
2. But wait, there's more bad news for the Red Sox. And no, it's not just that they let pitcher Chad Gaudin pass through waivers to help the Yankees. It's that they have no shortstop, a fairly important position. Jed Lowrie, already overmatched much of this year (he's hitting .048 against power pitchers, with just one hit), left Thursday's game with numbness from his forearm, down through his surgically repaired left wrist and all the way through his fingers --- this about one week after he felt pain and tingling in the same area. In other words, the Red Sox might have to do without him, or at least a reasonably healthy version of Lowrie.
And no, the Red Sox are not blowing through the playoffs with utility man Nick Green (.125 since June 23) at shortstop. The Sox have absolutely no middle infield protection in their organization. They had better hope real hard that Marco Scutaro of Toronto has been able to slip through waivers. Boston shortstops were hitting .223 with a .296 on-base percentage and below average defense to boot. And with Mike Lowell down to one step of range to his right or left, the left side of the infield is another leak sprung in the hull.
[Editor's note: The Red Sox claimed infielder Chris Woodward off waivers from Seattle and added him to their 25-man roster Friday night.]
3. Make no mistake, the Yankees are the best team in the AL right now. Yes, the Angels match up well against them and the Red Sox still have time to fix their flaws, but at the moment, New York is a ferocious offensive team that simply wears down opponents -- not so much with its ability to draw out at-bats, but with the constant threat of power.
"They've got 33 home runs from two guys who are almost part-time guys, Matsui and Swisher," said one AL executive. "One guy after another can hurt you."
The Yankees' pitchers walked 12 guys and they still won the game. Joba Chamberlain walked seven and still got the win against the Red Sox -- something that has happened only once against Boston in the past 17 years. But that's how tough the Yankees are at bat -- especially against right-handed pitching in the Bronx ballpark version of Williamsport. Their m.o. is reminiscent of the 2008 Phillies, just without the athleticism: the pitching needs only to be mediocre (especially with a lockdown closer at the end) because the offense, especially in a small home ballpark, is just that good.
The Yankees just have too many switch-hitters and too many left-handed hitters who hit left-handed pitching well to be kept down for long. Unlike most teams, you can't win playing the bullpen matchup game against them and constantly jockeying for left-on-left and right-on-right. They do have some age, which has really hit Boston much worse than them, but as they sit today the Yankees have a playoff spot that is theirs to lose.