Memorial Day weekend. In baseball, it’s the first signpost in a long, grinding marathon. Thirty teams have made the first turn as the race just starts to take shape.
We’re a little past the quarter pole in the 2006 season. Still too early to declare any sort of victory. You don’t win a pennant in April or May (you can, however, lose one — see the Kansas City Royals for details.)
The Red Sox hit the weekend in first place, despite losing two of three to the Yankees at the start of the week. It had to be a rousing series win for the New Yorkers, who have already put as many men on the disabled list (eight) as they did in all of 2005.
The Yanks took the rubber game of the series despite another sub-par performance from Randy Johnson. His ERA in the last six starts is over 7.00, and he no longer intimidates hitters. Kevin Youkilis took Big Unit Light deep in Wednesday’s game.
The key to the Yankees’ playoff hopes is having a top of the rotation with Johnson and Mike Mussina pitching well. Randy Johnson got the win over the Sox, but he’s not out of the woods, not by any stretch of the imagination. Boston won’t see New York again for another nine days, so that is not of immediate concern to Red Sox Nation.
No, we’re concerned about Matt Clement. After a strange first season in Boston (13-6 after a 6-0 start), Clement has been remarkably inconsistent in Year 2. He has not won consecutive games, yet, and hasn’t won a game in which the Sox did not score five runs. He hasn’t made it through seven innings in more than a month.
On Wednesday, Clement was clearly shaken up after getting hit by a Bernie Williams line drive in the second inning. He stayed in the game, but had trouble finding the strike zone. In fact, he threw an alarming number of pitches in the dirt short of home plate (this has been a growing trend of late.)
Clement, who limped into the postgame press conference Wednesday night, swears he’ll be able to make tomorrow’s scheduled start in Toronto. I’m not so sure that’s good news.
The Sox are supposed to be a team built on pitching and defense, but there are real concerns about the team’s starting pitching right now. Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett are strong at the top, but Tim Wakefield has had trouble being consistently effective so far in 2006. (It is worth noting that if we’ve learned anything about Tim Wakefield over the years, it’s that he’s capable of reeling off six or eight wins in a row at anytime.)
From there, things look sketchy. Clement hasn’t pitched well in back-to-back games, yet. David Wells pitched Friday night, and we can only hope he’s ready to return to a regular turn in the rotation and help this team. If he’s not, who knows who will be the fifth starter.
Remember in March when we wondered how seven starters would find work this season? Now, two of them are excelling in other roles. Jonathan Papelbon entered the holiday weekend as the major-league leader in saves, and Bronson Arroyo (now of the Reds) has the best ERA in the National League.
And the Red Sox are trying to get their rotation together. The season might be one-quarter done, but the rotation is only half way there. Might be time for Theo Epstein to call Roger Clemens one more time.
Lewiston native Tom Caron is a NESN sports analyst for Red Sox and Bruins telecasts.