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Closing Time: Red Sox blow out Tigers, but concerns keep mounting for Jon Lester

06.21.13 at 10:25 pm ET
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Bottom line: The Red Sox won. Their lineup shook off its recent doldrums, exceeding five runs for the first time in 11 games, en route to a 10-6 victory against a very talented Tigers team. But …

Jon Lester suggested that his outing last Sunday in Baltimore — in which he gave up nine hits and five runs in five innings, but struck out eight and walked none — represented a positive building block going forward, given his ability to throw strikes and get swings and misses with four pitches. There will not likely be any glass-half-full perspective on his stuff from Friday night.

Among the nine hits he allowed to the Tigers in 5 2/3 innings, Lester gave up two more homers — one a solo shot to Andy Dirks, the other a three-run blast by extraterrestrial Miguel Cabrera — in the fifth inning, turning a comfortable 6-1 contest into a nail-biting, 6-5 affair. He elicited a total of just eight swings and misses among his 102 pitches and three strikeouts over the course of his outing, with his hittable stuff resulting in a taxing evening for the Sox bullpen on a night when a substantial early cushion suggested that Lester should have been able to offer a reprieve to the team’s relief corps.

Lester’s numbers over a growing stretch are nothing short of ugly. In his last eight starts — about a quarter of a season — he has a 7.07 ERA with 33 strikeouts and 21 walks in 40 2/3 innings. That performance bears no resemblance to the pitcher that Lester was in his first nine starts this year (2.72 ERA, 50 strikeouts, 15 walks in 59 2/3 innings), nor to the pitcher who established himself as one who was routinely among the most dominant in the game from 2008-11.

But the concerns about Lester extend beyond just this limited stretch. Since the start of the 2012 season, there are 102 pitchers who have logged at least 200 innings. The Sox’ Opening Day starter has a 4.74 ERA in that stretch, the seventh-worst among that entire group.

The Sox won, but much as was the case when the team overcame Andrew Bailey‘s blown saves, the concerns are mounting. For the Sox to sustain their hopes of contention, they need Lester to perform like a front-of-the-rotation starter. Right now, it would be difficult to suggest that he’s performed at anything close to that standard.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

— Shane Victorino sparked the Sox victory, collecting a season-high four hits while going 4-for-5, launching his third homer of the year (his first since May 8) and matching a career-high by driving in five runs. The performance boosted Victorino’s average for the year to .292 (its highest mark since May 14) and his OPS to .743 (highest since May 12).

Jose Iglesias continued to make his case for regular playing time, going 3-for-5 with his second triple in as many days while scoring a pair of runs. With 102 at-bats at the big league level this year, he’s hitting .431. Despite the fact that he’s had multiple plate appearances in just 29 games (the 11th most such contests on the team), Iglesias is tied for fifth on the club with 15 multi-hit games.

Jacoby Ellsbury went 2-for-5 with a double, a walk and drove in a pair of runs. In his last 20 games, he’s now hitting .371/.420/.528.

Mike Napoli went 2-for-5 for his first multi-hit game since June 2.

— After Lester struggled early, the Red Sox bullpen held the Tigers at bay, with Junichi Tazawa (2/3 inning), and Craig Breslow (1 2/3 scoreless innings) held the Tigers at bay long enough for the Sox to plate the necessary insurance runs to put the game away.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

Daniel Nava went 0-for-5 to drop his OBP to a season-low .375. Moreover, on one swing and miss, he appeared to experience pain in his left thumb, requiring a considerable amount of tape to make it through the late innings of the game.

— No particular shame in it, but the Sox had no answer at all for Miguel Cabrera. The Tigers third baseman went 4-for-4 with a three-run homer, three singles and a walk.

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