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Red Sox win with offense, but there's no hiding the bigger issue

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  July 27, 2011 12:56 AM

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The Red Sox played a fun game tonight. Unlikely cleanup hitter Dustin Pedroia was 4 for 5 and a few feet away from hitting for the cycle. David Ortiz cracked three doubles and drove in five runs.

Everybody in the lineup did something to help an offense that is on pace to score just under 900 runs this season.

But Theo Epstein must have walked away from this game wondering to what degree he has to push to obtain a starter before Sunday's trade deadline. That's the story of this game.

It would be premature to say the Andrew Miller experiment has failed. But it certainly seems counter-productive to keep sending him out there every five days.

Miller has a 5.45 earned run average in seven starts since being called up from Class AAA Pawtucket. The tall lefthander pitched well in three starts against National League lineups after his arrival. But in four starts against American League teams since, he has a 7.94 ERA and a 2.29 WHIP with just four strikeouts in 17 innings.

Terry Francona had a blunt assessment, saying Miller didn’t locate his fastball very well or throw to the spots where catcher Jason Varitek set up. It's hard to win, he said, when your starter keep giving away the lead.

Miller admitted he needed to pitch better, lamented falling behind so many hitters and vowed to work with pitching coach Curt Young to figure it out. It's a familiar refrain and I suspect fans in Florida and Detroit heard it, too.

He's 27 and tonight was his 61st career start. At some point, you are what your stats say you are and right now, Miller is a guy with a career ERA of 5.80. The stuff he showcased in the minors — the big fastball and knee-buckling curveball — has vanished.

The Red Sox probably aren't willing to give up on Miller after seven starts. But almost anybody else would be an upgrade at this point.

The Red Sox offense is so devastating that it erases mistakes. But you can't count on 13 runs in September pennant race games. Given how well the Yankees and Rangers play at home, home field advantage is important in the American League.

The issue with Miller goes beyond his not pitching well. It's more that every five days, you tax your bullpen.

Agendas can change overnight at this time of the season. Come Sunday, it will be interesting to see whether Miller's start tonight changed what the Red Sox hope to do.

His next start, by the way, is scheduled for Sunday. Emphasis on "scheduled."

As for other stuff:

• Pedroia has hit cleanup seven times in his career. He is 17 of 31 (.548) with seven extra-base hits and nine RBIs. “If I’m Tito, I’d let him hit cleanup the whole year,” Ortiz said. “Make it easy for us. It’s crazy but the little guy’s numbers are ridiculous the way he hits. Might as well take advantage of it, right?”

Pedroia’s 23-game hit streak is the longest streak for a Red Sox second baseman since Del Pratt had a 23-game streak in 1922. Dom DiMaggio has the team record with 34 consecutives games in 1949.

Alfredo Aceves is 5-0 with a 2.50 earned run average in 25 relief appearances. He is the first pitcher to go 20-2 in his career since Howie Krist of St. Louis from 1937-42.

• Varitek joined Elston Howard as the only Red Sox catchers to hit home runs after the age of 39. Tonight was Tek's righthanded home run of the season.

• Tonight was Ortiz's first five-RBI game since Aug. 12, 2008.

• Francona indicated that Kevin Youkilis would be out again tomorrow. Expect Pedroia back at cleanup.

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