The answers came fast and furious on Twitter, via the air waves, and any other means possible.
Trade Jon Lester. Send Jon Lester down. Put Jon Lester in the bullpen. Get rid of both Jon Lester and Josh Beckett. The Red Sox' Opening Day starter had just surrendered a career-high 11 earned runs (becoming the first Sox starter to manage that feat since Doug Bird in 1983), and people couldn't stand it anymore.
But here is the reality: Lester is not going to get traded. His value has never been lower, and his worth to the Red Sox is far greater than anything they could get in a deal. Lester is not going to be sent down. While he does have options, his five years of service time means that the lefty could refuse a minor league assignment and become a free agent. Lester isn't likely going to the bullpen for the same reason the Sox identified when shipping Franklin Morales back to the 'pen -- there is no value to the team to make such a move.
And then there is just the guttural reaction of kicking both Lester and Beckett to the curb. It is this suggestion that allows us to surface the only realistic solution -- attempting to somehow fix both those pitchers.
The Red Sox season has come down to this: Get Lester and Beckett to either offer two months of consistency and have a chance at winning, or continue down this same route and watch the playoff race from afar. And while it doesn't seem possible that all of a sudden two struggling pitchers -- the Red Sox have a 13-23 record this season when they start -- can turn into something they haven't been to this point, this would seem to be the only viable option for the Sox to stay in the wild card hunt.
"It's never easy. It's particularly hard when you're struggling," Beckett said after the Red Sox' 15-7 loss to the Blue Jays Sunday. "I think sometimes you can get information overload from too many people, and I'm not saying that's exactly what's going on. I don't know the situation, but sometimes I think it's nice to kind of remove yourself. Obviously you want to work to get better, but sometimes you have to go backwards to go forward. I know Tito [Francona] was really good about this, when one of us was struggling he would give us a breather, tell us to take the late bus for a day or so and just recharge.
"It's particularly hard when you're struggling and you're searching for answers and the only real way to get answers is by pitching in a game. Bullpens are great, but you don't see hitters' reactions. [Lester's] going to be fine. He's just going through a rough patch right now. We've all been there. If you haven't been thrown off a horse you haven't been on very many horses. He'll get through it. It will make him better. You learn a lot more through this than succeeding all the time. There are very few people who have been successful from start to finish in their career. It's times like this where it sucks but you go through them and I think it makes you better. Sometimes it's hard to see that far out."
Here is the good news in regards to Lester: While he has totaled a 15.62 ERA over his last three starts (21 earned runs, 12 1/3 innings), not going more than 4 1/3 innings in any of the outings, a cause for the woes might have been identified. Three separate major league voices, all of whom have an extensive history of analyzing the Sox lefty, came to the same conclusion when asked by WEEI.com what is wrong with Lester.
According to the trio, this doesn't appear to be a physical issue (which both Lester and the Red Sox have continuously stated), and neither the velocity or overall stuff has disappeared to the point of diminishing returns. (And, just for good measure, another former major leaguer who made a living identifying pitch-tipping said Lester is not tipping his pitches.)
There is a consensus. Three takes, one consistent conclusion:
-- When delivering the ball, Lester is throwing his lead leg out toward the plate instead of executing more of a straight, more compact, up-and-down motion.
-- The leg kick is leaving his front foot to drift toward the right. ("Sometimes his toe was pointing toward the Blue Jays dugout," said one of those analyzing the situation.) One of the results of such an approach is opening up his body to the hitter well before he should, allowing the hitter to get a great look at what is being delivered. Blue Jays hitters whispered after the game that every curveball the starter threw could be easily identified.
-- Another result of letting his lead leg drift out and and over is Lester's arm slot dropping, which causes both a lack of command and the flattening out of his fastball. A delivery that included a more straight-up, down-and-through motion would automatically force a more over-the-top arm angle, not allowing the lefty to throw across his body.
When asked if this has been something out of the blue, one of those breaking down the situation said these are issues that have gotten progressively worse over the last two years.
It should be noted that it's not like Lester and his coaching staff hadn't done due diligence in trying to fix the problem. But sometimes bad habits involving muscle memory aren't easily turned back.
"The one thing that through our reports and through seeing him earlier in the year, there has been a little bit more of a tendency to miss over the plate and miss up in the strike zone," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said. "The devastating cutter that he has had for so long might not be as sharp right now, so it gains a little length in the break to it. So I think our hitters are able to see it a little bit earlier in the flight to home plate. We laid off some pitches, but we didn't miss many when they found their way into the middle of the plate.
"That's not a typical day for Jon Lester by any means. He's a damn good pitcher, a talented one. As we've seen from our own guys, they go through stretches where things aren't clicking. It just goes to show you that the elite in this game ride a little bit of a fine line when their performances are consistent and well above-average to days when they scuffle, and that was one today."
So, here's the deal …
As earlier stated, the only remedy to this issue the Red Sox are facing heading into the season's final two months is getting both Lester and Beckett on some sort of run. Clay Buchholz can continue to be an ace, but without some sort of consistency from the Sox' two highest-paid pitchers, the chances of being considered anything but a .500 team are slim.
The two most relied-on starters for the Yankees, CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, are the exact opposite of Lester and Beckett when it comes to their team's record when they pitch (23-13), while the Rays have gone 25-14 with their top two starters, James Shields and David Price, on the hill.
At this time last season, the Red Sox were a combined 26-14 in starts made by Lester and Beckett. They were 24 games over .500. That, obviously, has been a change for the worse, as the team's 48-48 record (putting them 3 1/2 games out of the wild card) would suggest.
"I can't speak for him, but I'm just keeping my nose down and just keep on doing the same thing that I've been doing," Beckett explained. "Health is a pretty good thing to have. At least if you're healthy you can get better. If you're hurting, you can't work on things. You're probably not going to feel good on your start day. Health is definitely a good thing to have."
Said Lester: "It’s embarrassing. I've let my team down a lot this year. It’s hard for me to walk around this clubhouse and look guys in the eye right now. I’m not pitching well. I’m not doing my job. Guys scored seven runs today; we should win that game. Like I said, it’s embarrassing. That’s all I can really say about it."