The Dice Man Cometh…Again.

Hes coming back...has he fixed himself enough to help?

He's coming back...has he fixed himself enough to help?

Tomorrow sees the (not particularly) anticipated return of Daisuke Matsuzaka to pitch for the Olde Towne Team.  Following his flame out in the spring and subsequent 3 month hiatus the Red Sox have seen their hold on the AL East flag slip away and for a time even the Wild Card seemed like anything but a sure thing.

With just 20 games remaining on the schedule, the Red Sox hold a tenuous 4 game lead in the Wild Card, and see their exotic aquisition return to the mound tomorrow night to face John Lackey and the Angels.  The pitching, like the hitting, has been maddeningly inconsistent for stretches this year.  Wakefield is only periodically effective or avaiable, Penny is gone and even Beckett has been shakey lately.

The good news is that Buchholz has started to deliver consistently solid performances, but (for me at least) to feel better, Matsuzaka’s going to need to step up and show us why Boston put up such big money to treat with and then sign him.  He’s been working on his game for the last three months following (what I assume was) WBC-related burnout/mechanical failure.  He hasn’t exactly mowed them down in the minors, but tomorrow night we’ll see if he’s fixed whatever was wrong.

Future scene from a Duckboat or a Sayonara to the goodwill of RSN?

Future scene from a Duckboat or a "Sayonara" to the goodwill of RSN?

Moreover, I’ll be interested to see if he continues his highwire act running the counts full, avoiding first-pitch strikes like the plague, putting men on base, etc. or whether he’ll have “Americanized” his game and bent to the pressure the team is has by all reports put on him to go after hitters.  To make matters worse, his grumbling to the Japanese press (which he later denied) didn’t win him any fans on Yawkey way or in The Nation.

He won 18 games last year with a 2.90 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP, but every inning felt like an adventure.  This year, it was downright ugly (8.23 ERA / 2.20 WHIP going into tomorrow).  It’s hard to call an 18 game winner (and 15 the year before) a bust, but another disaster this September/October, and I’m tempted to slap that label on him.  There’s no denying he is excruciating to watch and a human rain-delay.

Am I being too harsh?  I’ve been pretty patient with this guy, but the team needs him now more than ever.  He could be a real hero of the Fall if he comes through.  If we get more of the same though, in my book he belongs on the list of expensive Yawkey Way Misfires along with Julio Lugo, Matt Clement, and Edgar Renteria.

Where do you come down on Dice-K’s Red Sox career thus far and what do you expect we’ll see in September and (hopefully) October from Japan’s favorite son?