Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Catching Some Rays

Where are the doomsayers? Where are the complaining and prostate pink hats? Where are all the voices that were telling us that Boston's season was over before we even had a chance to grill some burgers on Memorial Day?

I don't know and frankly, I don't care. But they've been shut up by a stellar run of play from the Red Sox. They've won both series on the road against the Phillies and the Rays, and could sweep Tampa tonight if Lackey gives Boston a good outing. But these last two wins, with Buchholz leading the Sox to a 6-1 win on Monday and Lester's solid performance heading Boston's 2-0 win last night, are proof positive that Boston is anything but done.

Jon Lester has been, in a word, dominant. Even with an unusual lack of control last night (five walks) he still struck out nine and allowed just one run in six innings of work. Since April 18, when Tampa tagged him for seven earned runs in a 7-1 loss, Lester has lowered his ERA by 5+ runs (8.44 to 3.15), hasn't lost in seven straight decisions and has allowed more than two earned runs in a start just once (four in a 7-6 no-decision loss to the Tigers). He leads the AL in strikeouts (72) and probably could have tacked on a few more last night if he hadn't run up his pitch count so quickly.

And that's where the bullpen came in. Over the past four games they have been brilliant and last night was no exception. Delcarmen, Bard and Papelbon each took an inning and systematically shut the Rays down, allowing no hits and just one walk. Paps looked good picking up his 11th save and Bard now has nine holds, third best in the AL, to go along with a fantastic 0.92 WHIP.

All the hitting Boston needed last night came from the resurgent bat of David Ortiz, who has hit in eight of his last ten games. His two-run double last night was all the scoring Boston needed. He has 25 RBI on the season now, and 21 of those have come in May. His OPS is up to .878 on the season and is a remarkable 1.278 for the month of May. Whatever timing issues Ortiz was having in the beginning of the season have been resolved.

What we are seeing now from Boston is what Theo envisioned when he spoke about "run prevention". Solid pitching, timely hitting and good defense translates into winning big (8-3 against Philly on Sunday) or small like they did last night. The Sox have allowed just four runs in their last four games, three of those coming on Sunday. They haven't committed an error in their last five games, which has raised them to fourth-best in the AL for fielding percentage (.985). And their team OPS of .789 is second-best in the AL, trailing just the Yankees.

All that adds up to Boston being five games over .500 for the first time this year at 26-21. They're only 1.5 back of the Yankees in second place and 6.5 back of the Rays as we approach the end of May. I don't know about you, but I'm feeling good about the Sox right now. Tonight Boston goes for the sweep of Tampa on the road, something I didn't care consider. Hell, I'm ecstatic they took the first two. Lackey faces off against Garza, a matchup that seems to favor the Rays based on recent performance. But if Lackey can get back into form, Boston has a real chance at winning.

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