Monday, May 12, 2014

Starting to Roll

On May 4, after losing a 3-2, 10 inning heartbreaker to the A's, the Red Sox were 15-17. They sat two games out of first in third place. They had two games at home against the Reds before going to Texas for three games, a place they tend to struggle.

Today they are 19-18. They are still in third place and still two games out of first. But the vibe around this team is quite different than it was only a week or two ago.

Boston has four of their last five games and six of their last eight. Two weeks ago you'd have seen Mike Napoli leading most every major batting category. Now we are seeing Big Papi and Pedroia starting to show up as leaders as well. Their on-base percentage as a team has shot up to third in the majors. Their team OPS is a more modest 12th, but that is far ahead of where they were in April.

Their pitching has remained relatively solid. The staff has 25 quality starts, fourth in the majors. Their team ERA is 14th in the majors but fifth in the AL. Boston's save percentage of 79% is best in the AL. But they have seen a dip in their staff WHIP and their staff OPS is starting to rise.

You could argue Lackey is Boston's best starter.

Now, you combine those two things and you get a team that can hold their ground but that's about it. I think the critical element to Boston's improvement has been in the field.

Two weeks ago they had the ninth-most errors in the majors. Today they are 14th in that metric. Two weeks ago their fielding-percentage was 21st; today is it 18th. That fielding percentage of .982 is also the AL league average; they were two points under that mark at the end of April.

If you add that to their improved hitting and their (relatively) consistent pitching, then their recent run of good results starts to come into focus.

But individuals matter as well. And it helps that of Boston's five starters, three are pitching pretty darn well. Lester, Peavy and Lackey are all top 25 in ERA in the AL right now. Lackey and Lester are top 20 in WHIP, with Peavy not too far behind at 34. All three are also top 25 in Pitcher WAR right now as well, and that includes relievers. Take them out and the three Red Sox starters are top 15.

That consistency has helped Boston through a very rough patch.* And it has been critical when you also consider the lack of consistency from Doubront and Buchholz. Now with the bats coming around and the defense seeming to tighten up, that should take some pressure off of the starters. And maybe that will spark an improvement from Doubront and Buchholz.

To simply glance at the standings would make you think that Boston hasn't done much of anything since the end of April. But don't be fooled by that. Boston is starting to roll a little bit. And that should give the rest of the AL East, and the majors, reason to pause.


*Compare this to the Yankees, who only have one name consistently in that same range. That would be, of course, Masahiro Tanaka. He has been lights-out solid for the Yankees so far. But you cannot ride one great arm to any kind of success when the other four arms aren't doing much of anything. The Yankees are 23rd in quality starts; that should concern their fans.

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