Red Sox starting pitching dominant on West Coast

Red Sox starting pitching dominant on West Coast
August 26, 2013, 10:00 am
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What's the key to the recent Red Sox surge? It's their arms on the mound -- their starting arms in particular.

(USA Today Sports Images)

LOS ANGELES -- As impressive as the Red Sox takedown of the Los Angeles Dodgers was this weekend, giving them two straight series wins and a 4-2 West Coast interleague road trip, it shouldn't have been much of a surprise.
      
Though the Red Sox may have been mired in a frustrating tango of sorts in recent weeks -- two steps forward and one step back -- their recent upswing dovetailed with a sharp uptick in performance from their starting rotation.
      
In other words, what was the key to the team's recent surge? It's the pitching, stupid. And the starting pitching in particular.
      
In taking 2-of-3 from both the Giants and the Dodgers, Red Sox starters compiled a 1.17 ERA in the last six games. And, in five of the six games in California, Red Sox starters pitched into the eighth inning five times. In the one game the pitcher failed to reach the eighth, Jake Peavy had allowed just one run when he was lifted in the sixth.
      
No Red Sox starter allowed more than two earned runs in any of the six games, and of the four complete games the Red Sox have recorded this season, two were thrown in the last three games -- both against the Dodgers, whose lineup is as intimidating as any in either league.
      
"We got very good starting pitching on this entire trip," said John Farrell after Peavy had tossed a complete game Sunday in the 8-1 finale. "Our starters set the tone for this entire trip and this series."
      
Peavy led the way Sunday night with his best performance since joining the Red Sox at the July 31 deadline. He allowed just three hits over nine innings. The lone run against him was a solo homer by Adrian Gonzalez.
      
"We got ahead of most guys," said Peavy, who improved to 10-5, "and dictated the count. You have to do that when you're going against a lineup as talented as they are. We felt like we had a good game plan in place, but at the same time, that's a talented, talented bunch over there.''
      
"We knew they were an aggressive team, but we've got some pretty good pitching," said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. "The three guys we sent out (in the series - John Lackey, Jon Lester and Peavy) are aces on any other team. It's nice to have those guys."
      
Red Sox pitchers stayed away from big innings in the series with the Dodgers. The only time the Dodgers -- who managed just five runs in the three games -- had a multi-run inning was the fourth inning Friday night. Hanley Ramirez's two-run homer off Lackey represented the only runs either team scored that night.
      
Peavy, who could be seen mouthing his disbelief when Farrell came out to get him in the sixth inning Tuesday night in San Francisco, was determined to get to the finish line Sunday night.
      
He was at 102 pitches after eight innings, but had plenty left.
      
"I wanted to finish it," he said, "and I wanted to finish it against (the Dodgers') 2-3-4 (hitters). It meant something to me to finish it. I wanted to let the guys in the bullpen have a few nights off. We've got to keep those guys strong down the stretch.
      
"Obviously, when we got some breathing room (a two-run homer from Mike Napoli in the top of the inning stretched the lead to seven), anyone could have finished it out, but I appreciate John giving me the opportunity."
      
Now that the Red Sox are through with interleague play until the final week of the season and a brief two-game series at Colorado, they'll be facing deeper American League lineups, featuring designated hitters rather than pitchers.
      
That represents a challenge, but the Sox will be getting Clay Buchholz back in another 10 days, and they'll have the benefit of at least one off-day each week over the remainder of the schedule.
      
Boston's rotation sports a collective 3.82 ERA, second in the American League only to Detroit. And at a time when the games are most important and the calendar is closing in on September, Red Sox starters couldn't have picked a better time to be performing at their best.