Pitch perfect: Sox staff big reason for turnaround

Pitch perfect: Sox staff big reason for turnaround
May 12, 2014, 2:00 pm
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Since April 25, when they left for a brief three-game road trip to Toronto, the Red Sox have won four of five series and are 9-5 overall.
They've won three straight series in a row against teams that reached the post-season a year ago. And there is an undeniable feeling around the team, that after spending the first 3 1/2 weeks in an awkward feeling-out process, things have begun stabilize.
Maybe the turnaround began because the lineup suddenly crystalized, with Dustin Pedroia installed as the leadoff hitter, Shane Victorino returned to right field and the No. 2 spot in the order and Will Middlebrooks returned from the DL.
That, in turn, coincided with an end to the sloppy defensive play, which reached a nadir when the Sox allowed a total of 10 unearned runs in two embarrassing losses to the Yankees.
But there's little doubt as to the biggest reason for the turnaround is the team's improved starting pitching. After Sunday's 5-2 victory in Texas, which featured a strong performance from John Lackey (seven innings, two runs allowed), Red Sox starters have allowed just 25 runs in the last 11 games, good for 3.20 ERA.
In 30 of 37 games this season, Red Sox starters have allowed three earned runs or fewer and the team has recorded quality starts -- three earned runs or fewer over six or more innings -- in 25 in 37 games, just one fewer than league-leading Oakland.
"When you look at the rotation," said John Farrell, "that's been the key that has stabilized things for us. We've been in some low-run games and have kept the offense of the opposition in check."
Only a few weeks ago, the notion of the rotation being the key to the team's turnaround would have been laughable. Beginning with a seven-game homestand against division rivals Baltimore and New York, Red Sox starters absorbed the loss four times in seven games.
From April 18 through April 25, every member of the rotation allowed at least five runs and none pitched past the sixth inning. Twice, starters failed to get out of the third.
Maybe it was the proverbial first-month dead arm. Maybe it was the result of early-season workloads. But whatever the reason, the rotation had bottomed out.
Then, just as quickly, the starters began to turn around.
"I think it's each starter setting the tone," said Farrell. "When a guy goes to the mound and pitches well, it gives some confidence to the guy that follows. Whether or not we're seeing some internal competition and each guy trying to keep up his end of the bargain and his end of the streak . . . knowing how tight these starters are as teammates, I know that that exists."
It's no coincidence that the team's climb up and over the .500 mark has been tied to the improved work of the rotation.
"Starting pitching kind of sets the tone for a lot of stuff," said Lackey. "We've got some pretty good ones on this team and hopefully we can keep that rolling."
Jon Lester and Lackey have combined for 19 quality starts and sport ERAs below 3.60. Clay Buchholz, who was shelled for 10 hits Friday night, is still not showing the consistency the Sox would like to see and Felix Doubront is, as ever, up and down.
But more times than not, the Red Sox take the field with the knowledge that their starters are going to keep them in the game and give them a chance and that fueled the turnaround.
"Obviously, every team is as good as their starting pitchers," said catcher A.J. Pierzynski. "When you have good starting pitching, you're usually going to win the game. It's not a coincidence -- these guys have settled in, the weather's warmed up a bit and these guys know what they're working with. You can see that each time these guys take the mound. They get a little more confident and they believe they can go out and do what they're supposed to do."