BOSTON -- Looking for an answer to why the Red Sox have been able to reel off seven consecutive victories after dropping 10 in a row, matching a Major League record for wins after a streak of double-digit defeats?
It's easy to find, right there at the center of the diamond.
With dependable starting pitching and continued clean outings from their bullpen, the Red Sox have allowed three runs or less in each of their last six wins.
"Very good starting pitching," said John Farrell when asked to explain the turnaround. "In a couple of cases we've been able to have a big inning to come from behind. Our bullpen has been very consistent and outstanding to give us those opportunities late. As we can go back in that Memorial Day game in Atlanta, that five-run fifth inning has somewhat been the jump-start to all of this and we played with a lot more confidence."
Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Rubby De La Rosa all chipped in sterling starts during the streak since that Memorial Day win, and even Brandon Workman's ejection-shortened 5.1 innings on Friday were good enough thanks to the work of five different relievers.
Lester's seven scoreless innings on Sunday helped lead the Red Sox to their second shutout win this season. The first? It came on Wednesday when Lackey, Chris Capuano, Junichi Tazawa and Craig Breslow combined to shut out the Braves, 4-0.
The starting pitching of late has been as good as it's been all season. Jon Lester said the strong performances have been thanks in part to a laser-like game-at-a-time focus. They've known all along that no one start on its own was going to make up for 10-straight losses.
"We've got to worry about tomorrow," Lester said Sunday. "That's kind of been the focus here lately, as far as the guys in this clubhouse. What do we need to do today to succeed? And we've been going out there and doing that. Not worrying about streaks or anything like that, just worrying about going out and playing good clean baseball and that's all we can keep doing."
The team has benefited from key offensive contributions from both depended-upon and unlikely players alike: David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia sparked the start to the streak while Brock Holt has emerged as a super utility man and the team's most consistent offensive player of late.
That the wins have piled up despite injuries to Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino and others has been a testament to the execution of those players who've avoided the sick bay as well as those who've been called up. On Sunday, Pawtucket roommates Alex Hassan and Garin Cecchini combined to go 2-for-5 with a run and an RBI in their first big-league game.
"I think there's a lot to be said about the guys that aren't in our lineup and we're still able to win," Johnny Gomes said. "You take Mike Napoli out, you take Victorino out, take Pedey out, [Ortiz] was out for a little bit . . . To be able to get some wins with one of those guys out of the lineup let alone all of them together, it was pretty valuable. Says a lot about the depth of the organization."
Players admit that perhaps even a little bit of luck -- something they think eluded them for the bulk of their 10-game losing streak -- has played its part in this recent run. In their minds, things are starting to even out over the course of the roller coaster that is a 162-game season.
Now the key is keeping the twists and turns from being so dramatic the rest of the way.
"We went through that stretch with those losses and it seemed like we were pitching and didn't hit or we were pitching and we didn't hit," Gomes said. "It would be close in the game and we would kick the ball around a little bit. So you know, our standards weren't there, but I think we've brought our standards up and certainly these last couple days and there's no reason why we can't continue this. I don't think we're gonna run the season out with victories, but the baseball we're playing right now is where we need to be."
It all starts on the mound, as it did as when the Red Sox went wire-to-wire as the best in baseball in 2013. Of course they won't win out, but if they continue to receive the kind of pitching they've seen in the last week -- during which they've picked up two games in the standings on the first-place Blue Jays -- they'll have a chance to continue to creep up the standings.