In first three games, Red Sox sing a familiar tune

In first three games, Red Sox sing a familiar tune
April 4, 2014, 6:15 am
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BALTIMORE -- It's foolish -- maybe even dangerous -- to read much into the first three games of a 162-game season. There's only so much that be taken from such a small sample size.

But through the first regular-season series, some familiar trends have emerged for the Red Sox, trends that, should they continue, portend well for 2014.

Already, the Red Sox are displaying some of the attributes that last year led them to a 97-win regular season and, eventually, a World Series championship that they'll celebrate fully on Friday as they return home to Fenway for the first time since Game 6, last Halloween Eve.

For one thing, the team's relentless approach at the plate is still in play.

The Sox may have lost leadoff hitter and basepath disruptor Jacoby Ellsbury, but the lineup still appears capable of grinding out at-bats. In each of the final two games of their series with the Baltimore Orioles, the Red Sox got into the bullpen by the seventh inning. Only once did a Baltimore starter complete six innings.

More impressive is this: in 27 innings against the Orioles, the Red Sox were retired in three-up, three-down fashion exactly once. That came in the seventh inning of Monday's season opener, when reliever Drake Britton set them down in order with three groundouts.

Other than that, the Sox had at least one baserunner in each of the other 26 innings.

"It's just three games,'' cautioned John Farrell, "but we ran up [Chris] Tillman's pitch count in (the first game). I thought [Thursday], when we got some pitches around the plate from [Wei-Yen] Chen, who's a very good pitcher, we put a lot of good swings on some balls.''

True, the Sox wasted opportunities in the series, including a stunning 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position on Monday, a failing that cost them the game. In the three games, they stranded a ghastly 32 runners, an average of just under 11 per contest.

While that number is alarming on the face of it, the Sox at least had their opportunities. Given the length and depth of their lineup, it's highly unlikely that will be a regular occurrence.

"We had a very good offensive approach this whole series,'' Farrell said after the Sox had held off the Orioles, 4-3, to win the set.

On the pitching side, the Red Sox were two outs shy of notching three quality starts in the first three games from their rotation.

But what really stood out -- both as a reminder of the team's successful formula a year ago and evidence that the bullpen is again stacked -- is the fact that the team's relievers combined to throw 7 2/3 innings of scoreless work in the first series.

That's especially noteworthy early in the season, when the starters haven't yet build full arm strength and aren't being asked to go as deep into games as they will later in the series.

"It's going to critical (to lean on the bullpen) until we get to that point where we can push the starters a little bit more,'' said Farrell.

"The starters were able to keep these games under control and give us the opportunity to stay on the positive side of the scoreboard.''

As good as the bullpen was a year ago, remember, it took time to formulate. Two closers -- Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey -- went down with season-ending arm surgeries and it wasn't until early July, with Koji Uehara the closer by default, that the pen really came together.

This year, both the pitchers and their roles are more fully established.

"We've got the ability to go to different guys on a given night,'' said Farrell.

Lefty Chris Capuano made his Red Sox debut Thursday and turned back the Orioles in order in the seventh, needing just 11 pitches. Edward Mujica is another tested, late-inning weapon.

"We're going to rely on everybody that's down there,'' said Farrell.

Of course, Uehara will have the biggest burden. But he pitched with such easy and efficiency in the series finale (three outs on seven pitches) that it defied logic.

"I think we're pleased, coming out of spring training, with the way the first series has gone,'' concluded Farrell.

Grinding out at-bats, consistent starting pitching, and a deep, reliable bullpen.

Sound familiar? It should.