McAdam: Lackey's recent stretch is deceiving

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McAdam: Lackey's recent stretch is deceiving

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
ARLINGTON, Texas -- From a distance, the numbers are starting to look impressive: seven wins in the last nine outings, just one loss since July 4.

The manager sounds pleased, noting that this is the pitcher the Red Sox believed they had all along.

But that may be faint praise. Sure, John Lackey now has a dozen wins, second only to Jon Lester among all the Red Sox starters.

A closer look, however, reveals a more nuanced picture. Yes, Lackey is pitching far better than he did for most of the first two months, when four times, he allowed six or more runs in a game and seemed incapable of keeping his team in most games.

But the improvement is more marginal than anything else and Lackey's win total is more a reflection of the run support he's been provided more than any great turnaround on the pitcher's part.

As we've learned, thanks to the introduction of advanced metrics and reflected in recent Cy Young Award balloting, win totals can be both highly misleading and inflated. For starting pitchers, ERA is still the most accurate measuring stick and Lackey's current 5.98 is one of the highest in the American League among qualifying pitchers.

In fact, among the 47 qualifying starters in the American League, Lackey is dead last -- No. 47, a full run worse than currently under-siege A.J. Burnett.

If Lackey didn't have the backing of the game's top offense, he'd be nowhere near a dozen wins. In that nine-game stretch, just twice has he has allowed fewer than three earned runs.

And, tellingly, he's completed the seventh inning once in those nine starts. At a time when bullpens are spent and teams need their starters to chew up innings, Lackey seldom delivers.

Over the nine-game stretch -- and remember, that run of starts is being held up as his best work of the season -- his ERA is 4.11.

Even if Lackey had pitched that "well'' all year, his 4.11 would rank 27th among qualifying American League starters. Put another way, you could fill five full rotations of starters who have lower ERAs all year than Lackey has in during his current stretch of best performances.

And that 4.11 ERA, in this, the second straight season dominated by pitching, that's still more than a tenth of a run above the American League average of 3.97.

For this, Lackey is celebrated?

Tuesday night, he had a 6-0 lead after the first three innings, but allowed base hits to the first three hitters he faced in the bottom of the third. And how did the Rangers score their first run, trailing by six runs? With a bases-loaded walk, courtesy of Lackey.

The walk, meanwhile was issued not to Josh Hamilton or Nelson Cruz, the type of fearsome slugger who could have brought the Rangers back into the game with one swing of the bat. Instead, it was given to ultra-aggressive Elvis Andrus, who has a grand total of 28 walks this season, or, an average of one every three games.

Andrus is neither selective nor dangerous, and yet, Lackey walked him with the bases loaded and a six-run lead.

Does that sound like any kind of turnaround?

Thanks to his swolen victory total, some will suggest that the Red Sox have found their Game 3 playoff starter in Lackey. And if expecting a post-season starting pitcher to give up three or so runs in about six innings is the bar that's been set, then perhaps they have.

But given that the quality of the lineup the Red Sox will face in the Division Series will, by definition, be better than most average lineups Lackey has faced -- and against whom he's compiled a 1.54 WHIP -- then perhaps the Red Sox should keep looking.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Quotes, notes and stars: Wright 'able to neutralize' top of Orioles lineup

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Quotes, notes and stars: Wright 'able to neutralize' top of Orioles lineup

BALTIMORE -- Quotes, notes and Stars from the Red Sox' 7-2 win over the Orioles.

 

QUOTES

"He was able to neutralize their top half (of the lineup) and that was the biggest thing.'' - John Farrell on Steven Wright.

"He never broke stride, continued in a full-out gait around third base. It was a good heads-up play on his part.'' - Farrell on Mookie Betts scoring all the way from second on a swinging bunt.

"It kind of throws them off because then if I leave one up, I'm hoping the difference in the speed will get them out front.'' - Steven Wright on changing speeds on the knuckleball.

"Yeah, I do. Off the field. Not when I'm at the park, but off the field, I do.'' - Xander Bogaerts, acknowledging that he does think about his ongoing hitting streak.

"It was amazing. Hitting my first home run and putting us ahead three (more) runs, it's awesome.'' - Marco Hernandez on his first major league home run.

 

NOTES:

* Xander Bogaerts extended his hitting streak to 23 games with two doubles.

* Marco Hernandez's three-run homer in the eighth inning was his first major league homer.

* Mookie Betts has now reached in 13 straight games against the Orioles.

* Betts has scored 14 runs in his last 11 games.

* In his last seven games, David Ortiz is 14-for-28 in his last seven games.

* Ortiz has seven homers in his last 12 games at Camden Yards and 12 homers in his last 16 games here.

* Ortiz has homered in each of his last three games, the 18th time in his career that he's done that.

* Steven Wright tossed a career-high 122 pitches.

* Wright became the third Red Sox starter to toss three consecutive complete games on the road since Roger Clemens in 1991-92.

 

STARS:

1) Steven Wright

Wright's third complete game of the season was a gem, with just four hits allowed - just three them into the outfield. He's got a 1.79 ERA on the road this season.

2) Xander Bogaerts

In addition to extending his hitting streak to 23 games, Bogaerts had two doubles and knocked in two runs.

3) Marco Hernandez

Hernandez's first big league homer was a big one, extending what had been a two-run lead to a five-run cushion with a three-run blast in the eighth

 

First impressions of the Red Sox’ 7-2 win over the Orioles

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First impressions of the Red Sox’ 7-2 win over the Orioles

BALTIMORE -- First impressions from the Red Sox' 7-2 win over the Orioles:

* Steven Wright had six 1-2-3 innings among the nine he pitched.

For a brief time in the second, after two were out, Wright battled command. Then, in the fifth, he yielded three straight hits and a sacrifice fly, accounting for the only two runs he allowed.

Otherwise? Wright carved through the Baltimore lineup, facing the minimum number of hitters in six of the nine other innings and one over the minimum in another.

He got a number of weak squibbers - including a couple he fielded himself and of the four hits he allowed, only three left the infield.

* Mookie Betts stole the first Red Sox run with some alert baserunning.

Betts was on second when Xander Bogaerts hit a tapped in front of the mound.

Catcher Caleb Joseph pounced on the ball about 15 feet from home plate, but then stood there after throwing out Bogaerts at first. With home plate unguarded, Betts got to third and alertly kept going, beating the throw home from first baseman Chris Davis.

Betts is the probably the Red Sox' fastest baserunner, but in instances like that one, he showed he's also one of their smartest.

* David Ortiz is a menace at Camden Yards.

There's a reason John Farrell waited to make out the lineup card, hoping that David Ortiz was available after missing Sunday's game with a sore foot. Ortiz usually makes his presence felt here and Monday was no different.

He homered to right to lead off the eighth, giving him seven homers in his last 10 games at Camden Yards and 12 homers in his last 28 games.

If Ortiz played for the Orioles, it's frightening to think what sort of power numbers he could put up playing half the time in a ballpark with an inviting right field porch.

* The Sox have gotten plenty of contributions from bench players.

Josh Rutledge (.830 OPS) has helped out in the infield, with Brock Holt relegated to LF, and more recently, the DL. On Monday, it was Marco Hernandez's turn. Hernandez supplied a three-run homer from the ninth spot in the eighth inning, turning a two-run lead into a five-run advantage.

Their contributions have allowed Farrell to make some moves around the infield, such as Monday's decision to give Hanley Ramirez a day off while shifting Travis Shaw to first.

Sean McAdam can be followed on Twitter @Sean_McAdam.