Nation STATion: Do the Sox have the pitching?

Nation STATion: Do the Sox have the pitching?
August 18, 2011, 3:28 pm
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By Bill Chuck
Special to CSNNE.com

Yes, Im well aware of the Red Sox nine hits in three games and two lost series in a row, but before you start lining up on the Zakim Bridge, youre really not concerned about the Sox bats are you?

You know the Sox will get many hits from Jacoby, Pedey, Gonzo, Youk, and Papi and an occasional contribution from ReddickDrew, SaltyTek, ScutaroLowrie, and Crawford. So the offense isnt the issue . . . at least until the postseason.

Theres the phrase that pays: At least until the postseason. Once the postseason begins, Sox (and Yankee) hitters dont get to beat up on weak sisters like the Orioles, Royals, and Twins. In the postseason, the name of the game is pitching. And yes, the Sox have reason to worry.

The performance against the Rays staff gives Red Sox Nation a reason to worry because Tampa has postseason quality pitching. Look at their ERA:

Tampas pitching overall 3.67
Tampas starters 3.56
Tampas bullpen 3.96

Now compare it to the overall ERA of all the postseason contenders:
1. Philadelphia 3.08 (1 in the majors overall)
2. San Francisco 3.14 (2)
3. Atlanta 3.42 (3)
4. Angels 3.50 (5)
5. Yankees 3.57 (6)
6. Milwaukee 3.69 (10)
7. Texas 3.71 (12)
8. White Sox 3.80 (15)
9. St. Louis 3.83 (16)
10. Cleveland 3.88 (17)
11. Red Sox 3.90 (18)
12. Arizona 4.03 (20)
13. Detroit 4.23 (24)

Lets eliminate the NL and look just at the AL contenders:
1. Angels 3.50 (1 in the AL)
2. Yankees 3.57 (2)
3. Texas 3.71 (5)
4. White Sox 3.80 (7)
5. Cleveland 3.88 (8)
6. Red Sox 3.90 (9)
7. Detroit 4.23 (11)

Overall, all the teams in the AL have a 3.97 ERA, in the NL a 3.84 ERA. Overall in the bigs, teams have a 3.90 ERA which makes the Sox average. When you look at just the American League, you dont feel a lot better. These are rankings that are simply not reassuring in the middle of August as we look toward October.

It only looks worse when we focus solely on the ERA of starting pitching.
1. Philadelphia 2.99 (1 in the majors overall)
2. San Francisco 3.28 (2)
3. Angels 3.49 (3)
4. Texas 3.62 (6)
5. Atlanta 3.64 (7)
6. Milwaukee 3.76 (11)
7. Yankees 3.78 (12)
8. St. Louis 3.90 (15)
9. White Sox 3.91 (16)
10. Arizona 4.12 (18)
11. Red Sox 4.13 (19)
12. Detroit 4.18 (20)
13. Cleveland 4.19 (21)

Here are just the AL starters:
1. Angels 3.49 (1 in the AL)
2. Texas 3.62 (3)
3. Yankees 3.78 (6)
4. White Sox 3.91 (7)
5. Red Sox 4.13 (8)
6. Detroit 4.18 (9)
7. Cleveland 4.19 (10)

Overall, all the starters in the AL have a 4.10 ERA, in the NL a 3.98 ERA. In the bigs overall, starters have a 4.04 ERA which makes the Sox starters, by any measure, less than average.

The good news is that the Sox potentially will have to face the Angels or Texas, not both. The bad news is the Sox dont match up well against Texas.

The good news is that the Sox match up really well against the Yankees and so far has owned CC Sabathia, New York's ace. The bad news is that both Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes have been pitching better for New York and that significantly improves their rotation.

The good news is that the Sox have to face only one AL Central team. The bad news is no one wants to face Justin Verlander or Justin Masterson and the combination of Mark Buehrle, John Danks, and Phil Humber is just getting better for Chicago.

The real truth is after Beckett and Lester, the Sox starters are only as good as the offensive support they have from the Boston bats and when faced with strong starters, Lackey, Wakefield, and Bedard, are not as good as the opposition.

The bullpen provides Boston with a measure of relief, so to speak. Heres how the contenders rank:
1. San Francisco 2.95 (1 in the majors overall)
2. Atlanta 2.96 (2)
3. Yankees 3.03 (3)
4. Cleveland 3.31 (5)
5. Philadelphia 3.33 (7)
6. Boston 3.44 (12)
7. Angels 3.52 (13)
8. White Sox 3.52 (14)
9. Milwaukee 3.61 (17)
10. St. Louis 3.69 (18)
11. Arizona 3.77 (19)
12. Texas 3.97 (23)
13. Detroit 4.33 (28)

Here are the bullpen rankings just in the AL:
1. Yankees 3.03 (1 in the AL)
2. Cleveland 3.31 (2)
3. Boston 3.44 (4)
4. Angels 3.52 (5)
5. White Sox 3.52 (6)
6. Texas 3.97 (11)
7. Detroit 4.33 (13)

Overall, all the relievers in the AL have a 3.74 ERA, in the NL a 3.59 ERA, and overall in the bigs, relievers have a 3.66 ERA which makes the Sox relievers better than average.

The good news here is that Boston is very strong in the 8th and 9th innings. For the most part, Daniel Bard has been lights out setting up Jonathan Papelbon, and Papelbon has been mixing his slider and fastball more effectively this season, but there is no shortage of scary moments with him. Dan Wheeler has been improving as much as Matt Albers has been fading and I think Wheeler can make some serious contributions in the postseason. Alfredo Aceves gets the Charlie Sheen Award, he is all about winning, and he does it a lot. The rest of the bullpen is a crapshoot, but hopefully the Sox wont have to go that deep.

The bad news is that the Yankee bullpen is more than Mariano Rivera this year. While Rivera has been shaky of late, the rest of the So-Ro-Mo, Rafael Soriano and David Robertson have been outstanding in the 7th and 8th. You really want to get to the Yankee starters.

The other really bad news is the massive improvement that the Rangers made in their pen at the trading deadline, which you really cant yet see reflected in their overall numbers. While the Yankees stood pat, the Sox added Erik Bedard, the Rangers added Mike Adams, who has a 1.12 ERA, and 1.08 with Texas. And they added Koji Uehara, who has a 0.708 WHIP this season.

So were these nine hits against the Rays an indicator of the Sox capabilities in the postseason? Probably not, but there is reason for concern. Granted the Sox were without David Ortiz when facing the Rays and that changes the face of this lineup. But they could be without Big Papi for up to four games in a World Series, including a Game 7, if they get that far.

Theres the key phrase, if they get far. And only then will we see if the Rays were an ill omen for the Sox.

This weekend, you may pooh-pooh this column as the Sox bats will probably come alive against the weak KC pitching staff.

But the stats in todays Nation STATion are not about the Sox hitters, this is all about the Sox pitching which may not be good enough to contain the opposition if the Boston batters are held in check. That question will not be answered in Kansas City or the rest of this regular season. We will see the answer in the postseason and that will determine how far this team goes.