Nation STATion: Do the Sox have the pitching?

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Nation STATion: Do the Sox have the pitching?

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.

Red Sox celebration quickly washes away walk-off loss

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Red Sox celebration quickly washes away walk-off loss

NEW YORK -- It had the potential to be the most awkward celebration ever.

In the top of the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium, before their game was complete, the Red Sox became American League East champions, by virtue of one other division rival -- Baltimore -- coming back to beat another -- Toronto -- in the ninth inning.

That eliminated the Blue Jays from the division race, and made the Sox division champs.

But that ninth inning reversal of fortune was about to visit the Red Sox, too.

Craig Kimbrel faced four hitters and allowed a single and three straight walks, leading to a run. When, after 28 pitches, he couldn't get an out, he was lifted for Joe Kelly, who recorded one out, then yielded a walk-off grand slam to Mark Teixeira.

The Yankees celebrated wildly on the field, while the Red Sox trudged into the dugout, beset with mixed emotions.

Yes, they had just lost a game that seemed theirs. But they also had accomplished something that had taken 158 games.

What to do?

The Sox decided to drown their temporary sorrows in champagne.

"As soon as we got in here,'' said Jackie Bradley Jr., "we quickly got over it.''

From the top of the eighth until the start of the bottom of the ninth, the Red Sox seemed headed in a conventional celebration.

A two-run, bases-loaded double by Mookie Betts and a wild pitch -- the latter enabling David Ortiz to slide into home and dislodge the ball from former teammate Tommy Layne's glove --- had given the Sox a 3-0 lead.

Koji Uehara worked around a walk to post a scoreless walk and after the top of the ninth, the Sox called on Craig Kimbrel, who had successfully closed out all but two save opportunities all season.

But Kimbrel quickly allowed a leadoff single to Brett Gardner and then began pitching as though he forgot how to throw strikes. Three straight walks resulted in a run in and the bases loaded.

Joe Kelly got an out, but then Teixeira, for the second time this week, produced a game-winning homer in the ninth. On Monday, he had homered in Toronto to turn a Blue Jays win into a loss, and now, here he was again.

It may have been a rather meaningless victory for the Yankees -- who remain barely alive for the wild card -- but it did prevent them the indignity of watching the Red Sox celebrate on their lawn.

Instead, the Sox wore the shame of the walk-off -- at least until they reached their clubhouse, where the partying began in earnest.

It had taken clubhouse attendants less than five minutes to cover the floor and lockers with plastic protective sheets. In a matter of a few more minutes, the air was filled with a mix of beer and bubbly.

President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski wore a goggles and only socks on his feet.

As the spray reached every inch of the clubhouse, David Ortiz exclaimed: "I'm going to drown in this man.''

Defeat? What defeat?

 

McAdam: Seeds of first place Red Sox planted in A.L. East basement

McAdam: Seeds of first place Red Sox planted in A.L. East basement

NEW YORK -- Worst to first.

Again.

Sound familiar?

It should, since the Red Sox are now making this a habit. For the second time in the last four years, the Red Sox have rebounded from a last-place finish -- two, in fact, in this instance -- to claim a division title.

On Wednesday, they won it the hard way -- by losing the game, 5-3, on a walk-off grand slam by the New York Yankees' Mark Teixeira, but clinching first thanks to a loss by the second-place Toronto Blue Jays.

It's as though the Red Sox were determined to win it on a trick bank shot. They had already won the A.L. East more conventionally in 2013, by actually winning their clinching game. But the awkwardness of blowing a three-run lead in the ninth was soon washed away in a spray of champagne and beer in a raucous clubhouse.

"One inning,'' declared John Farrell, "should not take away from the fact that we're champions.''

Indeed, the Red Sox had already paid the price to get to this point with two consecutive finishes in the division basement. They had to wait for their young foundation to mature and evolve.

Mookie Betts went from being a good, promising player to a legitimate MVP candidate. Jackie Bradley Jr. transformed from defensive marvel and streaky hitter to solid, all-around All-Star. Xander Bogaerts continued to improve and finally checked the "power'' box.

"I don't know what expectations we had coming in,'' confessed Bradley. "You just know that as long as you play hard, do the right things, keep together. . . We knew we had a talented team, but you still have to play the game. We were able to play the game at a high level this year.

"I think we knew this could happen in spring training, that we could be a pretty special team.''

By this year, the growing pains were over. The young stars had arrived and were ready to not just flash potential, but this time, do something with it.

"Everything came to fruition,'' noted Bradley, "and we're here.''

Along with the expected developments, there were surprises: Sandy Leon went from fourth-string journeyman to starting catcher, unseating several teammates along the way. Steven Wright went from bullpen long man to All-Star starter. Andrew Benintendi came from nowhere to claim the left field job in the final two months.

Some of this was planned. The rest -- and this is the beauty of sports -- was not.

"We had two rough years," said Farrell. "But at the same time, it was true meaning in the struggles. We're benefitting from that now.,''

The team showed a powerful finishing kick down the stretch, obliterating anything and anyone in its way in the final month, winning 11 straight, including seven in a row on the road -- all against division opponents.

The road-heavy second-half schedule that threatened to derail them instead toughened them and served as a springboard.

Comparisons will be made, of course, to the last two championship teams - 2004 stands alone for obvious reasons. Farrell was the pitching coach for one (2007) and the manager of another (2013).

"This is a more dynamic offense than those other teams,'' said Farrell. "We've got more team speed, we've got more athleticism. I can't say that this is a better team; it's different.''

"Better'' may have to wait until November, and the end of the postseason. It will require a World Series victory to match 2007 and 2013.

Time will tell. But for a night, there was enough to celebrate.

"By no means,'' said Farrell, dripping in champagne, "is this the end. This is just the beginning of our postseason.''