It doesn’t just take a foundation to construct a building, nor does it take only a first couple of weeks to decide the outcome of a season. But since the ugly 2-10 start, the Red Sox have won six of their last seven, and pitching has a lot to do with the recent success.
In the first 10 games through April 11, the Red Sox disappointed and allowed an average of 6.9 runs per game, which was the worst team ERA in the league. Since then, the team has allowed an average of only 2.89 runs per game, and its 2.85 ERA during that stretch would rank third overall in the MLB.
Not only has the starting pitching clicked — throwing seven straight quality starts and overcoming its atrocious first two weeks — but the back-end of the bullpen also has appeared dominant.
Since April 12, lefty Jon Lester has recorded three straight solid starts, allowing only four runs over his last 19 innings and striking out 21 batters. His one loss in that span came on a 3-2 defeat to Tampa Bay, a game in which ace David Price silenced the Sox’ bats.
Along with Lester, Josh Beckett has continued his lights out start, allowing only three runs, six hits and four walks over 15 innings in two starts. Beckett’s 1.93 April ERA is his lowest since 2005’s 1.36 start, and his stuff is just as impressive.
After two rough starts, Clay Buchholz has also pitched well in his last two outings. On Wednesday he allowed only one run in Oakland. Last week, the right-hander’s three runs allowed over five innings wasn’t impressive, but it was enough to keep the Red Sox in the game until Bobby Jenks allowed 4 runs over one-third of an inning in relief. If Buchholz can limit his number of walks, Terry Francona will be able to let his young starter pitch later into games and build up his pitch count, which topped 100 pitches per game last year.
Even John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka have pitched well in each of their most recent starts. While Lackey allowed only one run and four hits over six innings, a game in which the team could not score a run, Dice-K was nearly unhittable, surrendering only one walk and one hit over seven scoreless innings against the loaded Blue Jays offense. On Saturday, Matsuzaka looks to build off his last start, and record back-to-back quality starts for the first time since July 2010.
But without solid relief pitching, the Red Sox would not have had this successful stretch, as four of the six wins were of three runs or less. In two of the three losses during their 6-3 run, the middle relief faltered, as Jenks allowed four runs and Hideki Okajima gave up three in less than an inning each.
If one thing’s sure, the Jonathan Papelbon of 2011 is not looking like the Jonathan Papelbon of 2010.
During the current run, Pap has converted four of four save opportunities and has allowed only one run over 5 1/3 innings, good for a 1.69 ERA in the last five appearances. His 1.08 WHIP is his lowest in April since his 2008 campaign.
Set-up man Daniel Bard has also recovered from his slow start. Since April 12, Bard has tossed 5 2/3 scoreless innings, lowering his ERA from 12.27 to its current 4.82, and allowed only three hits and one walk over that span.
Once the offense clicks, this team will be formidable. But for now, the starting rotation and back-end relievers appear to be in good form and have been enough to get the Red Sox going as they near what once looked like an impossible feat — ending April with a winning record.