Red Sox Pitching Must Continue to Improve, Still Biggest Key to Getting Back Into AL East Race

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It's the pitching. Which is exactly what we've been saying all along.

Despite a 2-1 loss to the Rays on Wednesday night, the Red Sox have won five out of six and are showing signs of life. It's not their best run of the season –- they won six straight in Minnesota and Chicago in late April — but for the first time this season the Sox are showing they can win games without putting 10 or 12 runs on the board.

On Wednesday night, Bobby Valentine had a quick hook and denied Clay Buchholz a chance to extend the team's streak of quality starts to six straight games. Valentine saw Buchholz get hit in the leg by a ground ball to start the sixth, and after another single, the manager decided it was time to go to the bullpen. 

Andrew Miller didn't give up a run, but he allowed an inherited runner to score when Cody Ross momentarily lost Luke Scott's shallow fly in the Tropicana Field roof. It was the second strange run of a strange game, the first scored on a balk.

Balks seem to be the team's biggest pitching problem this month. They lead the majors with six balks this season and have the only three pitchers in the AL who have balked more than once this year.  Daniel Bard did it twice in one inning last week in Kansas City.

They might balk the balk, but they're also walking the walk this month. But those 50 walks in May haven't hurt them too badly. The Sox now have a 3.56 ERA for the month — the third best in the AL.  That’s a dramatic improvement from the 5.54 ERA they posted in April.

Sox starters have gone six or more innings allowing three or fewer runs (definition of a quality start) in five of the last six games. They have won all five of those games. In fact, since hitting "rock bottom" on April 21 (blowing a 9-0 lead to the Yankees) the Sox are 10-2 when they get a quality start out of the starter.

Which brings us back to Buchholz. In the last two starts, he has lowered his ERA from 9.09 to 7.77.  Giving up seven and three-quarter runs a game isn't anything to brag about, but it's been two straight steps in the right direction for the righty. There were a lot of positives to take from Wednesday night's start, the second straight outing in which Buchholz gave up three or fewer runs. 

He had given up at least five in each of his first six outings, the first Red Sox pitcher to ever do that at the start of a season. 

The Red sox have outscored opponents by a whopping 35-10 in the past six games. They even managed to win two of those games scoring fewer than six runs — something they had done just two times in the previous 30 games. 

For the past week, Red Sox pitchers have been giving the team a chance to win. With seven of the next 10 games against the Rays and Orioles they'll need to continue pitching that well if the team expects to finally get back above .500. Boston is 4-9 versus the AL East this season, 13-11 against everyone else. 

The East is the only division in the league with four teams boasting winning records.The only team that isn't above .500 is the Red Sox. With nearly a quarter of the season gone, they're still trying to dig themselves out of a deep early-season hole.

Poor pitching put them in this position … and better pitching is the only way they're going to get out of it.

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