Red Sox’s Improving Consistency A Product Of Quality Starting Pitching


John LackeyOne of the most impressive statistics of the Boston Red Sox’s successful 2013 season was their major league-best 33 series victories — the second-highest total in franchise history. The feat underscored the Red Sox’s incredible consistency and the club’s ability to right the ship whenever it veered slightly off course.

The Red Sox surprisingly failed to notch back-to-back series victories through their first nine sets of the 2014 season, an all-encompassing indication that Boston wasn’t quite right in the early stages of its World Series defense. But upon defeating the Texas Rangers 5-2 on Sunday at Globe Life Park in Arlington, the Red Sox have won three straight series. Starting pitching is the key to sustaining that success.

“That’s where winning starts, honestly,” said John Lackey, who lasted seven innings Sunday while earning his fifth victory of 2014. “Starting pitching kind of sets the tone for a lot of stuff, and we’ve got some pretty good (starters) on this team and hopefully we can keep that rolling.”

Lackey gave up two runs on seven hits over seven frames Sunday. He struck out nine, didn’t walk anyone and recorded some timely punchouts against a Rangers team he historically has struggled against, dating back to his days with the Angels.

“He stepped up when he had to. That’s what he’s done all year,” Red Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said after Sunday’s win. “If you give him a couple of runs, it feels like the game’s over the way he’s been in control, the way he’s been throwing the ball. It’s been fun to be back there and watch.”

Lackey’s strong effort is the latest in a solid season for the veteran right-hander. It’s also a continuation of what the Red Sox’s starting rotation collectively has built over the last few weeks, when — no-so-coincidentally — Boston has begun to play better baseball after some early season woes.

“When you look at the rotation, that’s been the key that has really stabilized things for us,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “Each day we walk on the mound, with the exception of Game 1 in this series (against Texas), we’ve been in some low-run games and have kept the offense of the opposition in check.”

The Red Sox entered Sunday’s contest with 24 quality starts in 36 games this season, good for second in the American League behind the Oakland Athletics’ 25 quality starts. It marked just the second time since 1921 that the Red Sox recorded quality starts in as many as 24 of their first 36 games within a single season. The last time the Red Sox accomplished the feat was in 1952, when Boston had 27 quality starts through its first 36 games.

Obviously, there’s still room for improvement, particularly from Clay Buchholz, who took a step backward in Friday’s series opener in Arlington. But Lackey, Jon Lester and Jake Peavy all have been solid, and Felix Doubront has begun to show signs of turning a corner despite a few shaky outings.

The Red Sox’s offense, which has improved since the returns of Shane Victorino and Will Middlebrooks, also has been important in Boston winning nine of its last 14 games. But good mound work is paramount, especially if the Red Sox intend to contend for another World Series title.

“Everyone knows we’re built on our starting pitching,” Pierzynski said. “Obviously, we like to hit and we like to get runs. But any team will only go as far as its starting pitching. You look (at) the last couple of weeks and our starting pitching has been pretty darn good. That’s why we’ve been playing a lot better.”

Statistically, the Red Sox have boasted one of the AL’s best pitching staffs in 2014. The rotation only seems to be getting stronger, which is one more reason to be encouraged about the club’s improving consistency.

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