Strong Starting Pitching Has Saved Boston Red Sox

By Pat O'Rourke
jon lester red sox
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Red Sox‘ playoff hopes could’ve easily gone the way of the dinosaur over the last ten games going back to June 8, when they beat the Detroit Tigers, 5-3, to snap a five-game losing streak.

Over that ten-game stretch, in which the Sox have played Detroit along with the Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins, the lineup has managed just 28 runs, ten of which came last Friday in the Sox 10-3 win over Cleveland. They’ve scored two runs or less in seven of those games, with zero or one runs in four and being shutout twice. The Red Sox have hit just .245 as a team with four home runs.

Xander Bogaerts, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz — the meat and potatoes of the Boston lineup — have combined to hit .161 with seven extra base hits, three home runs and 14 runs batted in. The resident 2-3-4 combo in the order have an aggregate .546 OPS over that stretch of games.

Not winning baseball in any form.

That said, the Red Sox have managed to go 6-4 in those ten games, thanks to great starting pitching with the rotation of Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jake Peavy, Brandon Workman and Rubby De La Rosa. The five starters have bailed the bats out, combining for a 2.41 ERA and a 1.015 WHIP, allowing just 18 earned runs on 53 hits and 15 walks over 67 innings.

Without such strong starting pitching, the Sox would have virtually fallen out of the race, as opposed to keeping their head afloat at 33-38, 5.5 games behind Detroit for the second AL Wild Card spot.

The starters have gone out and done everything John Farrell has asked of them. They’ve attacked hitters. They’ve competed. They’ve battled. And most of all, they’ve put the team in a position to win despite the offensive ineptitude.

Boston’s 5-3 win over Detroit on June 8 — won on a ninth inning three-run bomb by Ortiz — was set up by Lackey, who gave the Sox eight dogged innings, allowing three runs on six hits and a walk, when the bats were silent for much of the night.

In the two contests the Sox dropped to Cleveland this past weekend, Peavy and Workman gave Boston a chance to win, both leaving the game with leads. Unfortunately, the Red Sox bullpen wasn’t able to hold the leads, and the Sox dropped both games by a 3-2 final.

The last two nights against Minnesota, both of which were 2-1 and 1-0 Red Sox wins, respectively, came by virtue of near-perfect outings by De La Rosa and Lester. The Twins managed just one run and nine base runners over the aggregate 13.1 innings by the two. De La Rosa retired the final 13 batters he faced Monday. Lester sat down 11 straight at one point Tuesday.

Ditto Brandon Workman, who led the charge in a 1-0 Red Sox win in Baltimore last Tuesday, throwing 6.2 innings of shutout ball, allowing just two Orioles to reach and not surrendering a hit until the sixth inning.

The starters have needed to be near-perfect when taking the hill. And they’ve been just that.

The strong starting pitching has been the strength of the 2014 Red Sox. It’s been what’s saved them from joining Tampa Bay in the basement of the American League.

Through 71 games, the Red Sox’ starters have combined to throw 429 innings, which ranks 12th in Major League Baseball, while their 7.7 strikeouts per nine innings ranks tenth. With 42 quality starts, they’re tied with the Kansas City Royals for second in the big leagues in that category, trailing only the Oakland A’s 46.

Because the bats have given a measly 3.9 runs of support per game (tied with the Houston Astros for 29th in the majors), the starters have won just 24 of 49 decisions.

While not much has gone right for the Red Sox in 2014, there is one highlight the team can look to — and that is the elite starting rotation that through the better part of three months of baseball has been the club’s salvation, keeping them afloat in the AL pennant race.

Pat O’Rourke is a Red Sox writer for You can follow him on Twitter or join his network on Google.

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