Sunday, April 24, 2011
Red Sox Starters Leading Remarkable Surge
When this season is looked back upon during the home stretch of September, the New York Yankees may rue the fact that they didn't bury the Red Sox in April, when they had the chance.
After all, this is a Red Sox team that famously (or infamously) started the season 0-6 and 2-10 before finally putting together a winning streak of at least three games.
In fact, the Red Sox were more than half way through April before they finally accomplished that.
By Sunday morning, the Red Sox had won seven of their last eight games. When the day began, the Red Sox stood at 9-11, tied for third place and a game out of second in the AL East.
That seemed improbable just a week ago.
The division-leading Yankees are 11-6 and hold just a 2.5 game lead over the 11-11 Tampa Rays.
With the Red Sox still two games under .500, it's easy to imagine them being eight or more games out of first place, rather than just 3.5 games out.
And that's just what the Yankees may come to regret; that they didn't create much greater distance between themselves and their arch rivals, a team with a host of offensive stars and a suddenly scorching pitching staff.
Without question, the sudden change in the Red Sox' fortunes is attributable to their red-hot rotation.
Red Sox starters have allowed just six earned runs in the last eight games, a span of 53.1 innings. In those eight games, the starters are 6-1 with a miniscule 1.01 earned run average.
Suddenly, every Sox starter looks like a Cy Young candidate.
Their mind-boggling performances have resulted in the team ERA dropping from 6.79 to 4.73 in those eight games.
How amazing has this stretch been?
Well, Red Sox pitchers have allowed 15 earned runs in the last 73 innings.
Even the frustrating and baffling Daisuke Matsuzaka is suddenly unhittable.
In his last two starts, Dice-K has thrown 15 innings, giving up no earned runs, two hits and four walks, while striking out 12.
Suddenly, the Japanese enigma looks like the ace the Red Sox thought they were getting back in November, 2006.
Matsuzaka said his last two starts were the best he's had in his five seasons with the Red Sox. But they weren't merely the best back-to-back starts he's had in the majors.
As ESPN's Karl Ravech noted, Matsuzaka's last two starts were among the two or three best back-to-back starts in Red Sox history.
Buster Olney reported that a scout says Dice-K has "made a transformation."
We can only hope that this is not merely an aberration. It's safe to say that most Sox fans will withhold judgment and are not entirely sold yet.
After his last start against Toronto, Dice-K said he was motivated by the fear of losing his spot in the rotation.
It's about time. But, hey, whatever it takes.
If the pitching holds up, you can only wonder how good this team will eventually be this season. That's because the offense has yet to really heat up.
Among AL teams, the Red Sox are 11th in batting, 11th in total bases, 9th in runs, 9th in homers and 9th in slugging.
Obviously, there is much room for improvement. And most reasonable observers expect those improvements to come sooner rather than later.
When that happens, the division race will become much more interesting and the Yankees may regret not running away with the division when they had the chance.
They probably won't get another chance this season like the one they had this month.
Surely, the Red Sox don't have another 0-6 or 2-10 stretch in them this year. Do they?