Monday, September 7, 2015

Red Sox Rolling

For Ortiz and the Red Sox, things are finally looking up (Sports Net)
Yesterday the Red Sox did something they haven't done in three months. They swept a three-game series.

Granted, they used their broomsticks on the Philadelphia Phillies--owners of the worst record in baseball. But if everyone swept the Phillies all the time, they'd be 0-137. By some miracle, they've actually won 53 games this year, which is only 11 fewer than Boston.

The last time these two teams met was at the start of the season, when the Sox took two out of three in Philadelphia. Since then, the Phils have played as well (or as poorly) as expected, while the Red Sox--tabbed by many to win the AL East, if not the American League--have not. They've fared worse, much worse.

But when the Phillies came to Fenway Park for a Labor Day weekend series, they ran into the streaking Sox. Though they'd just dropped two out of three to the Yankees, they were coming off their best calendar month of the season. Amidst a storm of controversy off the field, Boston finally started pulling out of its season-long funk.

At the beginning of play on July 30th, the Red Sox had the worst record in the American League and was tied with the Brewers for the third-worst in baseball. Since then, Boston's gone 20-14--the third best record in the American League.

A massive surge in offense has fueled the turnaround, with Boston increasing its scoring output by nearly 50 percent. The Red Sox have averaged 6.09 runs per game over the past six weeks, outscoring every team in baseball save the Blue Jays and the Mets. Before that they were scoring just 4.09 R/G.

After building what many thought would be the best lineup in baseball this year, the Sox are finally hitting as well as expected, albeit without many of the players that trounced Philadelphia on Opening Day. Dustin Pedroia is out, and Hanley Ramirez has missed time. Pablo Sandoval's season-long slump continues. Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino are gone.

And yet, for the first time all year, Boston's offense is firing on all cylinders. Travis Shaw and Jackie Bradley Jr. are hitting out of their minds. David Ortiz and Xander Bogaerts keep doing their thing, while Rusney Castillo and Blake Swihart have started to hit. Mookie Betts, currently on a 12-game hitting streak, has hit safely in 21 of 23 games since coming off the concussion disabled list.  With the exception of Sandoval, everyone is hitting.

That's why Boston is winning even though its pitching is only marginally better. Make no mistake, the starting rotation has improved. Joe Kelly has been a completely different pitcher since his recall, with a 2.72 ERA after spending much of the summer in Pawtucket. Wade Miley's continued to put his terrible start behind him, while Rick Porcello is just starting to do the same. Eduardo Rodriguez has rebounded from a brief rough patch, allowing just five earned runs in his past four starts. The bullpen's been exposed without Koji Uehara, but that hasn't mattered as much now that Boston's starters are going deeper into games and keeping opponents off the board.

If the Sox keep this up throughout September, they may salvage a .500 record and avoid finishing last for the third time in four years. It's too little, too late--Boston's still 7.5 games out of the second wild card and third from the bottom in the American League. But at least it's something.

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