Royals Take Game 3, Series Lead

Royals Bullpen Unstoppable Again

Red Sox Gearing Up For The Stretch Run

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Red Sox Gearing Up For The Stretch Run
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

With the All-Star Game behind us and yet another win for the American League, the Red Sox can get back to what they've done best this year: winning ball games.

At 54-34, the Sox have a three game lead over the Yankees. Also, their 54 wins are the highest among American League teams, second only to the LA Dodgers, who with 56 wins are running away with the National League West.

Pitching has certainly been the strength of this team halfway through the season. Heading a pitching staff that hasn't completely come together to meet expectations are Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, both of whom have been tearing up the mound on a consistent basis since May.

On the season, Beckett is 11-3, sporting a 3.35 ERA and 110/35 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Not far behind, Lester 8-6 with a 3.87 ERA, as well as having already struck out 131 batters to a mere 35 walks issued.

Lester's numbers may not look all too special considering his dominant performance in 2008, but his cumulative numbers don't tell the whole story. After getting off to a very rocky start, Lester has been back in his element as of late.

Since May 21, Lester is 6-2 with a 2.01 ERA, having stuck out 77 batters and walked 19. In 67 innings of work in those past eight starts, Lester has allowed just 18 runs to cross the plate, an average of 2.25 runs allowed per game.

This streak, however, also includes two instances where Lester allowed no earned runs to the opposition, as well as a near-perfect game of the Rangers where he cracked and allowed a run in the end.

The rest of the rotation has been a step down from these two, but it's been getting the job done. Among the back end of the rotation is All-Star Tim Wakefield, sporting an 11-3 record with a 4.31 ERA.

The knuckleballer is having a pretty good season for his standards, and while it hasn't always been pretty, more often than not he's kept the Red Sox in a position to win games.

Free agent addition John Smoltz has appeared to have been nothing short of lackluster. Coming off a major shoulder surgery, though, he is doing his best. Averaging five innings per start, Smoltz has managed a 5.40 ERA and has struck out 17 batters.

Brad Penny has also been a solid addition from the free agent scrap heap. Pitching out of the fifth slot in the rotation, Penny has been quite serviceable as a back-end starter, going 6-3 with a 4.71 ERA.

Exemplifying that he can still overpower hitters with his fastball, Penny is sporting a solid 62-29 K/BB rate.

Being called up to start Friday against Toronto is Clay Buchholz, who has been tearing up the Minor Leagues. For Triple-A Pawtucket, Buchholz currently sits at a 7-2 mark, and has struck out 89 batters in 99 innings.

His ERA and WHIP, though, look more like that of a closer. Pitching as filthy and dominant as he ever has in the Minors, Buchholz is currently working to the tune of a 2.36 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP.

The bullpen this year has been just as, if not more dominating than the bullpen that helped carry the Red Sox to a World Series title in 2007. With a 4.98 ERA, only Justin Masterson has had struggles this year.

That, however, can be attributed to his versatility.

Working out of the starting rotation back in early May, Masterson hit a rough patch after back-to-back solid starts against Baltimore and New York. After a four-start skid featuring a 5.84 ERA and a .311 batting average against, Masterson was relegated to the bullpen.

From getting sent back to the bullpen through July 7, Masterson had found a groove. In that stretch, Masterson crafted a 3.13 ERA and 23-8 strike out-to-walk ratio in 23 innings pitched. Even including a five earned run outing against Baltimore, Masterson had been filthy.

However, in his previous two appearances, Masterson has been struggling again. In back to back outings against Kansas City, Masterson has allowed a combined seven earned runs while recording just two outs, bringing his season ERA back up to near the 5.00 mark.

Aside from Masterson's ups and downs, the bullpen has been a steel trap. Rookie sensation Dan Bard has brought upper nineties and triple digit heat from the 'pen, earning himself a 2.55 ERA.

Hideki Okajima, still Boston's go-to mop-up man, continues to find Major League success in the last of his three-year deal with the Red Sox. Okajima has averaged a strikeout per inning, also managing a 3.32 ERA.

Also, we have the still stellar Ramon Ramirez, sporting his 2.33 ERA out of the bullpen. Still bringing the heat. Still lights out. And to think that the Royals won't see any more of Coco Crisp for the rest of this season.

Enter Manny Delcarmen and his 2.41 ERA along with Takashi Saito doing set-up and part-time closer duty, and the Red Sox have a great bridge to get to Jonathan Papelbon.

The offense has started to click more as of late following a bit of a slump. The biggest turnaround obviously has been David Ortiz. Following a big (no pun intended) June, Big Papi now finds himself with a far more respectable 12 home runs and 47 RBI.

After overcoming the adversity of the worst slump of his career, Ortiz now looks ready to extend his streak of seasons with 20-plus home runs to eight.

The corner infield positions are due for a big makeup this weekend. Regular first baseman Kevin Youkilis has been playing at third in the absence of Mike Lowell, who is expected to return this weekend.

With Lowell (.282, 10 home runs, 41 RBI) back in the lineup, the Red Sox will no longer have to platoon Mark Kotsay and Aaron Bates at first base, as Youkilis will be ready to move back to the opposite corner.

Dustin Pedroia hasn't been the same player as last year. After raking 17 home runs last year to help him capture the MVP Award, Pedroia has just four at this point of the season.

However, Pedroia does have a healthy amount of RBI's (40), is hitting .303, best on the team, and has already scored 65 runs and stolen 14 bases. 'MVPedroia' set a career high in 2008 with 20 thefts.

As I write, the makeup at short just got a big shakeup with the news of Julio Lugo being designated for assignment. It is assumed that Lugo will be replaced on the roster by Jed Lowrie, who was expected to return near the All-Star break.

This leaves the Red Sox with Lowrie and Nick Green at short. Green is hitting just .257 after his hot first half, and Lowrie appears to be nothing more than an average hitter. As it appears, the Sox have two light-hitting, defensively talented shortstops. Nothing wrong with that.

The outfielders have provided the bulk of Boston's offense thus far into the season. All-Star Jason Bay is still waiting for a contract extension, which should be a good one. He's earned himself a lot of money this winter, as he has 20 home runs, 72 RBI, and 10 stolen bases to this point.

Jacoby Ellsbury has made strides to improve this year. After hitting .280 with 50 stolen bases last year, Ellsbury has raised his batting average to .295, while also hitting five home runs. Astoundingly, Ellsbury has already managed to steal 40 bases, in just half the time it took him to steal 50 last year.

J.D. Drew looks primed to play his first full, healthy season for the Red Sox, in the third year of his five-year contract. Despite hitting .252, Drew has been useful, as he has hit 12 home runs and drawn 50 walks.

Compared to the rest of the league, the Red Sox have a high ranking offense. Where the Red Sox rank among MLB teams:

  • batting average: .265 (10th)
  • runs scored: 465 (4th)
  • hits: 796 (11th)
  • home runs: 108 (5th)
  • stolen bases: 75 (4th)
  • on-base percentage: .352 (4th)
  • slugging percentage: .448 (5th)
  • total bases: 1,344 (6th)

As for pitching, their league ranks are essentially the same, if not better, than their batting ranks.

  • ERA: 4.07 (7th)
  • runs allowed: 380 (25th)
  • saves: 26 (4th)
  • strikeouts: 675 (4th)
  • batting average against: .261 (15th)

Everything is in place for the Red Sox to make another deep playoff run, but this year the biggest threat has changed. As of now, the top three teams in the AL East look like this:

 

Team Wins Losses Games Behind
Boston 54 34 --
New York 51 37 3.0
Tampa 48 41 6.5

 

As of now, the Red Sox look like the best and most complete team in the AL East, but as we all know, anything can happen.

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