Ten days ago the Red Sox suffered a crushing loss to their arch (and division rival), the New York Yankees. Losses happen, but this one stung more than most because Jonanthan Papelbon, the team's surefire closer over the last five seasons hardly looked like a guy who had been to All-Star games and enjoyed playoff success.
He gave up an astounding four runs in just two thirds of an inning. For the first time in his career as a reliever he gave up two home runs in one inning and left Red Sox fans wondering if 2010 just wasn't their year.
Why were fans so concerned in mid-May with just about 3/4 of the season left?
The Red Sox were looking up in the standings at everyone in the division, and the Rays and Yankees both already had significant leads in the win/loss columns. The Sox had a team that was supposed to be built on pitching and defense, and early returns were beyond disappointing in both areas.
With John Lackey, Josh Beckett, and Diasuke Matsuzaka each struggling mightily and the defense seeming to kick one ball after another since the team flew north from Ft. Myers, the team showed no signs of a turnaround in the near future.
The next day something changed in a big way. The Red Sox appeared headed for another loss at the hand of the Bronx Bombers following a seven-inning, one-run performance from CC Sabathia. Flame-throwing set-up man Joba Chamberlain came on and absolutely collapsed. He gave up four runs in his inning of work and left with the score tied.
When Mariano Rivera came on for the ninth, winning the game in extra-innings seemed like the most realistic option for getting out of New York with at least one victory. They instead managed to get the future Hall-of-Famer, plating two runs and putting the pressure back on the World Champions.
Papelbon came back through the bullpen doors, and though he looked shaky still, managed to finish the win for the former Boston Americans.
Fast-forward eight more days and the tune is entirely different in Boston. Since that incredible come from behind win over the Yankees, the Red Sox are an impressive 7-1 over that stretch. More impressively, those wins have come against the Twins, Phillies, and Rays; all teams currently leading their divisions.
So just how did a team that looked like they had essentially eliminated themselves turn around their season in a little more than a week?
The team started playing like analysts had predicted in the offseason.
Clay Buccholz and Jon Lester both ratcheted up their performances, and are currently battling for the team lead in ERA in the low 3s.
The other members of the staff (excluding Beckett who hit the DL) have all started performing more like the top two guys than AAA pitchers.
Matsuzaka flirted with history as he carried a no-hitter into the eighth before a flair found its way past an outstretched Marco Scutaro's glove. Wakefield did an admirable job filling in for Beckett as he provided the Sox with eight shut-out innings and beat Roy Halladay. Lackey found his touch and made a quality start in the team's win over the Rays.
The pitching staff is not solely responsible for the light-speed like turnaround.
David Ortiz struggled more than any hitter on the team for the first month of the season. His numbers so far in May are among the best of his career as he is hitting .368 with 9 homers this month.
The team is also starting to get healthy as both Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron hit the field for the first time in almost a month this week. Other hitters are starting to hit, and the plays are being made in the field.
All of this adds up to a message that the Red Sox have sent loud and clear over the the last nine days by going 8-1 overall against four of the MLB's top six teams: It's only May, but it might be time to start to panic about how good the team in Boston could really be.
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