Smoke and Mirrors: The Red Sox' Start to 2009

Dan McConeCorrespondent IMay 14, 2009

NEW YORK - MAY 04:  Jason Bay #44 of the Boston Red Sox bats against of the New York Yankees on May 4, 2009 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Red Sox defeated the Yankees 6-4.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Don't let the headline fool you. I am a huge fan of the Boston Red Sox. But how in the world are they pulling off a 21-13 start with the starting pitching they have received?

This was supposed to be the best starting pitching in the American League. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield, and then a plethora of No. 5 starters. Those at the back end of the rotation consisted of Brad Penny, John Smoltz, and prospects Clay Buchholz and Michael Bowden. 

Best starting pitching in the American League? The Sox starting pitching pitchers are 29th in the league with a 5.72 team ERA. Only Philadelphia is worse, with a 6.16 ERA. The starting pitching has given up the most earned runs in the league. Opposing hitters are smacking Red Sox starting pitching at a .291 clip. 

The ace of the staff, Josh Beckett, has a 6.42 ERA. Jon Lester? A 6.31 ERA. Dice-K? Well, he's on the disabled list, thanks in part to the ever-so-useless World Baseball Classic. Brad Penny? A 6.90 ERA.

So what is keeping the Sox afloat? Start with the bullpen. With all the struggles of the starting pitching, has there been a better bullpen than the Sox'? Boston's bullpen is fourth in the league in relief ERA (3.20) and that includes recently released Javy Lopez's 9.34 ERA. Opponents are only hitting .235 against the Sox 'pen. Their seven relief wins are only two behind the league-leading Florida Marlins.

The Coco Crisp-Ramon Ramirez trade looks like a steal. Ramirez has been lights out with a 0.59 ERA and four wins. Manny Delcarmen is coming into his own and he's sporting a 0.52 ERA. Hideki Okajima has finally settled down and pitched well, and Jonathan Papelbon, although shaky, has closed out opponents in the ninth. The Boston bullpen also boasts former Dodgers All-Star closer Takashi Saito, who has two saves, and fireballing callup Daniel Bard, whose fastball can hit 100 mph.

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Since the rough 3-6 start to the season, the Sox offense has been lighting up teams. They are third in runs scored with 193 and sixth in total bases with 530. Boston is slugging their way to a .456, fourth in the majors.

Sure, there are questions surrounding David Ortiz power outage. But Jason Bay is making Red Sox fans say one thing: Manny Who? Outside of Evan Longoria, is there anyone hotter than Bay? He's hitting .319/10/38 and has taken over Ortiz's role as a late-inning clutch hitter.

Kevin Youkilis, currently on the 15-day disabled list, is leading the league with a .394 batting average. Before getting hurt, Youk was what drove this offense. Mike Lowell has rebounded nicely from his offseason labrum surgery. He's hitting over .300 and driving in runs at the same clip he did in 2007. Also, Nick Green has filled in nicely while Jed Lowrie recovers from wrist surgery. Although his glove has failed him at times, he's been solid at the bottom of the lineup. 

Remember, the Sox are 21-13 with poor starting pitching, a power outage from Ortiz, and a lack of production at the catcher position. They also have Dice-K, Youk, and Dustin Pedroia on the DL. It's scary to think that if things turn around with the starters, Ortiz finds his power, and the DL get's lighter, what this team can do.