After Jon Lester began the season 0-2 with an ERA north of 6, he showed all of Red Sox nation what he is capable of on Wednesday, throwing a impressive 7 innings and striking out 11 Blue Jays batters to complete the 3-game sweep. Lester had all his pitches working and only allowed 1 hit against a fairly solid lineup, but what was most impressive, was his ability to pitch effectively late in the game, even with his pitch-count well over 100. These past 2 games are just what the doctor ordered for this struggling starting rotation and will hopefully be a sign of things to come.
The most surprising piece of the Sox this season for me has been the struggles of the veteran rotation guys (Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Tim Wakefield). If a week ago, you had told me the Sox would be back at .500 and the 2 best pitching performances would be from the mid-20’s crew of Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester, I would have laughed at you. Although their talent is not in question, their ability to step up in critical situations and give the Sox a gem when they desperately needed one is just mind-blowing. Over the past few years, despite some struggles, Josh Beckett was always the guy who would put a stop to a losing streak and get the Sox going in the right direction, but now that torch has been passed.
After winning 7 of the last 10 and 5 of the last 6, the Sox find themselves sitting at .500 and working their way up the AL East standings. The tides have turned in a positive direction and the Sox are getting clutch performances when they need them and have now won 9 games by 2 runs or less. Only 2 of the Sox victories this season have been by 3 or more runs, and both came in the first 8 games of the season. If that trend is to continue, the pitching staff needs to be strong and the offense needs to continue to come up with big hits at big times. If this season is a series of close games back-to-back, Red Sox fans better stock up on Tums or Rolaids, because there are 140 games left.
Over the next few weeks, the Sox have a chance to prove their staying power. After a day off on Thursday, the Sox will finish off their road trip in Baltimore for 3 and then head home for 4-game series with the Los Angeles Angels, and 3 games each against the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays. With 9 of their next 13 games against AL East opponents, the Sox can move up in the division and shrink the 3-game gap between them and the 2nd place New York Yankees with a strong showing. The home stand is even more important because of the team’s recent struggles in Boston, holding a poor 5-8 record at the Fens.
There are lots of questions still to be answered, but Sox fans have to be more optimistic now sitting at .500 than after the Sox horrid 4-9 start to the season. Pitching has been steadily improving and will add Dice-K into the mix on Saturday, while the offense has been strong thanks to the spark of young outfielder Darnell McDonald. As the chemistry continues to grow, the team begins to find their groove and hopefully continue to improve and gain confidence as the season progresses. Things are finally looking up in Boston.