It hasn’t been pretty for Boston sports fans over the last ten days.
The passionate fanbase has suffered crippling blows to three of its major sports teams. The tragedies have been wide-ranging, from a deflating championship defeat, to the departure of defining franchise figures, to even reports about several, horrendous crimes concerning one football player.
So what appeared would be a summer full of optimism and eagerness—as is most commonly attributable to Bostonian teams—quickly came crashing down.
Yet somehow a positive sign remains in the Boston sports scene: the team thought least likely to bring about hope in its season—the Red Sox—has surpassed all expectations.
This resilient baseball club has fought to overcome constant scrutiny and past hardships, as well as numerous problems on the baseball field. By having the best record in the American League at the midway point in the season, the Red Sox serve as the lone bright spot for a sports-crazed city searching for answers.
The encouraging signs first came from the top of the pitching rotation: Clay Buchholz (5-0) and Jon Lester (4-0) guided the overlooked Boston team to a .692 winning percentage in the month of April. The successful start for the two starters continued on into May as well, as the Red Sox won 17 of the 22 starts Buchholz and Lester made combined.
But the month of June hasn’t been as kind to the resurgent two-headed monster of the Sox pitching staff. While Lester has gone 2-2 with a ghastly 7.62 ERA, the true ace in Buchholz had his CY Young-caliber start cut short due to neck/shoulder issues—he’s spent the last nine days on the DL and has started just two games this month.
So how are the Red Sox—who weren’t necessarily built to contend this season—still 3.5 games clear of their next AL East rival, despite recent struggles to their main pitching options?
Pitchers from the rest of the rotation have simply stepped up and efficiently filled in the gaps. Take John Lackey, Ryan Dempster, Felix Doubront, and Alfredo Aceves for example.
Lackey, who seemed like the most hated athlete in the city just a year ago, has a contributed a sublime effort. Coming off Tommy John surgery last season, Lackey has allowed more than 3 earned runs just twice in his 13 total starts, as he’s held his total ERA just under 3.00 so far. And though he hasn’t had too much run support in 2013, he has a 2-0 record since Buchholz went on his DL stint, and has steadily increased his strikeout totals and decreased his walks allowed.
Ryan Dempster, the number 3 starter in the Boston rotation, has also been excellent making up for the decline of Lester and absence of Buchholz. All five of his outings in June have been quality starts, and although only recording a win in three of those games, has rebounded nicely from rough showings in May.
Alfredo Aceves—the fiery, unpredictable pitcher—has succeeded in all three of his last fill-in starts dating back to late May. Aceves lasted no more than 6 innings in any of his replacement efforts, but has only yielded 1 earned in each of the three starts. He perfectly filled in the voids in the Red Sox pitching staff, as he gave Boston wins in each of his three starts as well.
Perhaps Felix Doubront has performed the best as of late, albeit going unnoticed. The Venezuelan, in his 4th year, has posted a 2.73 earned run average in June, and has not allowed more than 3 ERs in any of his 5 starts. Doubront, like the other pitchers, has played a huge part in picking up the slack for the Boston rotation.
The commonality between all four of these pitchers is that they all stepped up the quality of their games once Buchholz and Lester had their struggles, a jumpy from mediocrity displayed in previous months: their ERAs have all hovered around 3.00, and were instrumental in keeping the Red Sox a top team in the league.
The overall pitching consistency—sustained by these four, mostly underappreciated starters—has not only given the Red Sox a chance at the playoffs, but has given Boston sports fans hope.