The Boston Red Sox Are Playing Their Best Baseball When It Matters The Most

Boston Red Sox starting pitcher David Price delivers to the Baltimore Orioles in the first inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park, Monday, Sept. 12, 2016, in Boston. Elise Amendola AP Photo

Five years ago, the Boston Red Sox had one of the worst months of September imaginable.

The 2011 Red Sox started September with a half-game lead in the American League East. They had two legit MVP Candidates in Adrian Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury. A division title seemed very possible, and even if that didn’t work out, the team seemed like a lock to claim the league’s wild card berth.

The Red Sox went 7-20 that month, they lost 6 of their final 8 contests. They didn’t just lose the division, they lost any chance at playing in the postseason. That collapse effectively ended an era in Boston.

Between the end of 2011 and the start of 2012, the team’s general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona both left. By the time the 2012 season had ended Francona’s replacement, Bobby Valentine was gone, as were a whole crew of high-priced players who had been brought to Boston to win big games, and ended up losing them in memorably catastrophic fashion.

Five years later, things are a near total opposite.

The 2016 Red Sox have already matched the 2011 Red Sox for wins in the month of September. They’re 7-3 so far, and their most recent wins have come against the teams that are most important for them to beat.

Their divisional rivals.

Last weekend the Red Sox won two of three against the Blue Jays in Toronto. Monday night the Red Sox pummeled the Baltimore Orioles 12-2 at Fenway Park.

The game was over by the end of the first inning. The Red Sox leapt all over former teammate and Orioles starting pitcher Wade Miley, meanwhile Boston’s ace, David Price was locked in.

It was 5-0 after the first, and by the time the night was over the Orioles had used four relievers to get through nine very long innings.

The Red Sox kept sending David Price out to the mound, and for eight innings he was very, very good. In fact if you eliminate two solo home runs courtesy of Chris Davis and Manny Machado, Price was nearly perfect for eight innings. He didn’t allow any other hits, he didn’t issue any walks and he threw in 9 strikeouts for good measure.

It was the perfect time for a near-perfect outing. The Red Sox needed eight relief pitchers to beat the Blue Jays in an 11-8 slugfest on Sunday. Price’s outing gave everyone except for Junichi Tazawa a much needed full day off, and with the increasingly effective Drew Pomeranz taking the mound on Tuesday night, there’s a decent chance that the Red Sox will be able to rest many members of their bullpen for another night.

It would be silly to not discuss the potent Red Sox offense.

A little more than a week ago, the Red Sox lost back-to-back heartbreakers to the Oakland A’s and San Diego Padres. The combined score of the two losses were Red Sox 1, other teams 3.

Since then the bats have come alive. Boston has won five of six, outscoring their opponents 50-19. The Red Sox have scored 10 or more runs five times this month.

Mookie Betts and David Ortiz will both compete for the AL MVP award. Dustin Pedroia has made the American League batting title into a legitimate race. The once all-but-certain batting champ, Jose Altuve has been in a slump.

On August 20, Altuve was hitting .366, barring a major slump, the AL batting title was all but assured to be his. Monday night Altuve was 0-for-5, his batting average is now .337.

Dustin Pedroia was hitting .298 on August 12, but since then he’s been on an absolute tear. Pedroia was 2-for-4 Monday night and his batting average is .330.

He is no longer a long shot to claim the AL batting crown, at this point he’s got about as good a shot as Altuve. A lot of this has happened since Red Sox manager John Farrell decided to move Pedroia into the leadoff spot, and drop Mookie Betts down into the four spot.

As a leadoff hitter Pedroia is posting amazing numbers.

He’s started 29 games hitting leadoff. He’s slashing .447/.470/.528 with 55 hits and 24 runs scored. He’s only struck out eight times batting at the top of the order.

The Red Sox win Monday night pushed Baltimore three games back in the AL East, the Blue Jays kept pace with Boston by narrowly defeating the Rays. The Yankees were red-hot, but have now lost two in a row to the Los Angeles Dodgers. New York is now five games back of the Red Sox.

Of all the teams in the AL East, no team has been playing better baseball when it counts the most than the Boston Red Sox.

After months of lamenting the team’s starting pitching, bullpen, and manager, all of sudden Red Sox fans may be finding themselves with very little to complain about.

Let’s hope the fans can make the needed adjustments.

 

About the Author

Ben Shapiro
Red Sox columnist for ESPN New Hampshire. Originally from Western Massachusetts, I currently live in New York City with my wife and dog. I've previously written for Huffington Post, Bleacher Report and MassLive.com

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