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Comebacks are a product of consistency for Sox

Posted by David D'Onofrio  August 8, 2013 06:14 AM

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As New England joyfully searches for an explanation as to how its local nine team keeps snatching victory from the fire late in games -- which they did again Wednesday night, when Stephen Drew drilled a three-run home run with an out in the ninth to deliver Boston a 7-5 win -- it's logical to praise the intangible. After all, these Red Sox are fun, vivacious, and likable. Those are feelings. And the Sox have this region feeling good.

Thus their late-game heroics are said to be a credit to their character, their attitude, their approach. To their professionalism, their guts, their preparedness. To their self-belief, their effort, their resilience. To the presence of their manager, their veterans, their leadership.

But let's not forget the tangible fact that may explain eight wins when trailing or tied in the ninth, 11 walkoff triumphs, and 27 come-from-behind victories better than anything: This lineup is relentless.

That's no groundbreaking revelation, obviously, considering the Sox woke up Thursday with the second-best offense in baseball. But drill a bit deeper into those 5.09 runs per game, with a particular eye on the way they're built from top to bottom, and that construction might be even more impressive than that aggregate total.

Many have noted that no Boston hitter beyond David Ortiz (and maybe Daniel Nava) is having a career year, which has spawned differing viewpoints about how sustainable the club's offensive success will be moving forward, though what those people miss when looking for the monster numbers is the remarkable depth and consistency throughout the Red Sox order, and how those stats look in the context of the league as a whole.

Check it out for yourself. Here's the Sox' typical lineup, with the on-base plus slugging and adjusted OPS of each player:

Jacoby Ellsbury, .793/115
Shane Victorino, .760/106
Dustin Pedroia, .787/115
David Ortiz, .999/168
Mike Napoli, .783/111
Jonny Gomes, .783/111 or Mike Carp, .923/147
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, .784/111
Stephen Drew, .779/110
Brock Holt, .564/56 or Brandon Snyder, .646/71

Look at that. It says that in every spot from 1-8 in the order, the Sox have received better production than expected when accounting for ballparks and the league as a whole. And when Nava's .791/115 numbers are thrown in the mix, that doesn't even change when their fifth outfielder is plugged in.

Entering Thursday, the average OPS for an American Leaguer is .724 -- yet every night John Farrell is writing out a lineup where everybody except the third base platoon is at least 36 points better than that. Furthermore, while Ortiz is the only Boston hitter inside the AL's top 24 in that category, most nights he's sharing the lineup with six hitters whose OPS is between .779-.793.

And that's a big reason why the Sox are so dangerous late in the game. While other teams might be hoping they get lucky, and the meat of their order happens to come around again in the ninth, it matters very little where Boston is in the order because there isn't a prolonged stretch of vulnerability anywhere in the lineup.

Take Wednesday as an example. Down a run in the ninth, the card said the Sox had their 6 and 7 hitters coming up with pitcher Drake Britton pinch-running at first and one out. Back in the early '90s, the television graphics would've told you one guy was hitting .239 and the other hitting .247.

But Gomes and Drew are much more threatening than those attributes would suggest, and they both showed why. Gomes worked a walk after a lengthy at-bat, then Drew stepped in and belted a Josh Fields fastball into the seats in right. Upon completion of a trot around the bases so stone-faced and business-like it had to be in homage to his brother J.D., the Red Sox' one-run deficit had turned into a two-run lead.

And subsequently their lead in the division stretched to 2.5 games as they were making their way to Kansas City, where they'll encounter a Royals team that's been among the hottest in baseball of late. Wednesday night, KC scored its 15th win in 20 games on the strength of 5.1 scoreless innings from its bullpen -- which had better be ready to come right back Thursday because these Red Sox don't quit late in games or when they're behind. They're confident. They've got chemistry. They grind.

Oh, and they can hit a little bit, too. From top to bottom.

Red Sox 7, Astros 5
12-for-37, 8 BB, 8 K, 2B, 2 HR
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF 0-for-5, 2 K: He failed to reach for the first time in 12 games, but he did at least do part of his job as the leadoff man, seeing a team-high 24 pitches.
Shane Victorino, RF 1-for-4, K: He was ejected in the top of the seventh after disputing a check-swing call from the previous inning, when he struck out with the bases loaded.
Dustin Pedroia, 2B 1-for-4, R, BB: It was an infield single for Pedroia, who chopped one over the mound and reached safely after the pitcher's glove slowed the ball down.
David Ortiz, DH 4-for-5: Of Ortiz's last 27 hits, 24 have been singles, but it's good enough to make him 8-for his last-9 and send him up to .332 for the season. The last Sox hitter with back-to-back four-hit games? Carl Crawford. Take that for what it's worth.
Mike Carp, LF 1-for-5, R: Carp stepped in at first base -- and filled did his best impression of the August version of Mike Napoli, going 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position, and hitting into two double plays. He did single, too, ahead of Gomes's seventh-inning circuit clout.
Jonny Gomes, LF 1-for-2, 3 R, 2 RBI, 3 BB, K: In high-leverage situations, Gomes is hitting .283 with a .943 OPS. In low-leverage situations, he's batting .224 with a .755 OPS. Seems about right.
Stephen Drew, SS 2-for-4, R, 3 RBI, BB, K: Since the All-Star break, his .998 OPS ranks behind only Wil Myers, Mike Trout, Edwin Encarnacion and Kendrys Morales among AL hitters with 50 ABs. (Ortiz is 6th.)
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C 2-for-4, 2B, BB, K: His 28th double put him in a tie with Napoli for the team lead, and over his last 10 games he's hitting .324 with a .943 OPS. Not bad for a guy who's now caught in 89 games this season.
Brock Holt, 3B 0-for-1, RBI, 2 BB: Three trips to the plate for Holt before giving way to Snyder (0-for-2, 2 K), and three productive trips: a run-scoring ground out and two free passes.
9 IP, 5 ER, 8 H, 12 K
Ryan Dempster, SP 6 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 7 K, HR: Dempster didn't allow a runner to second base in four of his six frames -- but didn't do a good job of limiting damage in the other two innings, letting three doubles and a homer explode into five runs.
Junichi Tazawa, RP 2 IP, 2 K: Two perfect innings for Tazawa further the notion that he's back on track. In August he's thrown 5.2 scoreless innings, allowing only two hits without a walk.
Koji Uehara, RP 1 IP, H, 3 K: There was a hit, but he threw 16 of his 19 pitches for strikes, and ultimately struck out the side. He's 6-for-6 in save opportunities since an unearned run blew one for him a month ago.
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About the author

Dave D'Onofrio is a sports journalist who focuses on the Red Sox and Patriots, and also writes's "Off The Field" blog about what Boston's sportsmen do away from the More »

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