With the latest reminder that they're a really, really good baseball team -- which Saturday took the shape of a solid, 5-1 dismissal of the Yankees -- the Red Sox have the best record in the major leagues this season (91-59). They also have the best record in the bigs over the previous 10 games (8-2), previous 20 games (16-4), and previous 30 games (20-10).
So not only have they been the best since April, they're playing the best as October approaches. They've also won more games against .500-or-better teams than any club in baseball (50), and have the best home record in the American League (49-25), plus the AL's second-best road record (42-34).
They're now the the second Sox team since 1951 (and the first since 1986) to win 91 of their first 150 games, having proven along the path to that distinction that they're not especially vulnerable in any specific circumstance or area -- yet come Monday there'll unquestionably be a sect of Doubting Thomases (or Mikes or Tonys) who take to the airwaves trying to justify their feelings that this team will ultimately fail.
But they'll have to do it without what became one of their favorite criticisms earlier this summer. Because after beating CC Sabathia the Sox have won 10 straight games in which the opposing starting pitcher was left-handed -- and now have baseball's best record in such contests, at 32-19. Percentage-wise, that's better than their 59-40 record against righties.
So, as it turns out, maybe they can hit lefties after all.
There have been some stinkers among the 10 pitchers they've faced over the current streak, though half of them have an ERA at least as good as the American League average -- including the Rays' David Price and the Dodgers' Hyun-jin Ryu.
But let's not limit the evaluation to that stretch. Over the length of the season, against left-handed starters the Sox lead all of baseball in runs, hits, doubles, homers, walks, and total bases. They're second to Texas in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and (naturally) OPS, and third in batting average.
So even if the eye test tells you the Sox could be vulnerable to southpaws in the postseason, the statistical evidence says they're actually less vulnerable than other teams. And take a look around, at the AL contenders. There may not be many lefty starters to deal with, anyway.
Detroit's entire starting staff is right-handed. Oakland has Tommy Milone, but he may not secure the fourth spot in their rotation. Texas and Tampa would both use two lefty starters, but if either of those scuffling clubs should fall out of its wild-card spot, Celveland's only lefty starter is Scott Kazmir, the New York tandem of Sabathia and Andy Pettitte wouldn't scare the Sox at this point, while Kansas City and Baltimore each has only a Chen (Bruce and Wei-Yin, respectively) throwing from the left side.
So if questions about their ability to hit left-handed pitching were the reason you were hesitant about the Sox' chances of winning in October, it might be time to find another.
Or, better yet, just enjoy what's become a rather remarkable ride.
|Dustin Pedroia, 2B||1-for-5, R: So far so good with Pedroia hitting out of the leadoff spot, as he's hitting .304 and the club has won four of five with him batting at the top.|
|Shane Victorino, CF||2-for-3, RBI, 2B, SB: After being asked to execute a sacrifice bunt in the second -- his career-high ninth of the year -- he doubled and singled off C.C. Sabathia, and mixed in his 21st stolen base of the season for good measure (swiping third without a throw).|
|David Ortiz, DH||1-for-4, R, RBI, 2B: It was just a beautiful piece of hitting in the third, when he took Sabathia's pitch to the left-field corner, scoring Pedroia after Victorino bunted him to second.|
|Mike Napoli, 1B||2-for-2, 2 R, 2 BB: Mark Bellhorn is safe for another day, as Napoli remains at 176 strikeouts for the season -- one behind the 2004 second sacker's club-record 177.|
|Jonny Gomes, LF||2-for-2, RBI, 2 BB, 2B: Like Napoli, the Yanks never got him out -- and when he singled home Ortiz in the third, it was his 13th hit and 21st RBI in 32 at-bats with runners in scoring position since August.|
|Daniel Nava, LF||0-for-2, RBI, K: He didn't reach himself, but he helped with both a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly, the latter producing his 62nd RBI. Four more and he doubles his previous career high.|
|Will Middlebrooks, 3B||0-for-4, RBI, 3 K: It was the third three-strikeout game of the season for Middlebrooks, though when the team needed a ball in play to break the ice, he brought Napoli home with a grounder to short.|
|David Ross, C||1-for-3, R, BB, 2 K: With a single and a walk, Ross has now reached base in six of his seven starts since returning from his latest DL stint.|
|Xander Bogaerts, SS||0-for-3, BB, 2 K: Sabathia walked the rookie on five pitches in the fourth, when the Sox answered the Yankees' lone run. Bogaerts also racked up seven assists as Jon Lester registered a dozen ground ball outs.|
|Jon Lester, SP||8 IP, ER, 3 H, 2 BB, 5 K: Take out a brutal month in the middle of the year, and in 24 other starts his ERA is 2.69. Saturday just furthered the case that he should be the Sox' No. 1 starter in the playoffs.|
|Franklin Morales, RP||IP: Make it 16 of the 18 hitters he's faced since Aug. 30 that Morales has retired, and that -- combined with Farrell's gushing about the improvement in his stuff -- fortify the suggestion that he could be the lefty that joins Craig Breslow in the bullpen for the postseason.|
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