*All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.
As the Red Sox' magic number dwindles down to four games for the American League East division and two games to acquire a playoff spot, I think fans can cautiously start to look towards the postseason and just how deep this team can go. The Red Sox currently have a nine-game winning streak and most likely have the American League Cy Young award winner in Rick Porcello and the American League Most Valuable Player in Mookie Betts or David Ortiz on the roster.
This Red Sox offense leads in almost every statistical category in the American League. They currently lead the AL in at-bats, runs, hits, doubles, batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS,. and total bases. Not bad for a team that does not have a legitimate option at third base, a shortstop playing first base, and a rookie/revolving door at left field, right?
However, the starting pitching and bullpen has been the most impressive part of this team down the stretch. In the month of September, the Red Sox have the major league's lowest bullpen ERA (0.77 ERA, 58 1/3 innings). The bullpen has been the weak link of this Red Sox team for the majority of the season. Koji Uehara was injured early in the season and Junichi Tazawa looked wildly fatigued from overuse. President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski acquired Brad Ziegler once he saw the fading bullpen and, while manager John Farrell has mysteriously been hesitant to use him, has been absolutely fantastic since shipping up to Boston from the Arizona Diamondbacks. In 28 games with the Red Sox, the 36-year-old has a 1.40 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 25.2 innings of work.
While Ziegler has been dominant, Koji Uehara has been just as good. Since returning from a right pectoral strain, the 41-year-old veteran has been lights out, and may have landed the eighth inning role from Farrell. This month, according to the Boston Herald, Uehara has a strikeout rate of 10.91 per nine innings, which is the second best in the majors, and has allowed only 1-of-23 inherited runners to score. Moving forward, Uehara may be the most important piece of the bullpen as the Red Sox enter the month of October.
Furthermore, Craig Kimbrel has proved to all of us why Mr. Dombrowski traded for his services (and maybe overpaid) this past offseason. While Kimbrel did struggle in the beginning of the season, a torn meniscus may have surprisingly been just what the doctor ordered. Prior to his three-week stint on the disabled list, Kimbrel had a 3.55 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 33 innings of work. However, since his return, Kimbrel has been borderline unhittable. In 17 innings, Kimbrel has a 0.53 ERA with 30 strikeouts, while batters are hitting .088 in that span. One interesting tidbit, according to the Providence Journal, may be Kimbrel's dip in velocity. Before being injured, Kimbrel's average fastball velocity was 98.6 MPH. Since returning from his injury, Kimbrel is averaging 97.3 MPH. With this dip in velocity has come more control, as Kimbrel has only three walks in his past 14 appearances, according to the Providence Journal. As a whole, the Red Sox have a second-half ERA of 2.99, which is the third best in all of baseball.
Lastly, we have the starting rotation. While Drew Pomeranz was solid in his last start against the Tampa Bay Rays (5 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 4 SO), he has been terrible since the Red Sox acquired his services at the All-Star break. Check out my article about Pomeranz from a few days ago here for a more detailed look at the lefty's struggles. David Price and Rick Porcello have been crucial in the second-half of the season, and it looks like the Red Sox have the one-two punch that they have been searching for since Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. According to Sox Notes, since July 9, David Price and Rick Porcello are a combined 20-4 with a 2.70 ERA and .217 opponent batting average (28 BB, 174 K). Even Clay Buchholz and Eduardo Rodriguez have stepped up in the month of September and I am actually excited to see these guys pitch every couple of days.
Look, I am not here telling you that the Red Sox have the bullpen of the Kansas City Royals and the starting rotation of a healthy Mets team, but they are more than serviceable. The Red Sox have been faulted for not being able to win close games, but it seems as if that is all they have done in September. With an offense like this, the pitching staff has to be average for the Red Sox to make a deep run in October. And I think they will do just that.