The Boston Red Sox reached the .500 mark for the first time in 2012 with their best pitched, lowest scoring game of the season. Behind seven scoreless innings by Jon Lester, the Red Sox beat the Chicago White Sox 1-0 to improve to 10-10 on April 28, recording their sixth consecutive win to remain perfect on their AL Central road trip. The Red Sox will look for their second straight sweep on April 29, when Josh Beckett faces Gavin Floyd in the finale.
The Red Sox have certainly been swinging the bats with authority; they lead the league in runs averaging six per game with a team on-base percentage of .350. Mike Aviles, Ryan Sweeney, Cody Ross and the catching platoon of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Kelly Shoppach are joining usual suspects Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz with outstanding starts to the season. Through 20 games, the team has already scored ten or more runs five times. The health of the outfield remains a concern, but the heart of the lineup is in great shape.
More importantly, Boston's pitching has been much better, particularly that of the much maligned bullpen. Obviously the loss of Andrew Bailey was ill-timed and Mark Melancon's sudden inability to miss bats compounded the problem. But following a brutal start to the season, Boston's relievers have quietly put together a great week of pitching, posting a 0.57 ERA and 13/3 K/BB through the first six games of the road trip.
The Red Sox also infused some talent into the bullpen with the additions of Junichi Tazawa and lefty-killer Rich Hill. Over 44.1 innings in the upper minors between 2011 and 2012, Tazawa punched out 55 batters with only 12 walks; since being called up, he's given the Red Sox six scoreless innings of relief. Hill was excellent in both AAA and the majors over the last two years before undergoing Tommy John surgery. While the team still lacks that top shelf reliever, the bullpen has improved depth and should be better equipped to support the starting staff and prevent meltdowns. Getting the kind of strong starting pitching they've received in recent games also goes a long way to limiting the number of outs demanded from the pen.
William Menna is a native New Englander and longtime Boston sports fan.
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