Starting pitching has Red Sox primed for run

Starting pitching has Red Sox primed for run

BOSTON -- Entering their third rivalry series of the season, which starts on Monday night at Yankee Stadium, the Red Sox still haven't gone on the extended run they've been striving for. But there's one subtle sign that says it might be on the way.

Finally, the Red Sox are producing one solid start after another, save for John Lackey's mediocre start (seven innings, nine hits, five runs) against the Tigers on Sunday afternoon.

But even with that glitch, Boston's starting pitchers have gone six innings or more in each of the past seven games.

In the six games that preceded Sunday's 5-1 loss at Detroit, the Sox reeled off five quality starts, going 4-1 with a 3.79 ERA. During that span, they held opponents to a .186 average.

Behind Daisuke Matsuzaka and ace Josh Beckett, the Red Sox will try to take two from the Yankees in this mini-series in the Bronx. Considering who New York is countering with -- Phil Hughes and CC Sabathia -- Dice-K and Beckett will likely both need to be at their best.

"We have had good pitching lately, and it helps when we're healthy which we are starting to get," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "I hesitate to make a blanket statement that our starting pitching has been [more consistent], but in general I agree with that thought. What we really had to do is stop falling behind on the count. Our good pitching starts with throwing strikes."

Strikes lead to wins, and thus far, the Red Sox don't have enough of them. They are 19-19, which has them in fourth place in the American League East, 7 1/2 games behind the Rays, 5 1/2 in back of the Yankees and 3 1/2 behind the Blue Jays, a team that was not even expected to contend.

Against the Yankees, the Red Sox have lost four of six, with all of the games played at Fenway Park. They will try to return the favor against New York in the Bronx.

"We've got the players who can get it done, we've just got to keep bringing it every day," said Lackey. "This is a tough division. You can't be around .500 for long if you're going to contend."

When the Red Sox started the 2010 season, they thought runs like that from the starters would be the norm and not the exception. The team was built to succeed behind their big three of Beckett, Jon Lester and Lackey. Especially when that trio was backed by a solid supporting staff of Clay Buchholz, Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield.

For a combination of reasons, it has taken until now for Boston to be able to put solid starts in succession. Lester started the year in a rut, but has now caught fire. Beckett has been an enigma, but he still carries the title of ace, which means the Red Sox think he will get on a roll in short order.

Lackey, aside from a couple of hiccups, has mainly come as advertised. Matsuzaka had the lumps a pitcher sometimes has in the first two starts back from the disabled list, but was brilliant in his previous outing, allowing three hits and a run while striking out nine against the Blue Jays. Buchholz has been effective more often than not, but is still searching for more consistency. Wakefield is on bullpen duty for now, but he proved again last week he can still be counted on for a quality outing when called upon.

If the Red Sox are going to be who they thought they could be, their starters are going to need to set the tone.

"We have a talented, durable rotation," said pitching coach John Farrell. "When they are pitching like this we have a chance to put together a nice run. We need to do that with more frequency, because we do have high expectations with our [starters]. We've been going deeper into games and that helps out our bullpen as well."

After a 7-3 homestand, the Sox opened their five-game road trip with a win in Detroit, only to lose the next two.

"We didn't play poorly, but we may have given a couple of extra outs and we can't do that against good teams," Francona said. "We need to throw strikes, because when you work ahead in the count, it opens up the plate for their offspeed stuff."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.