Sox are rockin', go for sixth straight win

April, 18, 2013
4/18/13
10:54
AM ET
CLEVELAND -- Good morning from the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which Thursday night in a ceremony in L.A. is scheduled to induct a new class, one that includes Mission Hill’s Donna Summer, the disco queen who died last year at age 62. Christina Aguilera and Jennifer Hudson are scheduled to perform in her honor.

Meanwhile, no one is rocking the American League these days quite like the Red Sox, who tonight will be going for their sixth straight win against the Indians behind ace Jon Lester, who has a 1.42 ERA in his first three starts. Lester will be looking to improve his record to 3-0 after a no-decision against the Rays in his last start Saturday, in which he allowed a run in seven innings.

The Sox are 10-4, a record eclipsed only by Oakland (12-4) in the AL. Six games over .500 may appear a modest achievement, but it’s a level never reached last season by the Sons of Bobby Valentine, whose high-water mark came on July 1, when they were 42-37, then went 27-56 the rest of the way.

The team’s pitching staff has carried the club so far, a staff ERA of 2.66 is best in the AL. As a staff, Sox pitchers have struck out 141 batters in 125 innings, a league-best ratio of 10.2 K’s per nine. Sox starters have yet to give up more than three runs in any start, and overall, the Sox have held opponents to three runs or fewer nine times, with an 8-1 record.

Sox starters have an AL-best 2.30 ERA, so far cutting by more than half the 5.19 ERA they posted last season. Four other AL teams have a starters’ ERA of 3.50 or better: the Tigers, Rangers, Royals and Yankees. Last season, the Rays, with a major-league best starters’ ERA of 3.34, were the only team in the AL under 3.50.

The Sox are winning even though five batters are hitting .200 or less, and leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury has an on-base percentage of .299. They’ve held their own in low-scoring games, going 3-3 in games in which they’ve scored three runs or fewer.

Here’s some other matters of note:

-- Third baseman Will Middlebrooks has fallen into a horrific slump since his three-homer game in Toronto in the season’s sixth game on April 7. Middlebrooks is 2 for 30 with 12 strikeouts in his last eight games, and since his last hit, a single off Tampa Bay’s Alex Cobb on Sunday, Middlebrooks is hitless in his last 12 at-bats with 7 strikeouts.

Middlebrooks has struck out 18 times in 55 at-bats this season, a 30.5 percent rate, and has drawn just 3 walks. Evidence on fangraphs.com suggests Middlebrooks has expanded his strike zone, swinging at 32 percent of the pitches he sees outside of the zone.

-- Sox starters have allowed just one run in the first inning this season. The Sox, meanwhile, have scored 10 runs in the first inning, including a five-spot against the Jays on April 7 and three Wednesday night.

-- Ellsbury leads the majors in stolen bases with 6 and in triples with 3. This is the most steals Ellsbury has had this early in a season since 2009, when he also stole his sixth base in his 14th game. It was in 2009 that Ellsbury stole a club record 70 bases.

Ellsbury already has four infield hits, including one Wednesday night. Projected over 660 at-bats, the number he had in his last full season, 2011, Ellsbury would finish with 40 infield hits.

-- Stephen Drew has struggled at the plate since returning from the disabled list, with just 2 hits in 19 at-bats.

-- Mike Napoli has 8 RBIs in his last 4 games, which includes a two-run single in the first inning of Wednesday night’s 6-3 win. His 16 RBIs lead the club. Napoli is batting .333 (6 for 18) with runners in scoring position. With no runners on base, Napoli is batting .125 (3 for 24) with 11 strikeouts.

-- While the Sox bullpen has almost as many blown saves (3) as saves (4), they’ve allowed just 2 of 11 inherited runners to score.

-- Koji Uehara has faced 21 batters. Only two have reached, one by hit, one via walk. He is working on a career-best 18 consecutive scoreless innings, dating back to last Sept. 1, when he was with the Rangers. He has thrown a first-pitch strike to 18 of the 21 batters he has faced, an 86 percent rate.

-- Junichi Tazawa has 8 strikeouts, including the last 4 batters he faced Wednesday night, and no walks in 8 innings of work.

-- The Sox infield has yet to commit an error this season. The only errors charged to the club this season were a fielding errors by Ellsbury, who crossed signals with Shane Victorino on a flyball, and by rookie Jackie Bradley Jr.

-- Sox hitters rank second in the league in strikeouts (126) and walks (53). Napoli leads the team with 19 whiffs, with Middlebrooks right behind at 18.

-- Dustin Pedroia struck out three times, only the third time in his career he has whiffed three times in a nine-inning game. [He struck out four times in a 13-inning game against the Angels.]

Pedroia has reached base safely in all 14 games this season, and 24 straight games including the last 10 games in which he played last season, but as manager John Farrell noted, he has yet to get locked in at the plate. Pedroia so far has just two extra-base hits in 63 plate appearances, and his six hits with runners in scoring position have all been singles.

He has struck out five times in his last seven plate appearances, singling to right in the other two, and has 14 K’s in all in 2013. Last season, he had just 60 K’s in 623 plate appearances, a percentage of 9.6. So far this season he has struck out 14 times in 63 plate appearances, a 22.2 percentage. Pedroia has been batting third in the absence of David Ortiz instead of the 2-hole he told Farrell he preferred.

-- Red Sox pitchers have regularly given props to catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, with the team having a 2.67 ERA with him behind the plate. He is 0 for 7, however, in trying to throw out base-runners attempting to steal. David Ross has thrown out 2 of 5.

-- Ortiz went 0 for 4 with a strikeout Wednesday night and is batting .200 (3 for 15) on his rehab stint so far. He is scheduled to play again Thursday afternoon for the PawSox, and is expected to rejoin the Sox Friday night in Fenway Park.

-- Left-hander Franklin Morales, on the DL with a lower back strain, pitched three scoreless innings in a rehab start for the Class A Greenville Drive Wednesday night, allowing a hit and walking two while striking out one.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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