Bradford: How the Red Sox turned things around

Rob Bradford
August 09, 2017 - 11:48 pm

Kim Klement/USA Today Sports

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Watching the Red Sox roll over the Rays Wednesday night, it's hard to remember what life was like before they won eight in a row. (For a complete recap of the game, click here.)

Let's try.

Remember that last loss, when the bullpen suffered an eighth-inning implosion against the Royals one day before the non-waiver trade deadline? That made the Red Sox 8-14 since July 4, with John Farrell's team having slipped out of first-place. The David Price chaos was in full-swing thanks to the combination of details surrounding the Dennis Eckersley dust-up, and a sudden trip to the 10-day disabled list. And, to top it off, the Sox couldn't hit their way out of a paper bag, certainly not leaving their faithful holding their breath for home runs.

But now, as the Red Sox packed their things in the Tropicana Field visitors clubhouse, there is a different feel. Eight wins in a row will do that.

In fairness, it seems to be more than just the string of victories. There is undeniably an increased wave of confidence that this actually might be a team that is good enough. And that certainly wasn't the vibe emanating from this group in the final days of July.

So, what happened? How could a team that sat back and watched the Yankees pound the non-waiver trade deadline with acquisitions of Todd Frazier, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Jaime Garcia, and, most importantly, Sonny Gray, be the one that launched itself past the rest of the pack when walnut-crunching time came around? The chief impetus for the Red Sox' latest win, starting pitcher Rick Porcello, gave the riddle whirl.

"I don't necessarily if it was a feeling that we were about to come out of this," Porcello said. "It was more of an approach of taking one day at at time and win today. That's it. Win today's game and we'll worry about tomorrow when we get to tomorrow. We're on a nice little run right now. But it's more about the consistency of the next 48 games. Anybody can get hot on a 10-day stretch."

And the manager? He's pointing to the pitching.

During the win streak, the Sox hurlers have totaled a 3.04 ERA and .217 batting average against, striking out 84 and walking just 15. The starters have claimed wins in six of the games, while the relievers' ERA (1.16) and batting average against (.184) has been Yankees-esque. (Sorry Red Sox fans, New York's bullpen over the eight games has actually been just as good, carrying a 1.71 ERA.)

"We’ve continued to pitch consistently, and that will be the key for us," Farrell said. "The way that our starters are now stringing some games together, the run the bullpen has been on really all year and more so currently, we set the tone from the mound and we’re going to have to continue to do that as we go into this next series."

But really, if you want to decipher a difference-maker it might be that this version of the Red Sox can actually hit.

During the win streak the Red Sox are averageing 6.25 runs per game and have hit .298 with 34 extra-base hits, including 11 homers. And thanks to addition of Eduardo Nunez and the resurgence of top-of-the-order guys like Andrew Benintendi, who is hitting .500 over his last six games, the line is moving just enough that they can survive on nights like these, when no home runs are in the offing.

The Red Sox can say that they knew they would be good enough before this surge, but that would have been an unbelievable leap of faith. Now there is some evidence, and it didn't solely come against the Four-A Chicago White Sox. The Rays entered the night as a playoff team, and Farrell's club was the one that marked its territory.

No, this isn't the 11-game win streak the Red Sox put on last September. That basically buried their competition. Nobody is buried thanks to this run.

The Yankees could swing right back into things with a good series over the weekend. And, in case you missed it, the Indians are doing their darndest to classify themsevles as the team to beat thanks to the juggernaut that is Corey Kluber and Wednesday night's acquisition of Jay Bruce. Then there is Houston, the team that still sits 29 games over .500 and finishes off the regular season with a four-game set at Fenway Park.

This can easily go the other way. Dustin Pedroia's knee appears to be uncertain, at best. Rafael Devers has proven to be mortal in the past few games. Nunez might actually not get a hit one of these days. And another injury to a starting pitcher could drastically change this team's landscape, particularly if that pitcher's name rhymes with Miss Pale.

These Red Sox are enjoying life as a first-place team. And that might be the most telling development of all.

What a difference eight games can make.

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