BOSTON -- Pitching has undeniably been the Red Sox' problem all season. Both the bullpen and starting rotation have been frustrating, day after day.
Whether it’s the team ERA, which ranks 12th in the American League -- and 21st overall in the major leagues -- or overcoming the “one bad pitch” excuse that the Sox continue to use when opposing hitters launch rockets out of the ballpark, something has to change.
As of late -- particularly in the last three series -- the struggle seems to have worsened. Boston has given up 58 earned runs since May 27, the fifth-highest total in MLB over that stretch. Some teams did play 9 games to Boston’s 10 but the Red Sox' team ERA in that time was 5.89 . . . 26th overall. In addition, the Sox have been the fourth-worst team in surrendering home runs (19) during that period.
And while the numbers are disturbing enough, there's another worrisome thread running through this:
All 10 games were against A.L. East teams.
The Sox are now 14-15 in games with teams from their division, and it's surprising just how bad their pitching has been versus A.L. East foes.
In those 29 games, totalling 257 2/3 innings, Boston has a team ERA of 4.96. And the two numbers that jump out are 40 and 102.
40 -- The number of home runs Red Sox pitchers have allowed in those 29 games.
102 -- The number of batters they've walked.
We're back to a time when some of the game's best offenses are in the A.L. East, and the Red Sox pitchers are paying the price.
“It just seems like A.L. East teams have much more of a power threat than some of the other teams,” Rick Porcello said on pitching in Boston’s division. “A lot of other teams are built around speed, contact and moving runners.
“The A.L. East just has a lot of guys that can hit the ball out of the ballpark. It makes it tough in a lot of ways because if you make one or two mistakes then that could be the difference in the game.”
The Red Sox have played the second-highest number of intradivision games in the A.L. East, which partly explains why they've given up the most home runs. Still, Toronto has played six more divisional games than Boston and has given up five less home runs. The Yankees have surrendered eight less, in two less games, and the Orioles have allowed 22 homers in 21 games against the A.L. East. Only Tampa Bay (32 homers allowed in 24 games) is similar to the Sox in this category.
Boston’s team ERA is also worst in the division -- by far. The Yankees are a distant second, at 4.12.
That's the bad news.
The good news is, the Red Sox play 15 of their next 18 games outside the A.L. East, starting Tuesday night in San Francisco. And against everybody else, their pitching isn't so bad.
The staff has a 4.40 ERA against the A.L. West, better than all Eastern teams except Toronto. And its 3.41 ERA against the A.L. Central is fifth-best in the American League -- and better than everyone else in the East.
Clearly, Boston has an issue pitching against its divisional rivals.
“A lot of power bats and a lot of small ballparks -- you put those together, there’s going to be a lot of runs,” closer Craig Kimbrel, who spent the early part of his MLB career in Atlanta and San Diego, said of his new division. “You’ve got minimize your damage. I think sometimes you go out there and give up one run in an inning and can look at it as a successful inning, especially with some of the lineups and damage that can be done.
“I wouldn’t say it’s as big a difference [in talent] as the A.L. East to the rest of the league, but I’d say the ballparks we play in contribute to that, as well. I wouldn’t say it’s an issue. I’d say it’s part of the [division] that we play in and the way that these lineups are structured for the ballparks they play in.”
Although the East has launched the most dingers, the parks haven’t entirely been the problem to this point. Yankee Stadium and Tropicana Field are among the top-10 MLB parks for most home runs allowed on average, but Camden Yards, the Rogers Centre and Fenway Park rank 13th, 15th and 16th respectively – seventh, eighth and ninth in the A.L.
Those 102 walks, however . . .
The Red Sox average 3.56 walks every nine innings in the division. And while the Orioles aren't far off (3.45), they give up far fewer home runs on average.
That really amplifies Kimbrel’s statement, “You’ve got to minimize your damage.”
So are the “one bad pitches” part of the problem? Absolutely.
But the real problem is the free passes leading up to it. Because if you look at the home runs allowed by Boston in general -- not just the A.L. East -- 34 have come with a runner on.
Hits and home runs will happen. But the formula seems pretty simple:
Don’t walk so many guys and there won’t be so many problems.
Follow Nick Friar on Twitter @ngfriar.