McAdam: How did Red Sox get where they are?
How did the Red Sox get where they are?
Six weeks ago, the Red Sox being part of the 2016 postseason was hardly a foregone conclusion.
The team stood three games out of first, lodged in third place in the division and though they were among the wild-card leaders, and there was no guarnatee that the playoffs were a certainty.
The Red Sox faced the prospect of a demanding four-city road trip first, followed by their third West Coast trip of the season, with road-heavy September scheduled to follow.
Improbably, six weeks later, the Red Sox are sitting with 92 victories, have already clinched a playoff spot, and need to win just two of their remaining six games to clinch the division.
Now, the same team that semed to be teetering a little more than a month ago must now be regarded as the team to beat in the American League.
How did it happen? A look at some of the reasons.
The bullpen roles got sorted out
In retrospect, no move was bigger than the return, on Labor Day, of Koji Uehara.
Once he came back from a pectoral injury, the rest of the bullpen began to take shape. Uehara reclaimed the eighth-inning job and made it his own again. Since returning, he's appeared in nine games, has allowed five hits, walked none, struck out 11 and given up no runs.
Uehara's ownership of the eighth allowed the Sox to utilize Brad Ziegler and Matt Barnes in the sixth and seventh, while sprinkling in lefties Robbie Ross Jr. and Robby Scott.
Suddenly, what was a weakness became a strength. This month, the Red Sox bullpen has a collective 0.96 ERA and has stranded all but two inherited runners.
The starting rotation began performing far better
In late August, Rick Porcello was the only starter on a roll. But David Price soon becanme much more consistent, Eduardo Rodriguez overcame a second injury, and Clay Buchholz proved invaluable as a replacement starter.
Actually, the rotation began showing signs of a turnaround a month or so earlier. Since July 9, the Sox have posted a 3.44 ERA, the lowest figure in the American League in that span and the second-lowest in all of baseball.
Even without Steven Wright (DL, and presumably done for the year) and a spotty month from Drew Pomeranz, the Red Sox now have four starters (Porcello, Price, Rodriguez and Buchholz) around which they can build a formidable postseason rotation.
Their top two of Porcello and Price is performing as well, if not better, than any duo in the game.
Hanley Ramirez's second-half awakening
For much of the season, the Red Sox were carried principally by Mookie Betts and David Ortiz, two legitimate MVP candidates.
But too often, the offense was all or nothing. When the Sox weren't hammering teams with double-digit outputs, they were being silenced, limited to a run or two.
The emergence of Ramirez as a true run-producing source in the second half gave the Red Sox anther middle-of-the-order presence. Even if Betts or Ortiz could be shut down, it was unlikely that Ramirez would, too.
Since the All-Star break, Ramirez leads all of baseball with 62 RBI and he's provided 13 homers in the last 27 games.
Learning how to win close games -- and some low-scoring ones, too
For the first 4 1/2 months -- or so it seemed -- if the Red Sox didn't slug teams into submission, they didn't win.
They appeared incapable of winning pitching duels. On the occasions when their starters limited the opposition, the lineup didn't provide enough backing.
Their futility was frequently cited by noting how few games they had won in scoring three runs or fewer, and their losing record in close games was also seen as further damning evidence.
But look at what's happened recently. Four of their last 11 wins have come by a run, with three others won by a margin of two runs.
Moreover, the Red Sox have lately shown a comeback ability that they'd lack in the first two-thirds of the season. In 5 of their last 11 wins, the Sox were trailing after five innings. In their recent four-game sweep of the Yankees, Boston overcame deficits of three runs or more in three of the victories.
The road was conquered
Remember the forecasts that the Sox would be done in by their road-heavy second-half schedule, where almost two-thirds of their last six weeks would be played away from Fenway?
Instead, the Sox used that schedule to bond and overcome obstacles.
Since the All-Star break, the Sox have won nearly two-thirds of their road games (27-14). Overall, their 46 road wins are the biggest total among A.L. teams and seconly only to St. Louis in the major leagues.
Instead of dooming the Sox, all those road games seemed to have only made them stronger.
Against division opponents on the road this month, the Red Sox are an incredible 9-1 with three more games set for New York this week.