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So far, Sox have found a winning formula

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  May 22, 2009 10:54 AM

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Roughly one quarter of the way through this 2009 season, the Red Sox are on pace for 99 victories. The Sox have won all of the games they should have and some of the ones they shouldn’t, which is precisely the formula they used in 2007.

That year, thanks to a bullpen that was the strength of the team, the Red Sox essentially led wire-to-wire en route to their second world title in four seasons. So far, this team is on a similar path. With last night’s 5-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park, the Red Sox improved to 25-16 overall and a perfect 19-0 when leading after six innings, the latter of which is an obvious reflection on their ability to protect leads.

Toss in comebacks like the ones the Sox had against the Orioles and Yankees earlier this season, and what you have is a simple formula that looks like a hardball version of paint-by-numbers.

Which brings us to…

16-4 The Red Sox’ record at home, where they continue to steamroll opponents during the Theo Epstein Era. This year, the Sox are taking their home field advantage to a new level. Since the season-opening series against Tampa Bay, the Red Sox are 15-2 at home. In those games, they are batting .318 with 118 runs (an average of 6.9 per contest) and a .951 OPS. That’s almost like sending Hanley Ramirez (.970 OPS) to the plate for every at-bat.

3 Occasions, at a minimum, in which the Red Sox demonstrated baserunning acumen in the series against the Jays. Last night, Jacoby Ellsbury advanced to third on a grounder to the left side and Dustin Pedroia made a terrific slide into second base on a double. On Tuesday, for all that was made of Mike Lowell’s decision to break for third base, J.D. Drew’s ability to read Lowell’s actions were just as important. Drew got to third on the play and then scored the second run on a sacrifice fly in what was an eventual 2-1 victory. The following day, Drew said he saw Lowell taking a big lead and anticipated the break, miraculous given Lowell’s lead-footed nature. Another runner might have been caught by surprise and failed to advance. And rightfully so.

12 Double plays Lowell has grounded into this season, tops in the majors. Lowell is on pace to hit into 47 double plays, obliterating the major league record of 36 set by Jim Rice in 1984.

302 Runs batted in by Lowell during his Red Sox career, more than any other Sox player but David Ortiz (361) during that span. That is true despite the fact that Lowell was a shell of himself during the second half of last season. Lowell’s career average with the Sox is .296 (2006 to present). Prior to coming to Boston, in 2005, he batted .236.

3 Pitches seen by David Ortiz during his first two at-bats last night, during which Ortiz went 0 for 2 with a pair of groundouts. During his third at-bat, Ortiz got to the fifth pitch of the at-bat before ripping a curveball to right field for a single, a sign that is he is now, perhaps, staying back on breaking pitches. In his final at-bat, Ortiz lined out to second baseman/short fielder Aaron Hill on a fastball down and in, another good sign. For much of this season, Ortiz has been unable to hit the inside fastball and looked off-balance on off-speed pitches.

14 Pitches seen by Kevin Youkilis in his first two plate appearances last night, supporting the contention of one Blue Jays evaluator that Youkilis has the best at-bats in the American League. Earlier this week, when informed that the Sox played a 2-hour, 13-minute game behind Tim Wakefield on the night before Youkilis returned from the disabled list, Youkilis had another explanation. ``That’s because I wasn’t here,’’ he cracked.

44 Runs batted in by Jason Bay, who is demonstrating an improved ability to drive the ball to the opposite field despite obvious strength when pulling the ball. During his time in Boston, Bay has impressed Sox officials and teammates alike with his work ethic and professionalism, regardless of the situation. Earlier this year, when the Sox were getting blown out late in Anaheim, Bay backed up a play at third base and showed no signs of letting up. ``We noticed that,’’ captain Jason Varitek said of other Sox players.

1 Errors made by the Sox during the series with the Jays, a good sign, particularly at shortstop. Though the range on the left side of the infield remains a concern given past injuries to Lowell and Julio Lugo, the latter looks to be moving better than he did as recently as 10 days ago. Lowell, meanwhile, looks to be getting down the line much better than earlier in the season, when the effects of offseason hip surgery were quite evident.

180-34 Since Sept. 1, 2005, when Jonathan Papelbon ascended to set-up man status, the Red Sox’ record in Papelbon’s 214 career regular season appearances, a winning percentage of .841. Papelbon last night converted his 11th save in 11 opportunities this year, improving the Red Sox’ record to 16-2 in his 18 outings. Since becoming the Sox closer in 2006, Papelbon has converted 89.9 percent of all save opportunities, third among all closers in baseball (minimum 100 saves) behind only Mariano Rivera and Francisco Rodriguez.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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