Boston's Barrage

RED SOX ON FIRE SINCE HORRIBLE 2-10 START

We told you at the time it was a long season, and that there would be plenty of time for the Boston Red Sox to bounce back from a very slow start to the 2011 season.

Well, 'bounce back' may be the understatement of the year. Boston has absolutely been ON FIRE since that poor start, and is on a 27-12 tear since that poor start.

If you're just looking at the newspaper standings, a record of 29-22 won't knock your socks off. Sure, it's a good record, particularly in a season of parity. But, it's vital that handicappers focus on what's happening NOW rather than let what happened seven weeks ago influence their thinking too much. Boston is playing like a 27-12 team…which means they're at the caliber of a team that would go 112-50 over a full season. Vegas isn't pricing them that way. Have you been betting them that way at Vegas sportsbooks?

Further, Boston's most recent form is even HOTTER...

4-0 the past few days
12-2 the past two weeks
18-7 the past 25 games (72% win rate---easy math at 25 games!)

And, frankly, you could make the case that even THOSE numbers understate has well Boston is playing. It's not like the Red Sox ran into a bunch of games against the worst teams in the league. Cleveland's been fantastic this year. Boston took two of three in Cleveland. The New York Yankees are a talented, hated rival. Boston swept the Yankees in New York. Detroit had shown recent signs of getting their act together. Boston had won four straight from Detroit heading into Saturday Night.

What's happened? Why is Boston suddenly so dominant? A few reasons.

*First of all, it's not a surprise that they're playing well. Because of off-season acquisitions, they were expected to be the best team in the American League. They're FINALLY playing in the neighborhood of expectations instead of dealing with a feeling out period that often happens with new rosters. This isn't a case of a bad team turning good. It's just a potentially great team erasing the memories of an awkward slump to start the season.

*John Lackey was taken out of the rotation. He's currently on the Disabled List with a right elbow strain. Sometimes that kind of injury is an actual strain. Sometimes, a team can't figure out what's wrong with a pitcher, and they give him a reason to take some time off. Lackey needed some time off! His ERA this year in seven starts was 8.01. Boston was 2-5 in those seven games. We should note that Lackey did have a few good outings. But, the bad starts were disasters. And, the fact that is last two were poor do suggest a potential injury. Boston let him throw 118 pitches in a bad game. He hasn't been in action since.

*Daisasuke Matsuzaka was also taken out of the rotation. He was having another feast or famine year, with the bad games looking really ugly. He's currently on the DL as well, and may have to undergo Tommy John surgery. Dice-K had an ERA of 5.30 this year.

*Adrian Gonzalez got his footing after the league switch, and is now showing everyone what a truly great hitter he is. Handicappers should have realized this anyway. He hit .298 with power last year playing half his games in San Diego's pitching paradise. It was logical that he'd explode in Fenway Park in a much better hitting environment. Through Friday Night, Gonzalez had a .338 batting average, a .385 on-base percentage, and a .549 slugging percentage.

*David Ortiz has 10 home runs. Big Papi had been a notoriously slow starter the past few seasons. He's in form now, which is a big boost to a team that was concerned he may have been dead weight given his age.

*Everyone's stopped talking about Carl Crawford! The opening slump corresponded with a horrible start by Carl Crawford (who really didn't start hitting well until a few days ago). And, THAT corresponded with a huge contract that got a lot of media run in the offseason. It seemed that all anyone could talk about in early April was Carl Crawford and how badly he was playing. Other stories took over the news (particularly with the Celtics for awhile in the NBA Playoffs and the Bruins in hockey). Once the media backed off, the team as a whole kind of relaxed and started taking care of business. Crawford didn't relax! His slump lasted longer than anyone had dreamed. But, it wasn't poison that was messing up the team. It was just a small thing they had to deal with while other players were producing.

Does this mean that Boston is now ready to roll to an AL championship? Hey, a baseball season is long. IT'S STILL EARLY! But, we do think the Red Sox should be seen by handicappers as a championship caliber team. They're playing better than they're full season record. They actually still have more upside because Carl Crawford isn't near career norms, and Tim Wakefield and Alfredo Aceves are stopgap place takers in the rotation pending injury news.

These are the big keys Boston has going for them in our view:

*Boston's offense is absolutely MURDERING right-handed pitching. Their left-handed bats are dynamic and dangerous. This isn't likely to change any time soon. They get to face a lot of right-handed pitching in the course of a season. Some teams will experiment with lefties out of the bullpen in hopes the platoon advantage will work in their favor. But, throwing mediocre or worst lefties at a great lineup isn't likely to work great based on historical indicators…particularly if Boston gets used to seeing that.

*Boston's 'big three' starting pitchers are in good form, and likely to stay in good form.

Josh Beckett: 1.69 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 58 K's in 64 innings
Clay Buchholz: 3.30 ERA, 1.33 WHIP
Jon Lester: 3.36 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 70 K's in 69.2 innings

Buchholz isn't getting a ton of K's this year, but is a ground ball pitcher who makes up for that by staying in control of the game and getting some double plays.

Assume Beckett will fall back to earth a bit given the extremes of those early numbers. You're still going to have an ace caliber pitcher followed by to more near-ace caliber pitchers. And, those guys will be throwing in front of an explosive lineup!  Few other AL teams can even think about matching that. Should the #4 and #5 spots in the rotation hold up, we're looking at a team that could go on some reallyl scary tears that last a month of two rather than a week or two. If you're going 5-1 now on the road against Cleveland and the Yankees…what's going to happen against everyone else?

We urge you to take a good look at Boston in their national TV game this afternoon in Detroit on TBS. To the degree you've watched them this season, most of the coverage was about how disappointing their start was. That's old news. REALLY OLD NEWS. They now have the look of a 100-win team. If you're hoping to win money the rest of the season betting baseball, it's important to stay in synch with how Boston and everyone else is playing right now.

JIM HURLEY may have a big play in that Red Sox/Tigers game today. He'll certainly have one for Cincinnati/Atlanta (Cueto/Jurrjens) on ESPN in prime time…as well as San Francisco/Milwaukee (Cain/Gallardo), and NY Yankees/Seattle (Sabathia/Vargas). One of our biggest plays for the month of May and the whole season is on tap somewhere on today's card. We won't say more than that!

You can always purchase game day selections from NETWORK right here at the website with your credit card. Be sure you take care of business early when there are day games. That goes without saying on a Sunday. But, tomorrow is MEMORIAL DAY which will have a busy early schedule too. If you have any questions about baseball or our NBA Championships package (Dallas/Miami starts Tuesday), call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Boston has been the hottest team in baseball the past few weeks. The HOTTEST MAN IN BASEBALL HANDICAPPING IS ALWAYS JIM HURLEY!

This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by VegasSportsMasters.com and JimHurley.com. For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.

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