With the Rangers falling 4.5 games behind the Sox last night, Boston's position in the postseason is looking more secure by the day. Assuming they make it — we take nothing for granted — the Sox would have the following three starters opening the series:
- Josh Beckett, 15-6, 124 ERA+, 8.4 K/9, 3.5 K/BB, 1.15 WHIP
- Jon Lester, 13-7, 144 ERA+, 10.1 K/9, 3.5 K/BB, 1.20 WHIP
- Clay Buchholz, 5-3, 129 ERA+, 6.2 K/9, 1.6 K/BB, 1.37 WHIP
The best part is that all three of these pitchers may be better than their season-long numbers indicate. Beckett's numbers are depressed by four lousy starts that appear to be behind him (before that, he had posted a 1.89 ERA in 15 starts between May 23 and Aug. 12). Buchholz is obviously the least known commodity, but his past eight starts (2.77 ERA, .577 OPS allowed) have shown an improvement from good-but-lucky to dominant. Lester, of course, has been insane for a really long time: 10-2, 2.02 ERA, 149 Ks in 19 starts since May 31. Give him a full season with those numbers, and Lester would strike out 267 in 231 innings. He's also held batters to a .198/.259/.275 line in that span.
Even without the various caveats, those full-season numbers are very good, and it led me to wonder: What's the best 1-2-3 combo the Sox have ever had entering a postseason, and how has that worked out?
The Sox have reached the postseason an even 20 times. Well, technically 19, thanks to John McGraw's decision to forego the World Series in 1904 when he thought the New York Highlanders were a lock to win the AL pennant. Oops.
We'll focus on the early dynasty first, then address the oh-so-close World Series/ALCS teams from 1946-90 in Part 2, then look at the Sox staffs from the division-series era (1995-present) in Part 3.
Especially during the dead-ball era, we'll stick with ERA+ as our first line of measurement, and dig down from there.
- Cy Young, 145 ERA+
- Bill Dinneen, 134
- Tom Hughes, 117
- Cy Young, 136
- Jesse Tannehill, 131
- Bill Dinneen, 122
- Norwood Gibson, 121
The first Red Sox "dynasty" of the early 1900s featured deep pitching staffs led by Cy Young and Big Bill Dinneen. The inclusion of Jesse Tannehill in 1904 made the starting rotation fearsome indeed. George Winter was also well above average that year, but, alas, no World Series for the defending champs, who in 1903 started Young, Dinneen and Hughes in the first three games of the first World Series.
In fact, those three were the only starters in the eight-game World Series. Heck, they were the only Sox pitchers, period! Young made the only relief appearance for the Americans — relieving Hughes who gave up two runs in two innings in his lone start. Dinneen posted a 2.06 ERA in four starts, below his season average, and Young held the Pirates to the tune of a 1.85 ERA in three starts and that relief stint.
- Joe Wood, 178
- Ray Collins, 135
- Buck O'Brien, 132
We need to mention that all these postseason discussions should be remembered in light of the pervasive gambling that occurred during the era. The 1919 Black Sox scandal is memorable because the ChiSox got caught, but they were not the only team to throw games during the World Series — the Americans/Red Sox and their opponents did, as well, usually in a kind of trade-off to keep it "fair." When you see players like Cy Young in Gmae 1 of 1903 and Joe Wood in Game 7 of the 1912 Series turn in wretched performances while they dominate every other time on the mound, well… judge for yourself.
This was the best Red Sox team of all time, with the best season of all time from one of their best pitchers of all time. Wood was phenomenal, and Collins and O'Brien were no slouches either. In fact, all five Sox starters finished in the Top 20 in ERA (with these three in the top 6). Yet the Sox were handily outpitched by the Christy Mathewson/Rube Marquard-led New York Giants. The Red Sox won every game by one or two runs, while the Giants won every game but one by at least three runs, plus there was the Game 2 tie, the only contest in which the Sox managed more than four runs.
In the end, it came down to Wood vs. Mathewson, reminiscent of the regular season's Wood vs. Johnson duel that enraptured Boston. The game was tied 1-1 through nine, and the Red Sox came from behind to win Game 8 — and the Series – 3-2 in the 10th. Both starters turned in complete games.
- Joe Wood, 187
- Ernie Shore, 170
- Rube Foster, 132
- Babe Ruth, 158
- Dutch Leonard, 117
- Carl Mays, 116
- Joe Bush, 127
- Carl Mays, 122
- Babe Ruth, 121
- Sam Jones, 119
Joe Wood would blow out his shoulder after the 1912 season but rallied for one last dominant campaign in 1915. He was ably replaced by Babe Ruth and a cast of starters who would later be Yankees together — Carl Mays, lter famous for killing a batter with a pitch, and Ernie Shore, famous for completing a no-hitter after Ruth was ejected arguing balls and strikes on the first batter. Foster was no slouch either, and Dutch Leonard will hold probably forever the modern single-season ERA record, which he set in 1914. In 1918, Joe Bush and Sad Sam Jones provided the depth that made the Sox' last Series-winning staff for a while solid if not spectacular.
The '15 staff joins the '12 staff in the race for best Red Sox starters of all time. Leonard and Ruth posted a 118 and 114 ERA+ respectively, and Mays added a few starts, as well. It was that depth that proved so overwhelming to the Phillies in the World Series. Shore was outpitched by Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland "Pete" Alexander in Game 1, but Alexander lost to Leonard in Game 3, the middle of a three-game stretch in which the Sox starter (Foster, Leonard and Shore) pitched a complete game and allowed just one run. The three were the only pitchers the Red Sox would need, and they combined for a 1.84 ERA and 0.84 WHIP in the five games. Yes, that's good, even for the dead-ball era.
The same held true in 1916, as the Sox' staff — Foster didn't start, but Ruth and Mays did — put up a scanty 1.65 ERA in five games against the Brooklyn Robins. Only Mays ran into trouble, turning in a subpar relief effort in a Game 1 win and a subpar start in a Game 3 loss.
Ditto 1918, as Bush, Jones, Ruth and Mays pitched all six games of the Sox' 4-2 win over the Cubs — a win that featured four one-run games and in which no team ever scored more than three runs in a game. The Sox were outpitched again — their 1.70 staff ERA looks enormous next to Chicago's 1.04 — but one-run wins gave them their last title for a while.