Braves youngster Alex Wood gave up one run over six innings in his start on Sunday night against the Phillies — a start in which Delmon Young struck out four times, seeing a total of 15 pitches — to help the Braves to another win. It was their tenth in a row. Meanwhile, the Phillies have gone 1-9 in that stretch. The Nationals have gone a more respectable 6-4. But everyone, obviously, has lost ground and the Braves now sit atop the NL East with a staggering 12.5 game lead.
The winning streak is impressive for a few reasons. First it began as the Braves lost Tim Hudson for the season, making many wonder if they’d have the starting pitching to maintain their division lead. Well, during the winning streak they’ve allowed more than four runs only once and three runs or fewer in seven of those games. Both the starters and the bullpen have been pretty fantastic.
Also impressive: the offensive contributions have come from a number of players. Chris Johnson is on fire, hitting nearly .350. Justin Upton and Jason Heyward are heating up after extended periods of “meh” since April. Even B.J. Upton has gotten into the act. The Braves have had various players carrying them on offense at times this season while most other bats have flailed (Justin Upton in April, Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman at times since then) but now they are finally seeing something more akin to a balanced attack.
Finally, it’s been interesting to see the streak go down against decent competition: the Braves have swept the Cardinals and a decent Rockies team and now they’ve dispatched a would-be division rival in the Phillies. Beginning today they play three against the Nats. While a 12.5 game lead is huge — ESPN has the Braves at a 99.9% probability of making the playoffs – a sweep of the Nats this week would basically break their opposition’s back.
Of course this is the Braves, a team which choked away a big division lead just two years ago. It just wasn’t this big, and for that to happen now would require something in baseball the likes of which is rarely if ever seen.
The Red Sox, who won the AL East last season with a 93-69 record, have under-performed so far this season, entering Wednesday’s action with just two more wins than losses at 23-21. The club hasn’t had a winning streak of more than two games since April 15-18. As a result, manager John Farrell may be on the hot seat, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported on Tuesday.
Beyond the mediocre record, Rosenthal cites two incidents that happened this season that caused Farrell’s stock to drop. The first was the brouhaha with the Orioles when Manny Machado slid into Dustin Pedroia at second base, causing Pedroia to suffer an injury. When reliever Matt Barnes intentionally threw a fastball at Machado, Pedroia was seen telling Machado, “It wasn’t me. It’s them.” The word “them,” of course, would ostensibly be referring to Barnes and Farrell.
The second incident happened last week when pitcher Drew Pomeranz challenged Farrell in the dugout after being removed with a pitch count of 97. Rosenthal suggests that some of Farrell’s players aren’t on the same page as the skipper.
Rosenthal also mentions that Farrell didn’t have the entire backing of the Red Sox clubhouse in 2013, when the club won the World Series. So the issues this year may not be unique; they may be part of a larger trend.
The biggest impediment in making a managerial change for the Red Sox is having a good candidate. After letting Torey Lovullo leave after last season to manage the Diamondbacks, the team’s two most likely interim candidates would be bench coach Gary DiSarcina and third base coach Brian Butterfield. DiSarcina has one year of managing experience above Single-A (Triple-A Pawtucket in 2013). Butterfield hasn’t managed in 15 years.