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Why Boston is in First and Toronto is Not: Pitching

Jared Wickerham

In looking for writing inspiration today I searched around for Blue Jays articles on the web and came across this Richard Griffin piece about John Farrell getting the last laugh. Aside from making me have another bout of frustration over this season, it also made me wonder why the Red Sox were in first place and the Blue Jays were in last as they prepare to meet for a three game set this week. The answer is certainly not John Farrell if you were wondering.

Even though the Blue Jays have just under $120 million invested in this year's team, good enough for 10th in the league, Boston has just under $160 million tied up in the 2013 edition of the Red Sox, which puts them 4th in the league. This advantage is made worse by the fact that the Blue Jays have been torn apart by injuries, while the Red Sox have cruised fairly comfortably especially on the starting pitching front. Aside from losing Clay Buchholz for longer than they expected, the Red Sox have had a solid year from their rotation, which has kept them in games much more often than Toronto.

To make the comparison easy, the Red Sox have four starters with over 100 innings pitched this season (Lester, Dempster, Lackey and Doubront) not to mention the fact that Jake Peavy has thrown 92 innings this year although only 12 of them have been post-trade from the White Sox. The 2013 Blue Jays have just two starters over 100 innings this season in R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle, while the fifth most used pitcher on the staff is actually a reliever in Aaron Loup. The lack of starter depth for the Blue Jays compared to the Red Sox plus the fact that Boston has avoided injury this year goes a long way towards explaining why one team is fighting for the playoffs, while the other is in the basement.

Just staying healthy isn't the only important thing for the starters either, performing well is just as key and once again the Red Sox are head and shoulders above the Blue Jays in that regard. There are five starters with at least 10 starts on the Red Sox and four of them have an ERA safely below 4.50. On the Blue Jays there are also five starters with at least 10 starts and there are only two pitchers who have a sub 4.50 ERA and they are Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey who both have ERA's in the 4.40's.

You may think that the strength of the Blue Jays in their bullpen would make up the pitching difference between the teams, but the Red Sox have equally as strong of a bullpen on the front end with Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, and Craig Breslow. As a whole the Blue Jays' bullpen has been slightly better (3.41 ERA vs. 3.74 ERA), but not enough to make a significant difference with such poor starting pitching performances this year.

As you're all likely aware, a lot of the problems with this year's Blue Jays team begins and ends with poor starting pitching. The Red Sox are a good team to look at when wondering what might have been if the rotation had performed to expectations. Boston is sitting at the top of a playoff chase with an offense not that much better than the Blue Jays due to a rather unexpected year of great starting pitching from multiple guys who stayed healthy and excelled. A look at the differences in the two teams' offenses will come tomorrow after the first game of the series.