Dan Haren. Ubaldo Jimenez. Matt Cain. Tim Lincecum. The Red Sox have had to face some of the best pitchers the National League has to throw out there. The end result? A 13-5 record during Interleague play. And really, the Red Sox were a blown Papelpon save away from winning every Interleague series they had this season. That’s domination. So what’s that mean? It means the Red Sox have nothing to fear. If they make the playoffs, they’ll do so knowing they can chew up and spit out the best the Senior Circuit has to offer. The Red Sox absolutely destroyed the National League this year, going from nearly out of the playoff race to the current Wild Card leaders. And with the Yankees looking immanently beatable, there’s no reason the Red Sox should slow down now. I would not be surprised to see them leading the AL East by the All-Star Break.
How do we account for Boston’s success? To begin with, we need to admit that the hitters in the National League are just not as good as those in the American League. The American League’s designated hitter favors power offense, whereas the pitcher hitting in the National League forces teams to play small ball. This changes the nature of not only the ninth hitter (the pitcher), but the eighth hitter as well. Essentially, every NL lineup has two easy outs out of nine in it. That translates to six easy outs a game, or a minimum of two extra innings for starting pitching. When the Red Sox come to town, they may have to downsize their roster a little bit, but their eight-hole hitter is still stronger than their opponent’s. The NL starting pitcher can thus be expected to be eliminated an inning early.
You also have to consider that the later you get in the game, the more likely a team is to pull their pitchers for pinch-hitters. This means that while NL starters get a little extra rest because they go out earlier (I wonder how average pitch count measures up between the two leagues), bullpens tend to get used more. And the Red Sox feast against tired pitching. All it takes is one bad starting pitching performance in Interleague play to potentially kill an entire bullpen for a series. The Red Sox featured stronger starting pitchers than their NL opponents, giving way to a surprisingly more rested bullpen. The Red Sox are proving themselves to be a difficult team to come back against, while their resiliency has shown they can get back into any game that isn’t a blowout.
The only downside to Interleague play this season has been the injuries. Ace Clay Buchholz hyper-extended his knee. Dustin Pedroia broke his foot the day after hitting three home runs. And Victor Martinez hasa broken thumb and the same broken toe he had earlier. Add this to Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury and Josh Beckett and you realize the Red Sox are limping through this season. That they’ve played as well as they have is a testament to both the resiliency of the remaining starters and the strength of the Red Sox farm system. Darnell McDonald, Dustin Richardson, and especially Daniel Nava have all shown up to play in the last few weeks, which is a wonderful thing to see. They might get sent down later or get released, but the fans should thank them for stringing the Red Sox along until their starters come back. Once they do, they will be even more powerful than they are. And if they get to the World Series, that’s bad news for the National League.