Can Red Sox turnaround last?

The Red Sox know better than to over-interpret their historic run of great pitching lately. The laws of sample sizes, after all, are tough to refute. But who can otherwise ignore this makeover — a 0.88 ERA in the last nine games. Who still believes these are the same Sox who started 2-10, nuking their April and, seemingly, their season?

At worst, Boston likely cost itself a 100-win campaign, but has otherwise awarded itself a near-clean slate, thanks to the starting rotation that’s suddenly more machine than man. While winning eight of nine, the starters went five consecutive games allowing one or zero runs, while pitching at least five innings in each contest.

Talk about time travel. It’s been 64 years since Red Sox hurlers have been this efficient. Stitched into the fabric of this turnaround are two critical ramifications. The first is where the Sox are in relation to the Yankees, not just in the standings (only three games out), but right back in the Bombers’ heads.

The 2-10 start should’ve ruined Boston, except for the Yankees’ inability to pull away. The Bombers are solid, steady, at times explosive on offense — Monday night’s shutout at the hands of Philip Humber notwithstanding. But Joe Girardi has his own rotation issues, which we’ll address.

The second Fenway sub-plot focuses on the stunning re-births of both Josh Beckett and John Lackey — but Beckett in particular. He’s 2-1 with a 1.93 ERA, a drop of almost four runs from last season.

The more significant metrics are found in Beckett’s contact ratio (at 79.1 percent, his lowest since coming to the American League in 2006), the percentage of swings and misses (nine percent, best since 2005) and a .182 batting average of balls in play.

In other words, Beckett is making it hard, if not impossible, for hitters to square up on him, just like he did in 2007. A .182 BABIP is hard to sustain, obviously, but if Beckett can avoid a 2010-like relapse, the Sox figure to stay close to the Yankees for the remainder of the pennant race.

But therein lies the bigger question: how much of this hot streak can be trusted into May and beyond? Lackey has been a central part of the surge, allowing just one earned run in his last 14 innings. But it’s worth noting his dominance has piggy-backed on familiar targets (the A’s, against whom Lackey is 17-6 lifetime) and familiar settings (Angel Stadium, where he has a 52-32 career record).

And while much has been made about Daisuke Matsuzaka, whose own two-start turnaround is nothing short of breathtaking: no earned runs in 15 innings, just two hits and 12 strikeouts.

It’s a small enough sample size for one American League scout to flatly call it, “a blip on the screen. I’ve watched the guy at his best and worst. I’d need to see a heck of a lot more before I say he’s solved his problems.”

The Sox wouldn’t disagree, although their rejoinder will stop you cold: Matsuzaka is their No. 5 starter, their weakest link. Even if he winds up a .500 pitcher, can the Yankees say the same about, say, Ivan Nova?

Trick question, since the Bombers are living in an alternate universe where nothing has gone the way they planned. CC Sabathia has just one victory, Phil Hughes is on the disabled list with a dead arm that isn’t improving, and Nova has been pushed aside by Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia, the Yankees’ two aging illusionists.

The 37-year-old Colon is averaging 10 strikeouts per nine innings, although he’s pitching to contact, getting swings and misses on just five percent of his pitches. Yet, Colon’s .298 BABIP is a perfectly normal and acceptable percentage, which means the Yankees can trust their 37-year-old righty.

The more intriguing case is Garcia, whose contact ratio is even higher than Colon’s (91 percent) but with an astounding .143 BABIP. Add in his 89 percent runners-stranded rate, and you’re left with only one conclusion: this can’t last.

“No, it definitely can’t,” said one major league talent evaluator. Just goes to show, from the Bronx to Fenway, April has been one crazy month in the AL East.

 

THE WRIGHT STUFF IN FLUSHING

 

Think Citi Field is too big? Think the especially deep Mo Zone in right-center was modeled after the Grand Canyon? You won’t get an argument from David Wright, who’s seen countless, opposite-field home runs turned into fly ball outs in Flushing.

“From what I understand (Mets ownership) wanted a pitcher’s park,” Wright said recently. “They’ve got it.”

There’s some sentiment that because of Wright, who is bearing the brunt of Citi’s asymmetrical design, it’s time to bring in the fences, at least in right-center. But the numbers don’t support that argument.

In an admittedly microscopic sample size, Citi Field has averaged 2.247 home runs per game so far, third-highest in the National League. Citizens Bank Park, considered a launching pad, is averaging only 1.36. Go figure.

A more telling stat is the stadium’s home run profile over its first two years of existence. Despite the supposed disadvantage at Citi, the Mets have slugged more HRs at home than on the road since 2009 (122-115). While a change might help Wright, it would likely hurt Mets’ pitchers more.