It is difficult to imagine a more under-appreciated pitcher than Boston right-hander John Lackey, who returned from Tommy John surgery in 2013 with a renewed focus on his career. In fact, since taking the mound for the first time at the outset of the 2013 campaign, Lackey has posted an impressive 7.8 K/9 rate. Following a solid postseason wherein he garnered a 2.77 ERA in 26 innings pitched, Lackey has continued that success in 2014. Specifically, Lackey is 5-3 with a 3.58 ERA and 1.24 WHIP, including going 3-2 with a 3.63 ERA and 1.36 WHIP at home, 4-2 with a 3.09 ERA and 1.20 WHIP at night and 1-1 with a 3.26 ERA and 1.24 WHIP over his last three starts.
Lackey has allowed two runs or fewer in in six of his last seven starts and is coming off an excellent outing against Tampa Bay wherein he yielded five hits, walked one and struck out three in his seventh quality start of the year. Lackey now faces an scuffling Atlanta lineup that ranks 27th in batting average and fifth in strikeouts this season. Atlanta’s woeful offense is best illustrated below:
Atlanta’s Offense in 2014:
- .236 batting average and .297 on base percentage overall (3.4 runs per game);
- .224 batting average and .285 on base percentage on the road (3.2 runs per game);
- .231 batting average and .293 on base percentage versus right-handed starters (3.2 run per game)
Let’s also note that both Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward won’t have a platoon advantage over Lackey as the veteran hurler has performed as well against lefties (.409 slugging percentage allowed) as he has against righties (.412 slugging percentage allowed) in his career. Fenway Park also suppresses left-handed home run potential as the ballpark ranked 27th in the Majors in home run factor for southpaw hitters in 2013. Atlanta’s lineup will also be without catcher Evan Gattis, who strained his right wrist during batting practice Tuesday and has missed six of the Braves’ last nine games. Meanwhile, shortstop Andrelton Simmons left Tuesday’s game with a right ankle injury, an injury that has bothered him off an on for a few weeks. “It started nagging me a little bit during the inning,” Simmons said. “Then it wouldn’t go away. I tried playing on but just didn’t feel like I was going to help my team. I was going to hurt them more if I stayed in there.”
Lackey is also supported by a very good Boston bullpen that owns a 2.89 ERA and 1.25 WHIP this season, including a 2.10 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in interleague play, a 2.63 ERA and 1.18 WHIP at night and a 2.22 ERA and 1.23 WHIP over the last seven games. Meanwhile, Atlanta starter Gavin Floyd has returned with a vengeance following Tommy John surgery last May as evidenced by his 2.49 ERA and 1.26 WHIP this season. However, the small sample size – 25.1 innings pithed – is not enough to reach conclusions about the veteran who is 70-71 with a 4.44 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in his Major League career. When healthy, Floyd is capable of posting an ERA in the low-fours with acceptable strikeout and walk numbers, but he remains average at best.
From a technical standpoint, Atlanta is a money-burning 7-24 (-17.1 units) on the road versus starting pitchers who strike out five or more batters per start, and 12-22 (-14.1 units) on the road after losing two of its last three games, while Floyd is 31-51 (-25.5 units) with a total between 7 and 8.5 runs. In contrast, John Lackey is 17-3 (+13.1 units) in interleague play, while the Red Sox are 30-12 (+17.0 units) after batting .225 or worse over a five game span. Here are additional trends favoring Boston tonight:
- Boston is 16-5 in its L/21 meetings with the Braves (4-1 L/5 at Fenway Park);
- Boston is 60-21 L/81 interleague home games vs. right-handed starters;
- Boston is 95-37 L/132 interleague games as a favorite;
- Boston is 55-24 L/79 games vs. National League East opponents;
- Boston is 44-15 L/59 interleague games as a favorite of -110 to -150;
- Boston is 9-3 L/12 games vs. teams with a winning record with Lackey on the mound;
- Atlanta is 3-9 L/12 interleague road games;
- Atlanta is 2-8 L/10 road games;
- Atlanta is 1-7 L/8 road games vs. right-handed starters;
- Atlanta is 1-6 L/7 games as an underdog
Finally, the Red Sox are cognizant of the fact that their last homestand was one of the worst in team history as Boston went 0-6 for the first time since 1994. And, after snapping a ten-game losing skid wherein they were outscored 52-26, the Red Sox ended the streak with back-to-back wins at Turner Field. “To come here … with that streak and end up getting two (wins) here is really big,” Tuesday’s winning pitcher Jon Lester said. “More than anything, our guys are having fun playing the game,” manager John Farrell said. “It was a tough 10-game stretch we came through but there’s been plenty of energy kind of injected back in the dugout.” Take Boston and invest with confidence.