As the Boston Red Sox begin a series with the Philadelphia Phillies, it’s hard to escape the thought that it just might be a World Series preview. The highest scoring offense in the majors collides with a Phillies staff with the lowest ERA. Tuesday provides the marquee matchup, as two of the games top starters open the three-game set.
Josh Beckett leads the majors with a 1.86 ERA, and is coming off his fifth career shutout. He’s opposed by Cliff Lee, who has thrown back-to-back shutouts, the first Phillies pitcher to do that since Cory Lidle.
Two opposing starters, both coming off shutouts. That’s something the Red Sox haven’t seen in a very long time.
On October 2, 1988, Mike Boddicker started the season finale for the Red Sox against the Indians. Three days earlier, he threw a three-hit shutout that clinched at least a tie for the AL East title. In the finale, he was opposed by Tom Candiotti, himself coming off a shutout against the Tigers.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that was the last time the Red Sox played a game in which both starters were coming off a shutout. With nothing to play for, Boddicker pitched just two innings, as Joe Morgan used six pitchers in the 6-5 loss.
Batting leadoff that day for Indians? Terry Francona.
Beckett’s ERA through June
Beckett will be making his final start of June, and could put himself in rather elite company. His 1.86 ERA would be the lowest for a Red Sox starter through June since Pedro Martinez in 2000. Martinez had a 1.44 ERA at the end of June on his way to a 1.74 ERA that year.
Beckett would be just the fifth Red Sox starter over the past 50 years with a sub-2.00 ERA at the end of June, joining a group that also includes Tim Wakefield (1.61 in 1995), Roger Clemens (1.84 in 1992) and Bill Lee (1.94 in 1973).
Cliff Lee’s historic June
While Beckett’s first three months have been historically good, Cliff Lee has put together a June for the ages.
Entering his final start of the month, only the Red Sox stand between Lee and history.
With one earned run in 33 innings, Lee is 4-0 with a 0.27 ERA in June. Lee looks to be the first Phillies pitcher to make five starts in a month and maintain an ERA below 1.00 since Jim Bunning’s 0.87 ERA in August 1967.
In fact, Lee could be on the verge of the lowest ERA in franchise history over a calendar month (min. five starts). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that distinction belongs to Grover Alexander, who had a 0.62 ERA in July 1915.
With a flawless start against Boston, Lee would also join the ranks of historic June performances since World War II. In that span, the lowest ERA for a pitcher making five or more starts is 0.50, a mark shared by Bob Gibson (1968) and Rick Honeycutt (1986). The best June ERA in Phillies franchise history belongs to Dutch Leonard at 0.73 in 1948. Amazingly, he had two losses that month.
Lee enters Tuesday with 23 straight scoreless innings thanks to shutouts in each of his past two starts. He’s looking to be the first pitcher since Brandon Webb in 2007 to throw three straight shutouts, and the first Phillies pitcher since Robin Roberts in 1950.
The last Red Sox pitcher with back-to-back shutouts was Roger Clemens in 1992. The last with 3 in a row? Luis Tiant, who had four straight shutouts in 1972.
Lee is part of a Phillies starting rotation on a historic pace. The group has combined for a 3.02 ERA entering Tuesday. That puts them on pace for the lowest starters’ ERA since the 1992 Braves (2.95) rotation featuring Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Pete Smith joined the rotation in August, and went 7-0 with a 2.10 ERA as a starter. It actually wasn’t until the following offseason that the Braves added Greg Maddux.
The last time the Phillies had a rotation with an ERA this low at the end of a season was in 1952 (2.94). That rotation was anchored by Robin Roberts (28-7, 2.59 ERA in 330 IP).
The Red Sox just might have the solution to Cliff Lee, and it should come as no surprise that it is Adrian Gonzalez.
Gonzalez is 7 for 10 with a home run and three RBIs in his career against Lee. That’s the highest batting average of any batter with 10 or more plate appearances against him.