One of the more critical parts in winning Major League Baseball games may be getting off to fast starts and taking control of the game starting in the first inning.
“I think overall it is huge to get off to a good start and put up a zero in the first inning and then if we score one run or two runs that next inning is crucial to put up a zero the next inning,” said Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
One of the many issues for the 2012 Red Sox in their disastrous 69-win season was their inability to start games strong. They ranked last in all of baseball, allowing an average of 0.78 runs in the first inning, and for the season, trailed in 47 games, compared to leading in just 33. Their pitching staff had an ERA of 8.09 in those first innings as well. With the Red Sox doing a complete reversal of last year, leading the AL East at the midway point of the season, some of their success can be attributed to them getting off to much better starts to games.
The team has already led in 25 games after the first inning, compared to trailing in just 17, and their pitching staff’s ERA is a little more than two points lower at 5.99 after Saturday. They lead all of baseball in runs scored in the first inning averaging 0.74 runs per game and are a much improved No. 12 in the league in runs allowed (0.47).
According to Saltalamacchia, this wasn’t something the team ever specifically worked on in the off-season, but clearly its improvement has paid dividends.
“The focus is pitch-to-pitch and at-bat to at-bat attacking the hitters,” Saltalamacchia said. “I don’t think there was any approach.”
The aces of the Sox pitching staff have made significant improvements in the first inning. Clay Buchholz had a 5.90 ERA last season, compared to 1.50 this season while Jon Lester’s was 4.91 last season and is now 3.50 this season. Red Sox hitters have also done their part at the top of the order to lead off games as Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz are hitting a combined .339 in the first inning with an on-base percentage of .383, which has played a major role in the team leading all of baseball in runs scored in the first inning.
With the massive turnaround the Red Sox have enjoyed so far thus season it is hard to ignore the much better starts to games as playing a major part in their success.
Follow Metro Red Sox beat writer Ryan Hannable on Twitter @hannable84