Need a reason why the Red Sox and Blue Jays are atop the American League East?
It's as simple as this.
If you click on that link, you'll find a list of American League relievers who have given up either one earned run or zero earned runs so far this season, sorted by innings pitched. At the top of the list is Ramon Ramirez, who has thrown 15 1/3 innings this season and just allowed his first earned run on Monday. Right behind Ramirez is Manny Delcarmen, who has thrown 14 1/3 innings and just allowed his first earned run on Sunday.
Right behind Delcarmen is Toronto's Scott Downs, who has thrown 13 2/3 innings and allowed just one earned run on the season. And only a little way further down the list is the Blue Jays' Jason Frasor, whose 11 scoreless innings out of the bullpen this season ranks second in the American League.
(The last name on the list, the American Leaguer who has thrown the fewest innings this season without having allowed an earned run? Jonathan Van Every.)
But both teams face the same issues with their bullpens.
The Blue Jays, save for Roy Halladay, have next to no starting pitching. So far this season, in fact, they have a 4.77 ERA and are allowing opponents to slug .455 against them; they're averaging less than six innings a start. Former independent-league pitcher Scott Richmond has a 2.67 ERA, but he also had a 4.92 ERA in 16 starts with the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats a year ago, so take that with a grain of salt.
The Red Sox, as we've discussed, aren't getting much from their starting pitchers, either. As a group, even after last night's gem from Jon Lester, they've got a 5.66 ERA and are averaging less than 5 2/3 innings per start.
Ramirez and Delcarmen for Boston, as well as Downs and Frasor for Toronto, have pitched sensationally thus far. But Downs is on pace to throw almost 80 innings this season, his highest total in four years; Frasor on pace to throw more than 68 innings, likewise his highest total in four years.
Ramirez, on the other hand, is on pace to throw more than 95 innings this season -- more than 20 innings past his career high. Delcarmen is on pace to throw 89 1/3 innings this season, more than 15 innings beyond his career high.
Both teams have surged to hot starts on the strength of outstanding relief pitching. If they don't get more help from their starting pitchers, though, they're not going to have much left in the bullpen come August and September.