The Boston Red Sox are proving they are as good as anyone.

That might not seem like a shocking statement. After all, the Red Sox have the highest payroll in baseball and are in the midst of a proverbial window to win it all right now.

But Friday night, after Chris Sale struggled and the Sox lost their second straight game to the defending champion Houston Astros, it didn’t feel like the Sox were on the same level as Houston. It felt like the Astros were a better team. And that’s not a good feeling for a team that has had the best record in baseball most of this season.

Two nights later, order had been restored in Red Sox Nation. The Sox won back-to-back games in Houston without Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia, both of whom were placed on the disabled list while the Sox played at Minute Maid Park. They won games against Justin Verlander (1.24 ERA in 13 starts) and Charlie Morton (who was 7-0 entering Sunday night’s game).

Of equal significance were the performances of Sox starters David Price and Rick Porcello. On Saturday night, Price outpitched Verlander, allowing three earned runs in six innings. It was his fifth straight start giving up five or fewer runs, a stretch in which he has gone 5-0 with a 2.87 ERA. More importantly, the Red Sox won all five of those starts. It has been a rocky time for Price since he joined the Red Sox, and he is often the lightning rod for Boston fans’ angst. None of that will matter if he pitches like that.

Unlike Price, Porcello has said all the right things since coming to Boston. He understands the passion of New England fans, and has seen the highs (Cy Young Award winner in 2016) and the lows (major league leading 17 losses in 2017) of pitching at Fenway Park. He’s seen both this season: In his first seven starts he went 5-0 with a 2.14 ERA. His ERA is 5.56 in six starts since then.

Sunday night, Porcello pitched into the sixth inning against the formidable Houston lineup and gave up just three runs (two earned).

It was his second straight start pitching into the seventh while giving up two earned runs.

It appears he is finding his form again.

Meantime, it’s hard not to wonder if Sale might be dealing with a physical issue. He’s given up 10 earned runs in 101/3 innings over the last two starts, both Red Sox losses. Sale refused to suggest there was an issue, other than his poor execution. No surprise there, Sale is certainly his own harshest critic.

Perhaps it’s as simple as midseason fatigue. All starting pitchers deal with it at one point or another. That could be why Manager Alex Cora decided to give all his starters an extra day off, putting Steven Wright into the rotation (at least for a day) Tuesday night against the Detroit Tigers. Coupled with an off day Monday, Sox starters will have two additional days of rest before they take the mound again.

Since trading for Sale before last season, the Sox have not had an extended stretch of games where Sale, Price and Porcello are all at the top of their games. This team was built around the strength of that Big Three, a top of the rotation built to dominate opposing hitters. We have rarely seen the trio come together. Sale was phenomenal for most of last year while Porcello struggled and Price dealt with injuries. Porcello and Sale got off to great starts this year while Price started slowly (again dealing with injuries). Now Porcello and Price are dealing. We’ll see if Sale responds to extra rest with his best stuff.

If he does, the Sox will keep cruising. They still have the most wins in the major leagues. Boston’s 40th and 41st wins of the season reminded us when they have the pitching, the Red Sox can beat the best opposition in the game.

Tom Caron is a studio host for the Red Sox broadcast on NESN. His column appears in the Portland Press Herald on Tuesdays.


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