After a disappointing opening series sweep, the Boston Red Sox have rattled off six consecutive wins between the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles. What have the first nine games taught us about the current state of the club?
The Red Sox Can Score Runs Quickly
It was a quiet opening series for the Red Sox, but after shaky off some early season rust, the offense has rebounded in a big way. J.D. Martinez launched three blasts in Sunday’s win over Baltimore, which gives him a total of five on the season and 16 RBI’s. If there was any question as to whether, or not, the Sox DH could rebound after a dismal 2020, Martinez has shut that down early on. Again, it’s only April and things can reverse course at any time, but Martinez looks like his old self and Alex Cora can only stand to be thrilled about that.
Rafael Devers got off to a cold start as well, but apparently he needed to take a trip to Camden Yards. Devers launched four blasts in three games and has rounded into form at the plate. If you had watched his at-bats to begin the season, he was making hard contact consistently, but the ball merely wasn’t falling. If that were the case, Raffy left little up to chance and hit tape measure shots with authority. His defense also looked considerably improved.
In a sense, the past two series have been indicative of what many thought would be coming for the Red Sox. They’d be able to score runs in abundance and resemble more of their 2019 form under Alex Cora, despite some personnel changes. There has been little to gripe about offensively aside from a cold start to the season from Bobby Dalbec and Hunter Renfroe. Both boom-or-bust bats haven’t been able to find their rhythm early on, but the quick turnarounds throughout the lineup shouldn’t suggest any form of panic. Success breeds success and, with the Red Sox, offense has bred more offense.
While J.D. Martinez might not be able to keep up his torrid pace for 162 games, the offensive firepower that the club has flashed won’t go away anytime soon.
Pitching, Pitching & More Pitching
If there was a question mark headed into the season, it had to have been whether the rotation would be big league average – let alone a bright spot. Chris Sale will be shelved for most of the season, Eduardo Rodriguez started the season on the Injured List, and Nathan Eovaldi & Garrett Richards are extremely injury prone. Through nine games, very little of that concern has come to fruition. The Red Sox rank 16th in baseball in Starting Pitching ERA with a 4.37, most of which was inflated by Richards’ first outing against the O’s.
Nathan Eovaldi has looked dominant, Nick Pivetta has been steady, and the rest of the staff has continued to do their job each time they get the ball every fifth day. It’s more than an encouraging start to the season. There is concern about whether, or not, the club can keep up its pace. There is plenty to suggest that each player’s performance will drift back to their respective, individual means; however Dave Bush’s staff looks much improved from last season.
Notably, Tanner Houck has been sent back to the Alternate Site. It may have been a curious move, but the Red Sox are committed to developing their young starter rather than allowing him to continue to pitch in his current state. As long as the Sox stick to their approach, there should be few complaints. Don’t be shocked to see Tanner in Boston as soon as there’s an opening though, the club remains high on their young arm.
If the Red Sox continue to pitch to the tune of a 4.37 ERA, the offense should be able to keep pace and allow the club to be in the thick of a Wild Card push.
Bullpen Issues Still Exist
It has been a mixed bag of results for the Red Sox bullpen thus far. Matt Barnes has been near-unhittable to begin the season. If there was question as to which arm might take over the closer’s role in 2021, it has been answered for now. Meanwhile Adam Ottavino has been solid, despite faltering with a one run lead in Baltimore. Alex Cora tried to stretch out the former Yankees’ reliever over 1+ innings, but he was touched up for two runs in his second inning of work. Hirokazu Sawamura has shown promise, flashing a low-90’s splitter (!!!) and experience towards the back of the bullpen. Of course, everyone’s favorite Rule 5 selection Garrett Whitlock has also been utterly impressive to begin his rookie campaign.
Aside from that, it has been a bit of a question mark regardless of who takes the mound. Each has had their moments of brilliance, and moments of struggles. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as the bullpen was a disaster last season, and even presented question marks in 2019. When there’s a club that struggles with depth, the bullpen is typically what suffers most. The Red Sox are 12th in bullpen ERA with a 3.86 ERA – a very solid number to begin the season.
As the season progresses, expect Alex Cora to continue to put player’s in big spots to see what they can do. Ryan Brasier also figures to be up with the club at some point, after emerging as a late inning option throughout the 2018 season. In regards to a season outlook? The bullpen will continue to have high high’s and low low’s, unless Chaim Bloom pulls the trigger on acquiring a reliever. If the Red Sox bullpen continues on their pace, a league average bullpen seems like it’s in the cards.
Don’t Overreact in April
It has been said season after season, but the 60 game season polluted our minds. 162 games is a haul, and unless the 2018 Red Sox are coming back (Spoiler: They’re not), the season is going to resemble a bit of a rollercoaster. It’s unlikely that the Sox continue their torrid pace, but they’ve shown plenty of promise to prove that they should have a chance at a Wild Card spot this season. That should be the benchmark, with the overachieving possibility of winning the AL East.
Buckle up. It should be a fun season – enjoy it and stay safe.
(Photo Credit: AP Photo / Julio Cortez)
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