Sylver: What we learned about the Red Sox in April
As the calendar flipped from April to May, the Boston Red Sox had the best record in baseball. That’s right. And at 17-10, it’s their fifth-best start in the past 18 years:
- 2018 (21-7)
- 2013 (18-8)
- 2004 (15-7)
- 2007 (16-8)
- 2021 (17-10)
Should I copy and paste an Adam Jones thinking man emoji next to that list?
I don’t think anyone expected this year’s version of the local nine to be on a World Series pace. I still don’t think many expect to see them in October, much less at the Fall Classic. Their 3.5 game lead in the AL East could evaporate in a week or two. And yet, the case is growing that Alex Cora’s bunch could be a playoff team.
At the very least, they’ll be fun.
The offense took center stage in April, particularly during a nine-game winning streak (“McCarthy Magic”) on the heels of a season-opening sweep at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles where pretty much everybody wrote them off. They’re now fourth in the majors in runs scored. We knew the Sox could hit, so the turnaround at the plate wasn’t terribly surprising.
Fresh off a big knock in Friday night’s game against the Rangers, J.D. Martinez leads baseball with nine homers and 25 RBI. Rafael Devers isn’t far behind him. Xander Bogaerts is hitting .330; Alex Verdugo an impressive .300.
There’s not a whole lot beyond that. Leadoff hitter Enrique Hernandez (career OBP: .311) is getting on base just 27 percent of the time. They’ve gotten very little from offseason acquisitions Marwin Gonzalez, Franchy Cordero and Hunter Renfroe. They’re a modest 11th in homers. But they’ve put the ball in play, sprinkled in 10 steals and found a way to win close games.
Shy of an 11-run Patriots’ Day outburst against the White Sox, the Boston offense has managed a modest 3.3 runs per game since the winning streak. So it’s a credit to the pitching staff that they’re 8-7 since.
Shut ‘Em Down
With the decision on Friday, 10-year veteran Nathan Eovaldi got his fourth win of the month – good for seven percent of his 54 career victories. His six innings against the Rangers continued to reflect the 31-year old’s commitment to pounding the strike zone, as he threw 59 of 91 pitches for strikes and allowed just six baserunners. While he hasn’t made 30 starts in a season since 2014, his direct approach is paying dividends and might help keep him out of the trainer’s room.
E-Rod is back. I’m disappointed we never came up with a better nickname for Eduardo Rodriguez. While not drafted by the Sox (he was acquired for Andrew Miller back in 2014), he’s the closest thing we’ve had to a homegrown ace since Jon Lester. After years of hot streaks and untimely tweaks, the lefty seemed to put it all together in 2019. Then, the pandemic hit, Rodriguez felt the wrath of COVID-19, and missed the season due to complications with myocarditis.
He’s won all four of his 2021 starts, with a strikeout to walk ratio that’s quadruple his career average. Much like Eovaldi, Rodriguez is healthy, he’s quit nibbling, and is letting his stuff get the results.
The health and productivity of the top two starters lightens the load for the rest of the staff. Martin Perez is going to do Marin Perez things. If you’re hesitant about visiting your local amusement park during the pandemic, Garrett Richards seems to be a pretty good roller coaster ride. And Nick Pivetta has continued to out-pitch his peripherals. While his 17 walks lead the majors, the 28-year old is 5-0 in seven starts for the Sox going back to last season.
The bullpen hasn’t surrendered leads. Matt Barnes has been lights out, with six saves and 25 strikeouts in 14 innings pitched. Garrett Whitlock and Darwinzon Hernandez look like productive young arms and if Adam Ottavino can recapture some of what has made him one of the better relievers in baseball for close to a decade, it’s a big upgrade over what we’ve seen the past couple of years.
I feel like the defense will ultimately let them down. While the Sox touted the positional versatility of signings like Hernandez and Gonzalez, they’re not plus defenders anywhere on the diamond. Like an out-of-position Hernandez yielding the only hit of Pivetta’s gem against Jacob DeGrom Wednesday night in a game he needed to be pretty much perfect. Or Devers’ iron mitt. The Butch Hobson act is a mild irritant when they’re winning games, but what if they’re losing?
A lot of things have to go right for the Red Sox to make it to October. They won’t able to bank on health and elite performances from their top players all season long. There will be ebbs and flows. But repetition of the things that have brought success so far should yield more. A couple more months like this and they’re a 90-win team.
A strong April start means a lot of things are possible going forward.
Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. Talk baseball with him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.