The Red Sox Are Here to Stay

With the American League's best record as we approach the All-Star Break, it's time to start taking the Red Sox seriously.

Boston Red Sox
ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - JULY 05: Xander Bogaerts #2 of the Boston Red Sox celebrates a 5-4 win with Rafael Devers #11 against the Los Angeles Angels in the ninth inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on July 05, 2021 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The Boston Red Sox are a good baseball team. That’s right folks, the Sox are once again proving they’re at their best when everyone doubts them. After a disappointing 84-78 campaign in 2019, followed up by the trade of Mookie Betts to the Dodgers and a 24-36 last-place finish in 2020, it was fair to have low expectations for the Red Sox this season.

I’ll admit that I didn’t give Boston any chance of making the playoffs before the season. The rotation was littered with question-marks, the lineup seemed top-heavy, and the bullpen appeared downright terrible.

So far, none of that has turned out to be true and the Red Sox own the American League’s best record (54-32) as a result. With one of the league’s best offenses and a respectable pitching staff to boot, the Red Sox could go from last to first in one season for the third time since 2012.

Loaded Lineup

Scoring runs was never going to be an issue for this Red Sox squad. The question was whether the offense would be good or great. So far, it’s the latter. Boston ranks second in runs scored (440), third in OPS (.760) and eighth in wRC+ (104).

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Rafael Devers has taken the next step and become one of the best hitters in the sport (47 extra-base hits, 146 wRC+), Xander Bogaerts is clearly one of the game’s top shortstops (13 HR, 146 wRC+) and J.D. Martinez is having a big-time bounce-back season (17 HR, 141 wRC+).

However, none of that was unexpected. What’s really made a difference is the contributions from under-the-radar players like Hunter Renfroe (12 HR, 107 wRC+) and Christian Arroyo (111 wRC+). Chaim Bloom deserves a ton of credit for grabbing Renfore (4 DRS) and Kiké Hernandez (leads AL outfielders with 11 defensive runs saved) off the free agent scrap heap to round out this roster.

More help should be on the way in the form of top prospect Jarren Duran as well. The 24-year-old outfielder is slashing .284/.378/.604 with 15 home runs in 196 plate appearances at Triple-A Worcester this season, and his promotion appears imminent.

Surprising Pitching

Nathan Eovaldi, Eduardo Rodriguez, Martin Perez, Nick Pivetta and Garrett Richards. Those five pitchers have combined to make all but two of the Red Sox 86 starts this season. Eovaldi (3.41 ERA, 2.55 FIP) is headed to his first All Star game, Perez (3.89 ERA, 4.26 FIP) and Pivetta (4.09 ERA, 10.6 K/9) are having career years, and Rodriguez (3.48 FIP) has been better than his 5.42 ERA suggests.

They’ve gotten incredible stability and solid production out of a group that looked suspect at best back in March. While Boston is only 20th in starter’s ERA (4.32), that doesn’t paint the full picture. They’re top 10 in starter’s innings pitched (451.2), FIP (3.79) and WAR (8.2), suggesting the ERA should improve as the season goes on. Considering the Red Sox were 28th in rotation ERA (5.58) just last season, this has been a massive improvement.

The consistency from the starters has also allowed Boston’s bullpen to flourish. The Red Sox rank in the top 11 in both bullpen ERA (3.48) and FIP (3.94), while also sitting sixth in K/9 as a group (10.4).

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Led by first-time All Star Matt Barnes, the Red Sox have five relievers with at least 30 innings pitched and an ERA under 3.00. Notably, two of those pieces (Adam Ottavino and Garrett Whitlock) were acquired in the offseason from the rival New York Yankees. By the way, the Red Sox are 6-0 against the Yankees this season.

Red Sox Bullpen2021 Season
Matt Barnes2.68 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 37 innings, 62 strikeouts
Adam Ottavino2.75 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 36 innings, 42 strikeouts
Garrett Whitlock1.54 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 41 innings, 43 strikeouts
Josh Taylor2.70 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 30 innings, 38 strikeouts
Hirokazu Sawamura2.65 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 34 innings, 42 strikeouts
The Red Sox bullpen has gone from glaring weakness, to a strength.

Ace Up Their Sleeve

It’s July, which means trade rumors are heating up and teams are deciding whether to buy or sell. However, one of the biggest names joining a contender for the stretch run won’t come via trade. That’s because seven-time All Star Chris Sale is nearing his return to the Red Sox rotation.

Boston’s ace has been working his way back from March 2020 Tommy John surgery, and he’s reportedly close to starting a rehab assignment. The 32-year-old lefty has recently been throwing simulated games over the last few weeks with no issues.

Sale had the best season of his career during Boston’s 108-win championship season in 2018, finishing with a 2.11 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 237 strikeouts in 158 innings. Obviously, it’s unrealistic to expect a man who has been on the shelf for nearly two years to pitch at that level. Moreover, we don’t even know how deep Sale will pitch into games in 2021, but if he can channel anything close to that form, the Red Sox are going to be handful during the season’s most critical months.

Looking Ahead

With Tyler Glasnow (Tommy John surgery) sidelined for the foreseeable future in Tampa, the Yankees faltering and the Blue Jays proving to be inconsistent, the AL East is there for the taking for Boston.

The Red Sox currently have a 4.5 game lead in the AL East, and they play 18 straight games against the Rays, Blue Jays and Yankees from July 15-August 1. Boston could put themselves in a great spot by the end of that stretch.

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To be clear, the Red Sox aren’t without flaws. The Cinderella story pitching staff could come crumbling down at some point and they’re in the top five in both outs made on the bases (30) and errors (60). This team isn’t perfect, but no one is in the American League this season. If the Red Sox make it the postseason (they have 96.1% chance via Baseball Reference), they are good enough to make an improbable run to the World Series.