MLB

Yes, the Red Sox are a real threat in the AL East

The Boston Red Sox have the potential to threaten the Yankees’ chances at an AL East title along with the Rays and Blue Jays.

For any baseball fan, not overreacting to April results is hard to do. This April has seen the New York Yankees, the projected American League East favorites, get off to a painfully slow start and sit 5-7 while the Boston Red Sox, who came into the year projected by most to finish fourth in the division only ahead of Baltimore are 9-4 and won nine straight before falling to the Minnesota Twins Thursday.

With the Yankees struggling and Red Sox rolling, there are many questions as to if Boston can challenge New York and the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East and the answer to this is yes.
While just 13 games in, the Red Sox have already proven, their pitching has enough talent to hold opposing offenses close enough to let Boston’s strong lineup way.

In 2020 Boston, who finished with the fourth-worst record in baseball at 24-36 and last in the AL East, posted a team ERA of 5.58 that placed 28th in the majors and allowed opposing hitters to bat .281, which ranked dead last in the majors. Their offense actually faired well as a whole as their .268 team batting average ranked third in baseball and best in the AL while the team’s 292 runs scored placed 11th best in baseball.

Through 13 games, Boston’s pitching has improved mightily as their team ERA of 3.56 ranks 11th in baseball and they’re holding opposing hitters to a .226 average that ranks 14th.

In the rotation, former Yankee Nathan Eovaldi has posted a 2.08 ERA in three starts so far this season, former Phillies right-hander Nick Pivetta has made two strong starts, including tossing five shutout innings against the Rays on April 5 and Eduardo Rodriguez has posted a 3.60 ERA through two starts.

The bullpen has saw strong performances from former Yankee farmhand and Rule 5 Draft pickup Garrett Whitlock who not allowed a run in his first 6.1 innings of relief, veteran Matt Barnes has lot allowed a run through seven innings of work, Hirokazu Sawamura has posted a 1.62 ERA in six relief outings and Darwinzon Hernandez has a 1.50 ERA in seven relief appearances.

At the plate, Boston ranks second in baseball, only behind the Dodgers with a team batting average of .283, ranks second only behind the Cincinnati Reds with 72 runs scored and is tied for sixth with the Blue Jays with 16 home runs.

J.D. Martinez, who had a disastrous 2020 season, has returned to his All-Star form as he is slashing .378/.440/.867 with five home runs and 16 RBI’s, star third basemen Rafael Devers, who also had a lackluster 2020, is also raking early as he’s slugged five home runs with 13 RBI’s while Alex Verdugo who the team landed in a February 2020 trade that sent former MVP Mookie Betts to the Dodgers is slashing .271/.333/.500 with two home runs and 11 RBI’s.

While the production from Boston’s pitching staff drops off as expected, the organization has never been afraid to make trade deadline moves to improve the club for a pennant chase run. Eovaldi and 2018 World Series MVP were both deadline acquisitions in 2018, while in 2013, the club picked up former Cy Young Award winner Jake Peavy who went onto become a key part of their rotation that won a World Series.

The Red Sox contending without expectations also wouldn’t be anything new to the people in Boston. In 2012 the team went just 69-93, finished last in the AL East and fired manager Bobby Valentine after just one season. A year later, with the majority of “expert predictions” projecting them to finish last in the division and a roster with no dramatic changes, the team won the east with 97 wins, downed the Rays in the ALDS, defending American League champion Detroit Tigers in the ALCS and beat the 2011 World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.

In 2018, Boston was projected by nearly everyone to finish second in the American League East by the Yankees and by many to miss the postseason altogether after they won the division in 2016 and 2017 but suffered losses in the ALDS both year’s. That offseason also saw the Yankees trade for reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton to join a roster that came within one win of the 2017 World Series.

Instead, Boston ran away with the division with a 108-win regular season, a four-game ALDS win over the Yankees, a five-game ALCS win over the defending world champion Houston Astros and a five-game World Series victory over the two-time defending NL champion Dodgers.

In both of those cases, the Red Sox won a World Series under first-year managers as John Farrel led the team to a title in 2013 in his first season as Sox skipper and Alex Cora accomplished the same feat in 2018. This year Boston is again managed by Cora, who, after the 2019 season, was fired for his involvement in the 2017 Astros sign-stealing scandal as he served as the team’s bench coach that year. After sitting out the entire 2020 season with a suspension, Boston rehired Cora, who has led the team to a red hot 9-4 start in the first year of his second stint as manager.

Thus, there’s plenty of historic indicators this year’s Red Sox team may be more than a fast starter and rather be a real threat to the so-far lifeless Yankees, defending AL champion Rays and young and up and coming Blue Jays looking for their second straight playoff berth.

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