We’ve said it a few times already this season, but this time, it really feels like the Red Sox have turned a corner, and they did so in a big way, sweeping the first-place Tampa Bay Rays in three games at the Trop. Boston improves from a dismal 6-13 to a far less embarrassing 9-13.
It’s kind of poetic: last year, the turning point also came nineteen games in, when the much-more-impressive 17-2 Red Sox were stopped in their tracks by a no-hitter courtesy of A’s pitcher Sean Manaea. It was a rude awakening, but a reminder that this team, no matter how good they would turn out to be, was not untouchable.
This year, the Red Sox needed a different kind of awakening: they needed to wake the hell up. The defending World Series champions started the season with a starting rotation whose pitching could only be described as abysmal, and a lineup that looked lifeless; suddenly, they couldn’t defend a 5-run lead (when lucky enough to get one), much less their title.
But this weekend saw improvement across nearly all team aspects. Andrew Benintendi hit his first career grand slam on Saturday, while Mookie Betts and Mitch Moreland hit back-to-back bombs on Friday night. Mookie, who’d gone 0-for-7 in New York earlier in the week and described his performance so far this season as “unacceptable,” was visibly thrilled with himself, as he went 2-for-4 on Friday night with a double and the aforementioned bomb. His performance is vital to the team, both from an offensive standpoint, and tonal standpoint: when he is playing well and feeling good, it affects everyone in the lineup. If the MVP has found himself again, that’s major.
Christian Vazquez continues to shine both offensively and defensively, proving himself in the wake of Blake Swihart’s trade to Arizona. He hit his 4th home run of the season this weekend; he only hit three over the entire 2018 season. On Saturday night, he sneakily picked off the runner at first base for the final out of the game. And today, he drove in the go-ahead run on a sac fly
The Sox starters improved as well. Yes, Nathan Eovaldi went to the Injured List and will likely need surgery, but this is a happy article, and anyway, he seems confident he’ll be back pretty quickly by surgical standards. Rick Porcello went 5.2 innings, his longest start of the season so far, striking out five batters and only walking one in his Saturday start. Longevity and walks had been the chief problems for the righty up until now. Before this weekend’s game, he’d allowed 12 walks in 11-1/3 innings. In his 2016 Cy Young season, he’d only walked 32 batters over 223 innings.
David Price, who’d been phenomenal in his last start, but with zero Sox offense to back him up, impressed yet again today. He went five full innings, allowing five hits, two runs, and walking two. He ended his final inning of work with his tenth strike out of the game on his 100th pitch. And this time, the Red Sox gave him more run support, a fair amount, too, given they were facing Rays SP Glasnow, an absolute monster with a low 1.00s ERA. Today was a pitching duel, and David Price threw to win.
Even the bullpen, who had been solid the first couple weeks of the season and then regressed majorly this week in the form of giving up grand slams to Brett Gardner and blowing leads, held it down every night. True, Matt Barnes gave up tying homers in the 8th innings of last night and today’s game, but Ryan Brasier was able to close out the games with 1-run leads. It’s still not a sustainable situation long-term; I wouldn’t count on Heath Hembree to close out a Little League game. Dave Dombrowski will need to fortify the bullpen with an additional arm.
Feelings of happiness and celebration are slowly creeping back into my emotional repertoire; up until now, it’s been a mix of mostly frustration, stress, and the occasional relief. But the Red Sox managed to get it done all weekend, despite falling behind, blowing leads, and facing a formidable team. After all, a win is a win, but who you beat says a lot, too. In baseball, it’s about quality and quantity. This weekend, the Red Sox had both.
Photo: Yahoo Sports