“The Season Starts Friday”

Alex Cora said the ‘season would begin Friday,’ when the Mariners and Red Sox met for the start of their second series of the season. After all, the first Mariners-Sox games in Seattle back in March were the start of an abysmal west coast road trip, during which the Red Sox went 3-8. It was rough, it was frustrating, it was confusing, it was a tough pill to take.

But anyone with an ounce of rationality in their heads knew it wouldn’t be like this forever. A team that wins a franchise-record 108 regular season games and goes 11-3 in the postseason to win the World Series does not suddenly turn into a pumpkin when the clock strikes Opening Day 2019. No, it was an adjustment period, albeit a humbling, infuriating one.

And finally, to paraphrase the great Michael Scott, the turntables turned. After starting the season 6-13 in their first nineteen games, the Red Sox then went 13-6 in the next. Make that 14-6, as of last night.

For the first time in 2019, the Red Sox have a winning record. They had that by the third game of 2018; clearly, it took a little longer this time around. But I was right when I said that the team who had a month-shorter offseason than almost every other team would start to warm up about a month into the regular season: since April 28, the Red Sox are 9-3 after starting the season 3-9 on March 28. They swept the Oakland A’s in three games last week, after being shutout by them two nights in a row and being outscored 18-9 in their four-game series at the start of April. Last weekend, they went to Chicago and absolutely demolished the White Sox. On Apr. 16, Chris Sale told reporters he was pitching so bad it was ’embarrassing for his family.’ In four starts since, he’s posted a 1.73 ERA over 26 innings, striking out 42 batters. Sandy Leon‘s return has drastically improved both Sale and Porcello’s starts, even if it came at the cost of Blake Swihart.

From top to bottom, almost the entire lineup has improved, most notably, Mitch Moreland, who leads the team with 11 home runs, and Rafael Devers, who seems to get an extra-base hit every at-bat. The addition of Michael Chavis has really gotten the bats going, and he already has 6 homers and 13 RBIs in less than three weeks in the big leagues. Andrew Benintendi recently had his first career grand slam and has homered in each of the last two games. Mookie Betts, who earlier this season said that his performance at the plate was ‘unacceptable,’ was batting .382 with a .500 OBP going into Friday night’s game. Over that timespan, his batting average is 7th in MLB. His OBP is 1st. In Eduardo Rodriguez’s last two starts, the Red Sox bats have outscored their opponents, 29-3. They’ve scored 55 runs in their last 7 games.

Yes, in many ways, things are a lot better than they were six weeks ago. In most ways, really. It took a while, and a lot of patience, but this team is starting to really click and build some momentum.

So here’s what I’d like to see the Red Sox do, now that the season is officially underway:

  • Upgrade the bullpen, starting with getting rid of Tyler Thornburg. He’s a risk every time he takes the mound, to the point where I’m honestly shocked that Cora even lets him hold a baseball. As of last night, when he ruined Eduardo Rodriguez’s shutout by allowing the sole Seattle run, Thornburg’s ERA is now 8.04. He has allowed at least one earned run in 8 of his 14 outings this season, at least one earned run in 5 straight outings, and at least one earned run in seven of his past nine outings.
  • See the above bullet point, but for Heath Hembree. Out with the old, in with some new, please and thank you.
  • I’d love to see Jackie Bradley Jr. and Steve Pearce continue to improve upon their hitting. JBJ’s double last night resulted in him being the first of 14 Sox runs scored tonight. Pearce also doubled, going 1-for-2 pinch-hitting for Mitch Moreland. JBJ continues to amaze in the outfield (see his robbery from Wednesday night’s extra-inning win), which more than balances out his .145 batting average. Pearce began the season injured, but he’s slowly beginning to hit again. Let’s hope we start to see more MVPearce and ALCS JBJ from them soon.
  • We’re going to have to figure out how to maintain the starting rotation. Hopefully, we dodged a major bullet with Price, who is apparently feeling better and could return much sooner than anticipated. But that doesn’t change the fact that Nathan Eovaldi is still out for at least a month, and his are some enormous cleats to fill. I’m apprehensive about the bullpen and these minor leaguers being able to handle teams like the Astros and Yankees, who are inexplicably good, despite currently being made of 77% minor leaguers themselves.
  • JD Martinez is in a bit of a skid. Well, as much of a skid as he can be in; he’s 7-for-30 with a home run and 5 RBIs in his last 7 games, but only 2-for-12 in his last 3 games. The Dodgers did poach his personal hitting coach this year, and that’s been affecting his confidence at the plate.
  • Devers has shown real improvement at third base, but still leads the team with an absurd 9 errors in his first 36 games. In 2018, he had 24 errors in 116 games. So far this year, he’s committed an error in 25% of his games, up from 20.69% last season. Ideally, that would shake down as the season goes on, especially since he has a knack for making incredibly-difficult outs look easy; it’s the most routine plays that seem to tangle him up, but father-figure Cora has a real soft spot for him and his misadventures.

Photo: Red Sox Instagram

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