‘The Red Sox are supposed to be better than this’ is the thought that has echoed in my head like waves pounding unceasingly on a shore, for over a week now. Game after game of frustration, against teams that are supposed to be equal or even worse than this year’s Red Sox. And they kept losing to them. In puzzling fashion, they fell apart against the Orioles immediately after demolishing them on Opening Day, they lost at home but split the series with the Mets, and then put up a fight against the Yankees, but were ultimately swept on Sunday night.
They’re not supposed to be great this year, but they’re supposed to be better than this. And last night, they were. Last night, we saw what the Red Sox can do. Their batters can hit with runners in scoring position and keep hitting throughout the game. Their pitchers can shut down the opposing lineup, even shut them out completely. The Boston Red Sox can beat good teams. It’s not going to happen every game, against every formidable opponent coming down the stretch, but it is possible.
For the first time last night, the Red Sox kept their opponent scoreless for all nine innings. It was only the third time this season that Sox pitching has allowed two runs or less in a game; they’ve allowed five or more runs nine times so far, but only scored five or more runs themselves four times.. Martin Pérez did get lucky a lot last night, but having a strong defense backing him up, even without Jackie Bradley Jr. in the outfield, is one of the many things this team still has going for it. Nathan Eovaldi has looked strong through his first three starts, and now has a 3.94 ERA on the season. He’s given up 19 hits in 16 total innings, but only 7 runs and just one homer. That’s great, by 2020 Red Sox standards anyway. Of course with Nasty Nate, there is the ever-present concern about his ability to stay healthy, and a new concern that the lineup won’t provide him with run support. It seems to be a pattern with the Sox; when Chris Sale was their ace, they didn’t give him any run support, either. Eduardo Rodriguez, who is sorely missed, seemed to be the exception to that rule last season. He had the highest run support average of any MLB starter last season.
Andrew Benintendi remains a question mark (a .069 batting average in 29 at-bats? Woof.), as do newer faces like Jose Peraza and Alex Verdugo, though the latter hit his first home run last night. It’s interesting to note how well the offense performed yesterday without Benintendi in the game at all. And Jackie Bradley Jr. has cooled off at the plate, but that was to be expected. Whereas his offensive power ebbs and flows, his consistency is in the outfield; that is why he is here. Holding him to the standard of a certain outfielder who is now in California is unfair to him and your own sanity. But while JBJ has regressed more towards his mean, JD Martinez has heated up. He started the season with a 3-hit game on Opening Day and a 2-hit game the following night, but then cooled off for most of last week. He’s now working with a 3-game hit streak, and hopefully, his first home run of the season isn’t far off.
As I said in yesterday’s episode of Locked On Red Sox, the boys needed some time to heat up last year, too. And after a pandemic-induced extended off-season with serious restrictions that inhibited their ability to stay in the ‘Best Shape Of Their Lives,’ it’s not surprising that the first week or so of Boston baseball played out even worse than anticipated. But there are signals of better days ahead. Unofficial team captain Xander Bogaerts heated up on this road trip; after hitting .167/.167/.333 in his first 5 games at home, he exploded in 7 away games, slashing .435/.480/.826 with two home runs. The time away also saw young stars Rafael Devers and Michael Chavis hitting their first home runs of the season (or first and second in Chavis’ case!), both heating up after starting the season ice-cold. Chavis, who’d been hitless in his first three games of the season, had a 3-hit game last night, and has homered in two of his last four games. And as always, Mitch Moreland continued to be Old Reliable at the plate and at first base, hitting his third homer of the season in Tuesday’s loss. Even the bullpen has been solid, though they never make it easy on themselves.
So consider my standards officially raised. Not by much, I’m not crazy. But last night, this team showed us that it has what it takes to be better than they’ve been. And maybe they needed to be reminded of that, too.
World Series back on. Just kidding. Maybe.
Photo: Billie Weiss/Red Sox