Daybreak seems kinder to Chaim Bloom this year.
In 2020, the pandemic-compressed season nonetheless managed to feel interminable. Bloom’s Red Sox spent 60 of 66 days drowning in last place, including each of the last 49 days of the ill-fated campaign.
By contrast, on Tuesday morning, the team’s chief baseball officer awakened for the 26th consecutive day to see his club listed atop the AL East. Not surprisingly, he prefers this year’s perch.
“That’s where we want to be,” Bloom said prior to Tuesday’s 11-7 Red Sox win against the Tigers. “It starts and ends there.”
Except it doesn’t. Bloom’s job is to worry not just about being in first place but staying there, and looking ahead to see the lurking traps that could sabotage ambitions of staying in the race. So while he noted the elements that have contributed to the team’s strong start, Bloom also acknowledged areas of needed or potential improvement.
“There’s been a lot of good things individually and as a team that have put us [in first place],” said Bloom. “At the same time, every day, [manager Alex Cora] talks about this all the time, we know there’s areas where we can improve and where we need to improve.”
A closer look:
ROTATING SMOOTHLY: Red Sox starters entered Tuesday having worked at least five innings in 23 of the team’s 29 games, the second-most games of that duration in the AL behind only the A’s (24). More often than not, they’ve at least kept their team in the game, with a 3.98 rotation ERA ranking fourth in the AL.
“The consistency in terms of our starting pitchers taking the ball and giving us a chance to win the game has been there just about every day,” said Bloom. “That’s huge if you’re trying to win ballgames.”
Beyond the current starting five of Eduardo Rodriguez, Nate Eovaldi, Nick Pivetta, Martín Pérez, and Garrett Richards, Tanner Houck affords near-term depth in Triple-A Worcester. While righthander Connor Seabold opened the year on the WooSox injured list, Bloom suggested his right elbow soreness isn’t considered serious. Bloom also said that on Tuesday, Chris Sale threw a few pitches off a mound — the first time he’d done so since undergoing Tommy John surgery in March 2020.
Overall, the pitching staff has taken a huge leap forward, going from a 5.58 ERA in 2020 (28th in the majors) to 3.75 this year (11th). That result stems from an increasingly aggressive attack on the strike zone. Sox pitchers this year have struck out 25.7 percent of batters (up from 22.5 percent last year) and walked 9.1 percent (down from 10.5 percent in 2020).
“The pitcher has the baseball,” said Bloom. “That’s a privilege that we want to take advantage of. We want to take it to the opposition. We want to dictate the action, attack the strike zone, do everything we can to put ourselves in favorable counts so we can put hitters away. I think there’s been a lot of buy-in with that message.”
LINEUP IMBALANCE: On most nights, the second through fifth spots in the Red Sox lineup represent the most daunting labyrinth in the game for opposing pitchers. Alex Verdugo, J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, and Rafael Devers entered Tuesday as the only quartet on one team in which each member had an OPS of .850 or better.
But a cliff resides behind Devers, helping to explain why the 24-year-old is walking as never before in his career. The non-pitchers in the lower-third of the Red Sox order entered Tuesday with a combined .186/.246/.275 line – good for a .521 OPS that ranked worst in the big leagues. Moreover, the team’s .298 OBP from the leadoff spot (25th in MLB) represented a lost opportunity given the production of the team’s Big Four.
Overall, the team’s 4.76 runs per game ranked seventh in the majors — but with questions about whether the offense can remain productive with such uneven results.
“We wanted to build a lineup that although we had star power in the middle of that lineup that could be a threat one through nine,” said Bloom. “It hasn’t played out that way in terms of the production. … I’d expect some of those things to even out.”
PROSPECT OF CHANGE? Sox outfielders Franchy Cordero (.158/.213/.193) and Hunter Renfroe (.222/.275/.389) are off to rough starts, contributing to the team’s lineup imbalance.
Renfroe went 3 for 4 with a homer and double on Tuesday. He’s now 6 for 12 with a pair of homers in his last three games — may be emerging from his funk.
“He’s seeing the ball better, and it seems like good things are going to happen,” said manager Alex Cora.
Still, both corner outfielders have made little impact to date.
“I don’t necessarily know you’d expect either of them to come out and hit for a high average. You do expect them to be productive in other ways,” said Bloom. “And so far we’ve seen that in spurts but we haven’t seen it consistently. All the physical abilities are there to do it. We want to give them as much runway as we can.”
The team’s start permits it to be patient — to a point. But it’s hard not to hear the footsteps from Worcester of outfielder Jarren Duran, a multi-dimensional talent who seems uninterested in a long apprenticeship in Triple-A. With the minor league season now underway, Bloom acknowledged that Duran has a chance to dictate his timetable to the big leagues.
“[I have] every confidence that Jarren is going to go out there and knock that door down,” said Bloom, who noted the considerable value he attaches to lengthy Triple-A assignments. “He’ll tell us when he’s ready.”
TRADE WINDS: Bloom suggested that trade talks at this stage of the season tend to be “pretty sporadic.”
“This is a time period where it’s rare to see significant action,” he observed.
Bloom expects the trade market to form particularly slowly given that, as the league ramps back up to a 162-game season after the truncated 2020 campaign, teams “are going to be in a mode of trying to hoard as many guys as they can” to preserve depth.