Sunday’s Red Sox-Miami Marlins contest at Fenway Park was postponed and rescheduled for Monday, June 7. This means the Red Sox will have to relinquish an off day and instead stare down a schedule that includes 17 straight games in as many days.
If you consider the opponents, this might be the Red Sox’ biggest test of the season. In that 17-day span, the Sox will face the Astros in a four-game series beginning Monday at Houston, then the Yankees for a three-game series at New York. Boston will travel back to play the Marlins at Fenway, followed by the Astros at home for three, four home games vs. the Blue Jays, and finally, a pair against the Braves at Atlanta.
The Sox (32-20) currently stand a game back of the red-hot Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East. They have taken on the underdog approach this year, oftentimes noting that no one believed in them but themselves. However true that might be — which in some cases is a bit exaggerated — the team has, indeed, thrived so far this season. Despite the daunting schedule ahead, the Sox are in a good position heading into it. Here’s how they got here.
Nick Pivetta wasn’t getting much of a chance to start with the Phillies last season. Garrett Richards has always been known for his stuff but never quite recaptured it post-Tommy John surgery. So, when Pivetta was traded to the Red Sox last summer, and Richards signed as a free agent this offseason, each was expected to be a huge part of what the Red Sox did.
So far, they have lived up to that. In 54 innings, Richards has a 3.83 ERA. Even though Richards has power stuff, he’s never been a huge strikeout guy. He’s compiled just 7.9 strikeouts per nine innings for his career and 7.8 this season. Nonetheless, Richards is figuring out ways to be successful for the Red Sox, thanks to a delivery that he’s able to repeat.
“We came up with something that would be simple for me to be able to repeat,” Richards said earlier this season. “And importantly, it gives me a chance to gather over the rubber, instead of just kind of rolling through it like I was. So just making an emphasis of getting a good gather over the rubber has really helped me.”
Keep in mind Richards’s curveball ranked at the top of the league in spin. Richards has had success with that pitch whenever he employs it, with batters hitting just .143 against it this year.
As for Pivetta, he’s found his way by pounding the strike zone and learned how to pitch up in the zone, which has played a part in his 3.86 ERA in 53⅔ innings plus 59 strikeouts. Pivetta is 6-0 this season and has gone 8-0 in his last 12 starts dating back to last season.
He’s also successful at making adjustments when hitters are on to him. For example, in his last start, the Braves were aggressive on his fastball, tagging him for two runs in the first. But after that Pivetta implemented more of his offspeed/breaking stuff in order to keep the Braves off balance.
Martín Pérez has been a key piece of the Red Sox rotation, too — if not the most important piece. He’s compiled a 3.55 ERA in 50⅔ innings in addition to 48 strikeouts.
The Red Sox still need more from Eduardo Rodriguez (5.06 ERA). Nate Eovaldi’s 4.01 ERA is consistent with what he’s been for his career. A key for Eovaldi is that he’s been healthy. As Rodriguez looks to get on track, however, the trio of Pivetta, Richards, and Pérez have been crucial to this team’s success.
The Red Sox are hoping to get Ryan Brasier back soon, and that should give them more depth at the back end of the bullpen. Matt Barnes has been lights out in the closer’s spot, striking out 15.4 batters per nine innings, registering a league-leading 12 saves to go along with a 2.63 ERA. Barnes has gotten some help from Adam Ottavino, as well as Josh Taylor as of late. Taylor has nine straight appearances under his belt (9 innings) without allowing a run. Ottavino, meanwhile, has given up just one run in his last 11⅓ innings. He has a 2.95 ERA on the year.
The Sox remain one of the best offenses in baseball. Entering Sunday, they had a .768 OPS to lead the league. J.D. Martinez (second), Rafael Devers (fourth), and Xander Bogaerts (fifth) were all in the top five in the AL in OPS, all above .950. The Yankees’ Aaron Judge and Blue Jays’ Vladimir Guerrero Jr. were the others in the top five. Devers led the majors in extra-base hits with 31 and was tied with Nolan Arenado of the Cardinals for the lead in doubles (17)
Martinez led the AL in hits (62) and multi-hit games (20).
“That’s why we signed him in ’18,” Cora said Sunday of Martinez. “To be that guy in the middle of the lineup to help everybody else. Drive in runs, get on base and right now he’s driving in runs and he’s scoring a lot of runs. He’s been amazing since Day 1.”
While those three players, plus Alex Verdugo, have carried the offense for much of the season, the Red Sox have gotten some production from Hunter Renfroe. After hitting .167 with a .485 OPS in April, Renfroe has hit .307 with an .879 OPS in May, including 12 extra-base hits and 14 RBIs in 23 games.
“He’s doing a good job putting the ball and play going the other way, hitting with two strikes, staying on breaking balls.” Cora said. “He did that in spring training. Obviously wasn’t a good start for him. But he’s a good player.”
What to watch
Verdugo is still nursing a hamstring injury. During this 17-game stretch in 17 days, it will be interesting to see how he responds to it and how the team uses him.
Christian Arroyo gives the team a boost in the infield, but in his last 39 plate appearances, he’s hit just .147
Kiké Hernández, while a solid outfielder, is probably not a leadoff hitter for this club. His on-base percentage dropped below .300 again (.299) and he’s hitting just .245 for the season.