At the start of the season, the Red Sox were a top-heavy team with elite talent in the middle of the order, but a non-existent supporting cast. Otherworldly performances by Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, and J.D. Martinez the first five weeks proved inadequate with the rest of the lineup offering nothing.
As spring turns into summer, the team’s surge into contention is being sustained in no small part by the sort of internal depth that often distinguishes good seasons from the false promise of a hot start.
The Red Sox claimed a solid 5-2 win against a despondent Tigers team on Monday night at Fenway, led chiefly by a number of players who opened the year in Triple A. Fill-in starter Josh Winckowski mowed through the Detroit lineup over 6⅔ efficient innings, reliever John Schreiber delivered a key out, and outfielder Jarren Duran and first baseman Franchy Cordero spearheaded the offense by reaching base three times each — Duran while adding two steals and two runs, and Cordero while driving in a pair.
“They’ve been great for us,” manager Alex Cora said of the reinforcements. “We’re in a good place as a team and I think we’re in a good place with the roster.”
Duran showed continued comfort, and potentially a promising glimpse of a Red Sox future, atop the lineup. He led off the first with a five-pitch walk against Tigers starter Alex Faedo, stole second, and scored on a one-out J.D. Martinez single to right-center.
After the Tigers scratched out a game-tying run in the second, Duran — amidst perhaps the most well-rounded game of his early big-league career — once again catalyzed the offense in the third. He jumped on an elevated slider from Faedo for a ground-rule double to the warning track in right-center and cruised home when Rafael Devers pulverized a fastball to right-center for an RBI double.
It was Devers’ major league-leading 41st extra-base hit of the year.
Duran later lashed a single to left on a fastball away and stole a base on the back end of a double steal, finishing the night 2 for 3 with a walk and a pair of runs. The three times on base matched a career high, while the two steals were a new one.
“Just getting on base for the big guys, letting J.D. rack in the RBIs and getting on base for Devers, it’s all I want to do,” said Duran, who is hitting .310/.394/.517 in eight games. “I like to try to set the tone and if I get on, I feel like maybe I can run the bases crazy for these guys.”
The Sox sustained the pressure against Faedo and the Tigers, adding a run in the fourth, then two more in the fifth when Cordero dropped a two-run single to center against lefty reliever Tyler Alexander to put the Sox ahead, 5-1.
Cordero delivered rockets around the ballpark in his 3-for-4 evening, including an eye-popping rocket of a single with a 117.9 mile-per-hour exit velocity – a mark topped this year only by Giancarlo Stanton, Shohei Ohtani, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
“A missile,” Cora remarked.
That early offense proved ample for rookie (2-1, 3.68), who impressed for the second straight outing. The righthander inspired weak contact from the Tigers throughout the night, permitting two runs on seven hits while walking just one and striking out two.
Winckowski leaned chiefly on his mid-90s sinker and slider, but mixed in a smattering of four-seam fastballs and hard (90 miles per hour) changeups to avoid becoming too predictable. Though he didn’t miss bats, Winckowski avoided loud contact and kept his pitch count low, convincing Cora to leave him on the mound into the seventh.
Though he faltered there in allowing a run on two hits, the 23-year-old became the fourth Red Sox starter since 2009 and first since 2017 to pitch into the seventh in one of his first three big league starts. The rookie credited catcher Christian Vázquez with the crisp pace of his performance.
“Vazqy has seen me more and more. When I go to throw, I have a pitch in mind already. He called it almost every time,” said Winckowski. “That doesn’t happen too often. The comfort level is definitely way up.”
Jake Diekman replaced Winckowski with a man on second and two outs in the seventh. Pinch-hitter Eric Haase drilled a steaming liner off the lefty, but Alex Verdugo’s diving catch allowed the Sox to escape with a 5-2 lead intact.
In the eighth, Matt Strahm allowed a single while recording two outs before Cora turned to John Schreiber, the setup righthander of choice. But Schreiber was touched by Javy Báez for a double, putting two on and bringing dazzling rookie Riley Greene to the plate as the potential tying run.
Undaunted, Schreiber froze Greene with a 95-mile-per-hour fastball on the edge, then left a long line of stinging hands in the Red Sox dugout with a boisterous succession of high-fives.
Tanner Houck, who recorded saves on both Friday and Sunday against the Cardinals, then followed for the ninth, the first time in the righthander’s career that he’s pitched back-to-back days. Houck proved no worse for the quick turnaround, topping out at 96 m.p.h. for his fifth save.
The victory was the Red Sox’ sixth in their last eight games, and left the team six games over .500 (37-31) for the first time this year. With the victory, the Sox leapfrogged the Rays for third in the A.L. East, their highest standing in the division since April 22.