CLEVELAND — The Red Sox have the third-best record in the American League after beating the Cleveland Guardians, 8-3, on Sunday.
They have won seven in a row, 11 of 13, and are 32-12 since Alex Cora shaved off his apparently cursed beard on May 9. Only four teams in the majors have a better run differential.
Yes, the Sox also trail the Yankees by 11 games in the American League East. But if that’s the number you’re focused on, you’re missing an interesting season.
The Sox outscored a very good Guardians team by 10 runs over the weekend. All three starters worked into the sixth inning, the offense was multi-faceted (37 hits, 22 walks), and the defense was stout.
“They’re impressive,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. “Alex has them playing well.”
Rich Hill set the stage for the sweep by holding the Guardians to one run over six innings. He got eight outs on the ground and five by strikeout.
When Hill got the estimable José Ramírez to swing through a 90.7 mile-per-hour fastball for a strikeout in the first inning, you knew he had it working.
“He doesn’t take one pitch for granted,” said Cora, who marvels at how Hill deftly maneuvers his way through a lineup. “He gives it his best all the time. Sometimes it looks good. Sometimes great. Sometimes it doesn’t look good. But he battles.”
It has largely been good. Hill is 4-4 with a 4.09 earned run average and the Sox are 8-6 when he starts. The No. 5 starter has played a big role in the team staying on course with Nate Eovaldi and Garrett Whitlock on the injured list.
Beyond that, Hill has subtly used his influence and experience to guide the team in the right direction off the field. In batting practice, Cora has taken notice of how many pitchers gravitate to Hill and Michael Wacha to talk pitching while they shag flies.
Successful teams play well on the field, but that often starts in the clubhouse or on the team plane.
“The experience part of it plays a huge role,” Hill said. “With the time we’ve put into the game, you might see certain things that help guys out. I might have a piece of advice and I’m willing to give it.
“It’s a process that comes together as the season goes on. You can’t force it. The best advice you get is always from your teammates.”
J.D. Martinez sees the same chemistry forming with the hitters.
“It’s a good core. Most of us have been together for a bit and we’re all really, really close,” Martinez said. “Trevor [Story] comes in and he’s the easiest guy in the world to get along with. Dugie [Alex Verdugo], he’s a clown.
“It’s been easy with this group. We all pull for each other and when somebody is going bad, we try and help them and be there for him. That doesn’t always happen with every team, but we have some good personalities here.”
The Sox still have 16 games remaining against the Yankees, nine at Fenway Park. They’re not giving up on the division.
“It sucks that we started the year off the way that we did, but we’re making up ground,” Martinez said. “I don’t look at the standings because I know the Yankees are playing out of their minds. But that’s who we want to track down. It’s still a long season and a lot more time left.”
The Sox have 20 games remaining before the All-Star break, 17 against the Blue Jays, Yankees, and Rays.
The legitimacy of this surge will be tested, especially this week in Toronto with center fielder Jarren Duran and closer Tanner Houck away from the team because they remain unwilling to get vaccinated.
“This next month is going to tell a lot,” Martinez said. “This is going to be the month where we really see where we’re at. I’m looking forward to it.”
Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.