When Alex Cora sits in his postgame interviews having liked what he saw from his Red Sox, he often uses the phrase, “That was fun to watch.” It’s become a go-to for the manager, an appropriate response to anything from Connor Wong’s multi-home run exploits to Chris Sale’s multi-strikeout ones.
As the Sox rolled into Atlanta for the two-game swing that wraps up their five-game road trip, Cora’s words have never felt more accurate.
Or, if we’re being honest, more surprising.
These Red Sox are fun to watch.
Quietly, and out of the spotlight — relatively speaking anyway, as the Bruins and Celtics gobbled up headlines for one aborted playoff run and one ongoing one — the Red Sox have emerged as a bona fide feel-good story, playing a brand of baseball that is indeed fun to watch, not simply because it’s been leading to wins, but because it’s been smart, crisp, and rooted in fundamentals. At 21-15 and currently fourth in the American League East (good enough for the second wild-card slot), how have the Sox been doing it?
Let’s take a look.
▪ Start at the top …
By giving a healthy assist to the major league rule-makers whose decision to put a clock on pitchers and hitters has made the entire game more enjoyable.
Of course there have been kinks, such as allowing extra time for exceptional moments like the one Bryce Harper was afforded Friday night in Philadelphia, when he made his home debut after an extraordinarily quick return from Tommy John surgery, or eventually making certain that some concerns about a link to pitching injuries aren’t true.
But otherwise, the new system is working beautifully. Through 518 games as of Monday morning, baseball-reference has average game time at 2:39. That’s a full 27 minutes below last season’s average of 3:06, which was five minutes shorter than 2021′s all-time worst average on record of 3:11.
The game has not missed the extra fidgeting on the mound or the back-and-forth steps into the batter’s box, has not missed seeing players constantly readjust their wristbands or pitchers fake multiple throws to first or second base.
▪ This team doesn’t give up …
On the season or within a game. It seems like ancient history now, but remember where the Sox were on April 13, on the wrong end of a four-game sweep at the hands of the then-undefeated Rays, down to 5-8 overall and scuffling? They rebounded to win 16 of their next 23, including eight straight before dropping Sunday’s series finale in Philadelphia, their longest winning streak since June 25-July 2, 2021.
The Sox have come from behind 15 times already this season, and the two out of three in Philadelphia was their third straight series win and sixth of the last seven. Last year, the Sox went 2-7-2 in their first 11 series and did not earn an eighth series win until June 12.
▪ Emerging core players …
Like Wong and Alex Verdugo. They’ve both anchored great wins and great stories, Verdugo with his walk-off wonders and Wong with his steady hand behind home plate. Wong’s hitting has been a bonus (.257, 3 home runs, 10 RBIs in 26 games) and his growth helps justify the decision to trade clubhouse favorite Christian Vázquez last season. And Verdugo, challenged by Cora to return to his more consistent ways this season, is batting .307 with 18 RBIs, and has scored 27 runs and drawn 13 walks.
Overall the Sox are patient at the plate, hit well when down in the count, move runners with efficiency, and, despite multiple injuries in the infield, are holding their own defensively.
▪ Maybe a Rookie of the Year …
In Masataka Yoshida. The team’s biggest offseason free agent signing has been delivering big-time of late, reminiscent more of the player we saw in Japan’s World Baseball Classic title than in the season’s early going.
Yoshida went 2 for 4 Sunday, extending his hitting streak to 16 games, a stretch in which he has gone 28 for 63 for a .438 average. And who couldn’t get a smile out of Yoshida meeting one of his own baseball heroes in Harper?
▪ The return of the old Chris Sale …
Rather than more of the (injured) Chris Sale. Sale looked dominant in beating the Phillies Friday night (6 innings, 3 runs, 10 strikeouts, 99 m.p.h. on the radar gun), his lanky frame swirling and delivering like his former Cy Young self. Yet one of the best parts of the outing came after he flubbed a tapper off Harper’s bat. In admitting “the train was getting off the tracks a little bit,” as he tried to contain his anger because the misplay opened the door to a three-run Phillies rally to tie the game, Sale credited his teammates, especially Wong, for calming him down.
That’s a sign of good chemistry.
▪ A balanced bullpen …
That has bridged the late innings and the final one, where Kenley Jansen has proven himself a valuable addition as closer. Baseball-reference has the Sox relievers rated second in the American League, with one recorded loss in relief and a save percentage of 83.
▪ And finally, a begrudging but respectful nod to the decisions of …
Chief baseball officer and resident punching bag Chaim Bloom, who might still have a long way to go toward forgiveness for letting Xander Bogaerts walk, failing to see the value of Kyle Schwarber, or, let’s face it, committing the unforgivable sin of trading Mookie Betts. But he still earns credit where credit is due.
Veteran additions like Justin Turner and Adam Duvall bring the sort of maturity and winning pedigree Bloom promised. And of course the one big contract Bloom did sign means Rafael Devers (along with his second-in-the-majors 11 home runs) will be around to hold it all together.
Fun to watch.