For the longest time, people thought John Farrell was April’s Fool.
“Farrell must go” e-mails cluttered my inbox. So how does 15-10 and in first place at the start of May grab you now? Still think Farrell deserves to be fired? There are six of these checkpoints during the course of a season. And the first one was pretty good.
I’m already getting responses from the naysayers who point out that the Red Sox have beaten up on three last-place teams — the Astros, Braves, and Yankees — and that we should wait until they play the tough teams. Well, is there any “good” team that doesn’t beat up on the dregs?
You’re supposed to beat those types of teams to succeed, aren’t you? So why is it a bad thing that they’ve beaten bad teams? Anyway, can’t make everyone happy. All I know is, the team that this reporter ridiculed early because of its poor starting rotation at the time has turned things around.
Who knows what will happen at the next checkpoints, but measuring things right now, Farrell will take it. He took the heat early. He should take the bows now.
“We finished better than we started,” Farrell said before Sunday’s 8-7 roller-coaster victory over the Yankeees. “I think the biggest thing is the guys in the lineup have developed a trust for one another. I like the fact that we’ve added to the depth of power arms in our bullpen. We still have room for improvement. We’ve got to have Clay [Buchholz] going. He’s an important part of our rotation and an important part of this team. We have to get him on track.
“But the last two turns in the rotation . . . it’s been more consistent. We’ve been able to give our guys in the bullpen a little more regular rest, but there’s elements to our offense which have been very encouraging. The all-fields approach and the way we’ve run bases has been very consistent.”
Concerning the rest of the division — which the Red Sox have seen in its entirety now — seems to point out what we all thought at the start: Nobody is really going to run away with it, and the Yankees can’t possibly be as bad as they looked in April. But, as Bill Parcells used to say, “You are what your record says you are,” and right now the Yankees are a mess.
“Every team has their strengths, and when the Yankees get [Aroldis] Chapman back that makes their bullpen even deeper,” Farrell said. “We don’t expect this to be a huge separation between any of the five teams here, so we’re all searching to shore up an area in need. We’re making the necessary adjustments for the guys on our roster now. Not that we’re going to make wholesale changes. We’ve got to get Clay going. That’s a big improvement that we can make.”
Without Buchholz’s 0-5 start the Red Sox would look even better. We pointed out in this space before the season started that Buchholz might be the most important player on this team. The team needed a bona fide No. 2 starter. As it turns out, Rick Porcello and/or Steven Wright have captured that spot. But Buchholz needs to get better soon or Farrell probably wouldn’t hesitate to replace him in the rotation, with Eduardo Rodriguez coming back to the team sometime in the next 10 days. One thing Farrell did in April was replace a high-priced player (Pablo Sandoval) with a younger player (Travis Shaw). It’s worked out well. So don’t think Buchholz would not be a candidate to go to the bullpen if he doesn’t improve rapidly, even though Farrell and he have a long-standing relationship, dating to when Farrell was Buchholz’s pitching coach.
Farrell also made the decision to demote Blake Swihart and promote Christian Vazquez, feeling that Vazquez would have a positive effect on the staff. Well, he’s helped Porcello more than he’s helped Buchholz. And on Sunday, he helped the offense, too, hitting a deciding two-run homer in the win over the Yankees.
David Price seems to have figured out stuff on his own and, before Sunday night’s struggles with Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees, was pitching at the caliber of someone worthy of a $30 million paycheck.
Going into Sunday night, the Red Sox led the American League or Major League Baseball in many offensive categories, including:
■ Runs per game: 5.25 (AL);
■ Average: .281 (AL);
■ OBP: .343 (AL);
■ Doubles: 66 (MLB);
■ 10 hits in a game (MLB);
■ 21 stolen bases in 23 attempts (MLB).
Red Sox pitchers were best in the American League and second in the majors with 9.79 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. In the last six games, the Red Sox’ ERA went from 5.48 to 4.49. Boston’s starters were 4-1 with a 2.21 ERA and a .215 opponent’s batting average in those six games.
In his last nine appearances, Junichi Tazawa has held opponents to a .074 average, giving up just two hits and two walks with 10 strikeouts in 8⅓ innings. Craig Kimbrel has three straight saves, eight overall. Heath Hembree has yet to allow a run since being called up on April 19, giving up five hits and one walk with 11 strikeouts over nine innings.
The team is playing with enthusiasm. There’s excitement on the team. Should Farrell take credit for that? When the team did appear listless and couldn’t get out of its own way and couldn’t break out of the win-one, lose-one funk they were in, they finally did.
If there’s one event that seemed to trigger the Red Sox’ upswing, it could be the 13-pitch at-bat by Ryan Hanigan in the 12th inning against Houston on April 24. It was definitely a great boost, putting the team in a positive direction.
We’ve seen a great April by David Ortiz, and revived enthusiasm by Hanley Ramirez. Dustin Pedroia looked like Dustin Pedroia again. Mookie Betts was exciting. Travis Shaw ran with his newfound starting job at third base. Jackie Bradley Jr. produced two game-winning hits and one game-tying hit.
Change your mind about John Farrell?