Many of us have made a few off-handed comments about the Red Sox’ easy schedule to this point. But you know what? The Red Sox took care of business during this nine-game stretch to start the season. As one wise old baseball sage said, “They all count.”
One of the biggest byproducts of the nine-game stretch, in which the Red Sox went 8-1 (losing Game 1, 6-4, to Tampa Bay and coming back in dramatic fashion to win Game 9, 8-7, also against Tampa Bay) was building team confidence.
It got Alex Cora off to a good start as the new Red Sox manager. It got the starting rotation off to two really good cycles. It allowed Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez to establish themselves as quality depth starters in the absence of Drew Pomeranz, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Steven Wright, all of whom started the season on the disabled list.
While Cora hoped for this type of start, now that it’s happened is he somewhat surprised?
“Honestly, no. We’ve been playing good baseball for months now. I know spring training doesn’t count, but we’re playing fast, we’re catching the ball, and we’re pitching. Whether it’s Fort Myers or in Tampa or here when you’re playing good baseball you get good results.
“I don’t know if that group needs more confidence,” he added. “They’re just playing good baseball. They’re just having fun right now,” Cora said.
Unfortunately, the good times Sunday cost the Red Sox their hottest hitter — Xander Bogaerts — who injured his left ankle when he slid into the Rays’ dugout after making a quick flip of the ball to third base when there as no one manning the base. He tried retrieving the ball before it entered the dugout by sliding after it. The ball never made it in, but Bogaerts did. He was helped off the field and was undergoing further evaluation.
Bogaerts was back into the elite shortstop conversation after his strong offensive start. He was 12 for 27 (.444) with seven doubles, two homers, and nine RBIs in seven games against the Rays this season. Even if Bogaerts is OK, you hate to see him have to play less than 100 percent as he had to for a majority of last season with a hand injury.
Rodriguez’s 2018 debut proved the worst pitched game by a starter this season as he lasted only 3⅔ innings and allowed five hits, three runs with seven strikeouts and two walks. He threw 92 pitches.
Before Sunday’s outing, Sox starters were 5-0 with a 1.28 ERA (seven earned runs in 49⅓ innings). The last time a team had an ERA lower from their starters in their first eight games was the 2002 Giants (1.11 ERA).
But you’d have to say the Red Sox started the 2018 season exactly as they had envisioned.
It gave Craig Kimbrel some valuable early season work after he missed most of March to tend to his infant daughter, who underwent heart surgery. It allowed J.D. Martinez to get his timing down after a late start to spring training, though a strikeout with the bases loaded to end the fifth inning on Sunday wasn’t what the Red Sox were looking for from him.
It enabled Hanley Ramirez to establish positive results early in a season in which he’s trying to get a 2019 option worth $22 million to vest.
It’s allowed David Price to earn some goodwill with the fans and show that he’s healthy and can pitch like a $31 million pitcher.
The other thing that happened was the Red Sox did not make one error in nine games, the only team in the majors not to be charged with one. That’s significant considering the Red Sox have an elite defensive outfield but a UZR-deficient infield. Yes, there have been balls that have skipped through the infield, especially on the right side, where Eduardo Nunez simply doesn’t have the range of Dustin Pedroia.
If there were any negatives one would be Carson Smith has had a couple of rough outings in the set-up role. Jackie Bradley Jr.’s normally streaky offense has started out on the downside, though his defense has been stellar.
As good as 8-1 sounds, it should have been 9-0 given they blew a 4-0, eighth-inning lead on Opening Day.
But fun time is over.
Now the Red Sox face the mettle — the New York Yankees — who have managed to survive a plethora of injuries with a 5-5 record and without the benefit of a hot Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, or Gary Sanchez, a trio that will surely mash at some juncture in 2018. The three-game series starts Tuesday at Fenway.
If you go by the theory that the Sox should beat up the bad teams and play around .500 against the good teams then winning two out of three against the Yankees would be sublime for them, but losing two out of three wouldn’t be acceptable.
Since 2013, the Yankees have the series edge, 48-47. In that time, the Red Sox have won a World Series and won two divisional titles, so a .500 or so record against them isn’t the worst thing. The Red Sox could also prove to those still skeptical because of their weak schedule, that they can also beat good teams.
The Yankees will have their own stretches of layups. Maybe not as long as this Red Sox stretch, but, for instance, there’s a five-game stretch beginning April 13 against the Tigers and Marlins. There’s a six-game stretch in June with the Rays and Phillies. There a seven-game stretch in July vs. the Rays and Royals and a stretch of games in August against the White Sox and Tigers. There are plenty of places the Yankees can make up ground or pull ahead.
The Yankees have CC Sabathia, Ben Heller, Jacoby Ellsbury, Aaron Hicks, Clint Frazier, Billy McKinney, Brendan Drury and Greg Bird all on the disabled list. Other than Bird, who could return in late May, and Heller (Tommy John surgery), none are considered serious.
The Red Sox looked like goners when they trailed, 7-2, heading into the eighth on Sunday and they turned that seemingly dire situation into a W. It’s a testament to how bad the Rays are. It’s also a testament to the Red Sox, who didn’t give up on the game and beat up the teams they had to beat up.