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The Red Sox are back on track. Here’s how they turned things around

J.D. Martinez, crossing the plate on the first of his two home runs Sunday, and the Red Sox are finally pointed in the right direction after a slow start.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The Red Sox fell to 6-13 on April 17 after being swept in a two-game series against the Yankees in New York. They were in last place in the American League East, 8½ games out.

The rotation had a 6.70 earned run average at that point and the Sox were hitting .230 as a team, the bottom third of their lineup posing no threat.

Poor defense, even in the outfield, completed what was a terrible trifecta for the defending World Series champions.

“Something needed to change,” said Mookie Betts, who admitted to some moments of uncertainty about whether that would actually happen. “Every team goes through bad stretches. But we really weren’t playing well.”


Now, less than a month later, everything has changed.

The Red Sox beat the Seattle Mariners, 11-2, on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep. They have won five straight, 11 of 13, and 16 of 22 since that Yankees series.

It’s safe to look at the standings again. The Sox are three games out.

There are plenty of factual reasons why the Sox have rebounded. Their starting pitching improved dramatically once they made up for the lack of innings in spring training. They have a 3.27 ERA in the last 22 games.

Most everything good or bad in baseball can be traced back to starting pitching. Once Rick Porcello and Chris Sale started pitching well, the season shifted.

“That gave the hitters a chance to work through what they were struggling with and it helped the bullpen,” Porcello said. “We had the same team we had last year outside of two guys. It was frustrating and we wanted it to end when we were going through it. But we knew it would end someday.”

Betts returned to his Most Valuable Player form after a slow start. Rookie Michael Chavis, who drove in five runs Sunday, brought needed energy to the lineup. Rafael Devers did the same with how he has hit.


The foundation was manager Alex Cora, who didn’t let the poor start change his disposition.

“He instilled in us that we were good and we just had to keep playing,” Betts said. “There was nothing we could do about the past. We had to focus on today. The team wasn’t broke. It wasn’t working for a little bit and every team goes through that.”

The beginning of this season helps explain why the Red Sox fired John Farrell after consecutive first-place finishes and replaced him with Cora. They wanted a manager who could guide the team through the tough times.

It’s why the Celtics will learn a lot more about Brad Stevens next season than they did his first five. Boston is a great place to win and a terrible place to lose and it takes the right person to get a team through that.

Cora said, “We’ll be fine” after every loss and made his team believe that.

His actions spoke as loudly. He stayed true to his policy of giving players regular days off and didn’t try to change how the team played. There were two days he gave up on Andrew Benintendi batting leadoff but went right back to it, deciding his reasons for making the switch before the season were still valid.

Cora managed a 6-13 team the same way he did when the Sox were 17-2 last season.


“Offensively we knew it was just a matter or time,” Cora said. “Offensively there were some guys who were scuffling — Mookie, the bottom of the lineup — but now we’re controlling the strike zone.

“Early in the season we were expanding the zone. Now we do a pretty good job of hitting fastballs and taking breaking balls off the plate.”

So while others wondered whether the Red Sox would recover, Cora didn’t.

“Nah,” he said. “Not at all, not at all. You have to be disciplined. Like I’ve said all along, last year we didn’t get caught up on the record we had and this year we didn’t get caught up on the start.

“This is just a start. We still have work to do, that’s the good thing about it. We got to this point and we know we can get better. We’ll keep working just the same as we did in the first few weeks of the season and try to become the team we know we can be.”

“We have a good team. We have a really good team.”

That message was heard and now the results are backing the words.

“We all knew what was going on and we talked about it as a group a few times,” Mitch Moreland said. “From AC’s standpoint, he’s as even-keeled as it gets. He’s got a calm head at all times. He’s always the same guy.

“It starts at the top, man. When you sense panic in your manager or your coaching staff, you start seeing it in the clubhouse. Everybody is walking on eggshells. We never had an ounce of that. Guys came to the field; we had fun, did our stuff and tried to win games. Now we are.”


Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.