RSCTBNL: Is It Time To Believe in the 2021 Red Sox?

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The Red Sox have gotten off to an outstanding and unexpected start this season, and after Monday’s win over the White Sox sit at 11-6, the best record in the American League.  The team has shown a spark that has been missing since the 2018 championship season.  Is it time to start buying into this team?  In this week’s Red Sox Column to be Named Later, I answer that question and look at a few other developments for the Sox over the past week.

Red Sox Manager Alex Cora / Photo Courtesy of Yahoo.com


Don’t Stop Believin’ 


Not much was expected of the Red Sox coming into the 2021.  The Sox were coming off an abject failure of the COVID-shortened 2020 season after a lack-luster effort in 2019.  There was virtually no buzz surrounding the team in spring training, and getting swept by the Orioles at home to start the season had many people grumbling that there would be another lost summer of baseball in Boston. 


Since that Opening Weekend streak the Sox have won 11 of 14 games, and this week went 5-3 against AL Central favorites Minnesota and Chicago.  During that stretch the team has won with good pitching (from both starters and the bullpen), timely hitting.  The Sox have also shown an ability to rally late in games, a quality missing from the last two seasons.  This year’s team just has a different feel to it. 


What’s the reason for the turnaround?  The core players - J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and Christian Vazquez – are all still here.  But in the offseason Chief Baseball Officer brought in a number of veteran role players with winning pedigrees to infuse some new life into the clubhouse.  Kike Hernandez was signed away from the World Champion Dodgers, Marwin Gonzalez came over from the Twins following his playoff runs with the Astros, and Hunter Renfroe was brought in from the AL Champion Rays.  Hernandez has had the biggest impact on the field, but all three have contributed to victories during the recent streak. 


Of all the moves made by Bloom in the offseason, the biggest one was unquestionably bringing Alex Cora back as Manager.  He projects an air of confidence which permeates the clubhouse.  It is clear that his team believes in him and the players love playing for him.   


In retrospect, the entire episode with Cora and the team “parting ways” after Cora’s role in the Astros cheating scandal was revealed was nothing but a public face-saving operation by the Red Sox front office.  The plan was to bring back Cora all along once his suspension was served, and poor Ron Roenicke played the role of good soldier and fell on his sword at the helm of the 2020 team that was in the midst of a luxury tax reset.  Cora was their man all along.  He’s the right man for this team at this time, and the results are showing up on the field and in the standings.  Baseball is fun and relevant again in Boston. 

 


On Second Thought 


During Hernandez’s time in the major leagues with the Astros, Marlins and most notably the Dodgers,  he was known as a super-utility player.  During his career he has played every position with the exception of pitcher and catching.  When the Red Sox signed him during the offseason, that versatility was expected to continue somewhat, but Bloom and Cora both stated the intention for Hernandez to be the primary second basemen, a spot that hasn’t had a regular player since Dustin Pedroia vacated the position. 


Hernandez was indeed the Red Sox starter at second on Opening Day, but had a rough day defensively, getting charged with one error and failing to turn a double play in a critical situation.  Since that game, Hernandez has started at second in only three of the 14 games he’s started, with the remaining starts in center field.  The switch has less to do with Hernandez defensive deficiencies as it does with the emergence of Christian Arroyo as an everyday major league player. 


Arroyo was claimed off waivers last season after being released by the Indians.  Arroyo was brought up to Boston in September and hit .240 with three homers and eight RBI in 14 games.  He was not assured of a roster spot on Opening Day, much less a shot at the second base job heading into spring training.  But a solid spring in which he hit .269 landed him a spot on the 26 man roster.  Since then Arroyo has made the most of his opportunity, hitting .316 with six doubles in ten starts at second.  He has also flashed some leather at the position and turned some heads with his defense. 


Arroyo could be one of those finds Bloom and the Rays organization was known for procuring from other organizations and turning into solid big league players.  Still only 26 years old and pre-arbitration eligible, he is under Red Sox control for four more seasons.  

 


Goodaye, Bruce 


If there’s something a Red Sox fan loves almost as much as when the Red Sox are playing well, it’s loving watching the Yankees lose.  And Sox fans are loving 2021 so far.  The Yankees have gotten off to the opposite start of the Sox, and currently sit at the bottom of the AL East with an American League worst 5-10 record.  The Yankees have lost five straight, and were most recently swept at home by the Rays in a three game series in which they were outscored 18-7.   


To add insult to injury, offseason free agent acquisition Jay Bruce announced his retirement Saturday, effective after Sunday’s game.  Bruce, once one of the game’s premier power hitters in his days with the Reds, was batting only .118 with one homer and three RBI in ten games with the Bombers.  


Ultimately, I just felt like I couldn’t perform at the level that I expected out of myself,” said Bruce.  Bruce also played for the Mets, Mariners, and Phillies in his 14 year MLB career. 

 


Trending Up 

 

Xander Bogaerts had another outstanding week at the plate, slashing .400/.444/.560 with four doubles. 


Alex Verdugo also had a monster week with the bat, slashing .393/.438/.529 with two homers and eight RBI.  He also made a diving catch in left field to snuff out a late rally by the Twins in Minnesota. 


The coming out party that is Garrett Whitlock continues.  He threw 3 2/3 innings this week and has yet to allow a run in his big league career.  For good measure, Whitlock allowed no hits and struck out three without allowing a walk in the past seven days.  Some are already touting him as a potential Rookie of the Year candidate.

 


Trending Down 


As he did in 2020, Christian Vazquez got off to a blazing hot start in 2021.  And just as he did in 2020, Vazquez has come crashing back down to earth.  In his first five games in 2020, Vazquez slashed .421/.450/1.105 with three homers and eight RBI.  In his next 13 games, he dropped to .149/.167/.170 with no homers and only 3 RBI.


This season, Vazquez slashed .458/.500/.833 with two homers and four RBI in the first seven games of the season.  In his next seven games, he has cooled off to the tune of 5 for 28 with three of the hits coming in the Patriots Day 11-4 blowout of the White Sox.  Last season Vazquez rebounded late to hit .283 with seven homers and 23 RBI.  He needs to find more consistency at the plate if he is going to be considered one of the top catchers in the game. 

 


Look Ahead 

 

The Red Sox stay at Fenway for the upcoming week, welcoming the Toronto (nee Buffalo) Blue Jays to Boston for a quick two game series before hosting the Mariners in a four game set beginning Thursday night.  The Sox will face Jays ace lefthander Hyun Jin Ryu on Tuesday.  Ryu is 1-1 on the season with a 1.90 ERA and 0.98 WHIP.  The Sox will counter with Eduardo Rodriguez on the mound.  


The Buffalo Jays still sport their stable of young sluggers, led by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. And Bo Bichette with four homers each. 


The Mariners were expected to be in a rebuilding year.  There are no big names on the roster, but despite that they have also gotten off to a fast start and are on top of the AL West standings with a 10-6 record going into play on Monday night.  The Mariners have won eight of their last 11, including taking two out of three from the Astros this past weekend. 



Follow Bill on Twitter @BTravers_SYN

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Boston Sports Syndicate: RSCTBNL: Is It Time To Believe in the 2021 Red Sox?
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