As we near the quarter mark on the MLB season, the Boston Red Sox find themselves sitting a top the AL East with a game and a half lead on the second place Toronto Blue Jays. If anyone would have predicted that the Red Sox would be in this position in the buildup to the regular season, they would have been laughed at. And yet where everything went wrong for Boston last season, it’s gone right this season. The lineup was expected to be the strong suit of the team last season, and promptly flopped, but they’ve been fantastic so far this season. The biggest surprise so far this season has to be the pitching Boston has received, and it’s fair to say this team will only go as far as their pitching takes them.
Let’s start with the starting rotation, which has been an absolute revelation for this team. It seemed like a somewhat ragtag group of starters thrown into one rotation at the start of the season, but it has paid dividends for Boston so far this season. Aside from a couple of poor starts from Garrett Richards, they’ve been able to contain opposing lineups, and keep Boston in each game at the very least, which has proven to be huge so far this season.
Let’s start with the three guys who were the holdovers from last season. Nathan Eovaldi has regressed some from his fantastic start, and has struggled to put guys down at times, but he has been the de facto leader of this rotation, and when he gets rolling, he’s nearly unhittable. Eduardo Rodriguez only recently picked up his first loss of the season against the Oakland Athletics, and he’s typically looked better with each start since missing all of last season. And while Martin Perez has yet to pick up his first win of the season, he’s done a great job of keeping the Sox in every start of his, and he probably deserves to have at least two wins to his name by now. These three guys were expected to be the lead part of the rotation, and they have done their job in providing some consistency to a rotation that had absolutely none last season.
The two unknowns heading into the season were Garrett Richards and Nick Pivetta, and both have been phenomenal for the most part so far. Richards started off slow on the season and struggled with his command early on, but has started to figure things out and turned in some brilliant performances recently. A big piece of the puzzle with Richards is the strikeout ball; in his first four starts, Richards only sat down 12 batters. In his four most recent starts, he’s sat down 26. When Richards pitches start moving the way they are supposed to, watch out.
Easily the biggest surprise though has been Nick Pivetta. Pivetta has been the Sox best pitcher on the season so far, as he has gone 5-0, and the Sox have gone 6-1 in his seven starts. The only game the Sox lost that he started was a game he went 5.2 innings without allowing a hit to the Seattle Mariners, before the bullpen would explode later on. He may not be the flashiest pitcher, but he knows how to get batters out, whether it be pitching to contact or going for the strikeout. He’s gone toe to toe with guys like Jacob deGrom and won this season, which is more than anyone could have expected from the unknown righty.
If the rotation can keep going at least five or six innings into their starts, Boston will have a good shot to pull out victories. But another area that has gone somewhat under the radar is the bullpen. Sure, there have been some guys that have struggled, but their performance, much like the starting rotation, has been a marked improvement from what we saw last season.
When looking at the bullpen, a couple guys clearly stand out. Phillips Valdez has emerged a solid middle innings guy, and he could start being thrown into more high leverage situations as a result. Hirokazu Sawamura has been a solid addition to the pen, and seems to be getting more and more comfortable with each appearance. Aside from a couple of bumpy outings, Matt Andriese and Darwinzon Hernandez have been huge helps, but need to develop more consistency. And the steal of the Rule 5 Draft, Garrett Whitlock, has made Chaim Bloom look like a genius for snatching him for the New York Yankees, as he has a 1.77 ERA over his 10 appearences.
Easily the shining star of the pen is the guy at the end of it; Matt Barnes. Barnes was thrust into the closer role last year, and struggled to finish off the rare leads the Sox would have. Due to him being generally inconsistent over his career, Barnes being announced as the closer again came with some skepticism, but he has been phenomenal this season. He’s picked up all eight of his possible saves, has a sparkling 2.00 ERA despite pitching the second most innings out of the bullpen, and sports an insane 30/3 strikeout-to-walk ratio. With setup man Adam Ottavino struggling in the early part of the season, it’s been very reassuring to have Barnes in the back pocket in the event something goes awry. When a game is in the balance, there hasn’t been a more reliable option to call on then Matt Barnes this season.
A 39 game sample is a somewhat small size, but the early results are encouraging. The pitching staff is going to have to keep up their hot start to the season if Boston intends on not only hanging onto the AL East lead, but potentially making some noise in the playoffs. Of course, the wild card in this matter is Chris Sale, who could be set to make his return sometime later this season. The best we can hope for is that the pitching continues to perform, and that Alex Cora has a tough decision to make if Chris Sale returns later this season.
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