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Can the Red Sox Keep This Up?

Welcome to The Opener, where every weekday morning you’ll get a fresh, topical column to start your day from one of’s MLB writers.

When the Red Sox began the season with three losses to the woeful Orioles, it looked like they were entering the second year of The Curse of Mookie Betts.

Their outlook for 2021 already wasn’t promising and then they got swept at home by a team that entered the year with a 0% chance to make the playoffs, per Fangraphs. Boston lost the third game of the series, 11–3. Eleven days later, that remains its most recent loss.

Since dropping the first series to Baltimore, the Red Sox have rattled off nine straight wins—including three against the Orioles—and emerged as somewhat surprising contenders.

Alex Verdugo, Enrique Hernandez and Hunter Renfroe celebrate a Red Sox win.

So what are we supposed to make of the Red Sox? Well, for one thing, they’re one of the best hitting teams in the league over the first two weeks. They lead the American League and rank second in the majors with six runs per game, behind the Reds (6.25). During the winning streak—their longest since July 2018, when they won 10 in a row—they’re averaging 7.4 runs per game.

At least part of Boston’s offensive outburst can be attributed to the pitchers it has faced. Jorge López, the 2021 version of Michael Wacha and the ghost of Matt Harvey are not exactly imposing. Tampa Bay ace Tyler Glasnow held the Red Sox to one run over six innings while striking out 10 on April 6, before the Rays bullpen—which has looked uncharacteristically problematic—blew the lead and Boston won it in 12 innings. 

But the Red Sox did beat Minnesota’s two best pitchers (Kenta Maeda and José Berríos) in each game of Wednesday’s doubleheader, and they do have some great hitters, along with several other pretty good ones. Right now, they’re all producing at the same time.

Designated hitter J.D. Martinez has returned to form after a down, in-game, video-less 2020 season. Over his first 11 games, he’s hitting .378 with a 1.307 OPS and five home runs, three of which came Sunday against the Orioles. Third baseman Rafael Devers is slugging .651 and also has five homers. Martinez and Devers each have driven in 13 runs during Boston’s winning streak. Xander Bogaerts, their longest-tenured player and one of baseball’s best (and more underrated) offensive shortstops, is hitting .372 after a 3-for-7 doubleheader.

Alex Verdugo, the lone big league return piece from the Dodgers in the Mookie Betts trade, is beginning to heat up after a quietly strong 2020. He went 5-for-8 in Wednesday’s doubleheader and smacked his second home run of the season. Franchy Cordero, a one-time Padres prospect with a ton of power, is also off to a good start. The Red Sox acquired him from the Royals in the trade for Andrew Benintendi in February.

And then there’s Christian Vázquez, whose success at the plate is somewhat unexpected despite his gradual improvements as a hitter over the last few years. Known primarily as a glove-first catcher, Vázquez is slashing .325/.372/.550 in 11 games.

More unexpected than the hot start for the Boston bats is what we’ve seen from the pitching staff. The Red Sox are allowing 3.3 runs per game during their winning streak after finishing 28th with a 5.58 ERA last season.

The oft-hurt Nathan Eovaldi is 2–1 with a 2.08 ERA in three starts. Eduardo Rodríguez, who missed last season after he tested positive for COVID-19 and was later diagnosed with myocarditis, has won both of his starts this year, while righthander Nick Pivetta is also 2–0. The bullpen anchored by Matt Andriese, Matt Barnes and Darwinzon Hernandez has been excellent thus far.

Even so, Boston’s pitching almost certainly won’t hold up this year. Pivetta has a career 5.85 ERA in five seasons; Martín Pérez hasn’t been reliable since he finished sixth for the 2012 AL Rookie of the Year; Garrett Richards, for all his early promise, hasn’t been healthy since 2015. The wild card here is Chris Sale, who is rehabbing after having Tommy John surgery in March 2020. But even if he comes back at full strength, his return is hardly enough to make this a good rotation.

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So where do the Red Sox stand moving forward? The Yankees are still the most talented team in the AL East, so at best, Boston is a wild-card team. But there are a number of teams—the Blue Jays, Twins and Astros, to name a few—that are better suited to make a wild-card run.

The Red Sox won’t maintain their production of six runs per game throughout the season, but they can be an above-average offensive team. It’s also clear they won’t do much during the season to upgrade their pitching, certainly not if it means sacrificing what little prospect capital they have to make a postseason push.

Overall, a nine-game winning streak in April doesn’t change a whole lot. The Red Sox are probably still going to be at best a third-place team by season’s end.

White Sox lefthander Carlos Rodón was two outs away from throwing the 24th perfect game in MLB history on Wednesday night when his 0–2 slider caught the back foot of Cleveland catcher Roberto Pérez. 

Instead, he completed the no-hitter, the second of the 2021 season and the 20th in franchise history. 

Chicago selected Rodón with the No. 3 pick in 2014 draft, and he made his big league debut less than a year later on April 21, 2015. Since then, he's never quite put it together. A series of injuries have interrupted his development, and he had Tommy John surgery in May 2019. 

He was nontendered a contract this offseason after struggling in 2020 but re-signed with Chicago soon afterward.

The way Rodón's perfect game bid ended did cause some controversy. White Sox fans at Guaranteed Rate Field were chanting, "Bulls---, bulls---," presumably because they felt Pérez should've gotten out of the way of the pitch. However, Pérez had already finished his load and started pivoting his bat foot in preparation to swing by the time the slider spiked out of the zone, making it more difficult for him to react.

"I think he got hit more because he didn't recognize the pitch, rather than we hit him," White Sox catcher Zack Collins told reporters. "Most of the time if you recognize the pitch you move out of the way, but he just didn't see it."

A two-strike hit by pitch with one out in the ninth is still a brutal way to lose a perfect game, especially because it followed up a fantastic defensive play. Josh Naylor bounced a grounder to first baseman José Abreu, who fielded the ball and slid feet-first into the bag just ahead of Naylor for the out. If not for the play, Rodón's bid for both the no-hitter and perfect game would've been over.

Quick Hits

• Ronald Acuña Jr. went 3-for-5 with a double and two home runs in Atlanta's 6–5 loss to the Marlins in extra innings on Wednesday. He now has 19 hits and six home runs in his last 35 at bats.

• Yadier Molina became the first player to catch 2,000 games for one team. Only five other catchers—Iván Rodríguez, Carlton Fisk, Bob Boone, Gary Carter, Jason Kendall—have played 2,000 games behind the dish for any team. The Cardinals lost to the Nationals, 6–0.

• Corbin Burnes is off to a ridiculous start to 2021. After his latest gem against the Cubs—six innings, 10 strikeouts and no walks—Burnes has now struck out 30 batters and allowed zero walks across his first three starts; he's the only pitcher in the modern era (since 1901) to do so. The Brewers won, 7–0.

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