The 2019 Red Sox are finally starting to look like the team we all expected after their disasterous first few weeks. They ripped off a 6-1 record the week before last and began to hit and pitch the way last year's team did. This week saw them finishing their road trip with three games in Baltimore before welcoming the Mariners to Fenway Park. The time to make up ground and creep back above .500 was during this stretch because the schedule is going to get a lot tougher the deeper they get into May.
(5/6 at Baltimore Orioles): The series opener saw the continuation of a couple of things I haven't liked so far this season. The first was the team as a whole playing down to the level of their competition and the second was Alex Cora managing as though the Sox were ten games up in the division instead of needing every win they can get right now. Some pitcher named Josh Smith got the start for the Red Sox and the results were as predictable as it gets. Smith surrendered an early grand slam to Jonathan Villar and only a sacrifice fly from Eduardo Nunez in the fifth inning kept the Sox from getting shut out in this 4-1 loss. A forgettable game. It was especially frustrating because had the Sox won this game, they would've hit .500...instead, they slipped two games below.
(5/7 at Baltimore Orioles): We were treated to much more fun game than the previous one and for a variety of reasons. JD Martinez hit his 200th career home run in the first inning to put the Sox up 2-0, but this game ended up being a somewhat crazy back-and-forth affair until Mitch Moreland crushed his team-leading tenth homer of the season to give them some breathing room, breaking a 3-3 tie to put Boston up 6-3. They put up a couple of insurance runs later in the game and it was a good thing they did since the O's notched two more off of Ryan Brasier in the eighth inning to make it a bit close for comfort. Still, the Sox held on and atoned for their disappointing game the night before.
(5/8 at Baltimore Orioles): I think it's safe to say after this game that we've finally seen the Chris Sale we've been waiting for all season. He'd been trending in the right direction over his last few starts, but he was absolutely dominant in this game. He went eight innings and struck out fourteen batters (including an immaculate seventh inning) without walking a single one. The only run he surrendered was on Trey Mancini's RBI double which tied the game after Mookie Betts had hit a solo home run. It remained tied after nine and the real drama unfolded in extra innings. Mancini hit what appeared to be a game-winning solo home run in the bottom of the eleventh, but Jackie Bradley made a spectacular leaping catch at the wall to rob the homer and save the game for the Sox. It worked out really well, because in the top of the twelfth Andrew Benintendi hit a solo homer to put Boston up 2-1 which would be the final margin of victory after Heath Hembree struck out all three batters he faced in the bottom of the inning (I know, I couldn't believe it either!). With the dramatic win, the Sox took the series from the O's and finally hit .500 (at 19-19) for the first time since they were 1-1 on March 29th.
(5/10 vs. Seattle Mariners): The Sox started mashing early in this game and jumped out to a 10-0 lead before the shutout was spoiled by...you guessed it, Tyler Thornburg. This guy is only good enough for Alex Cora to put him in during blowouts and even then he can't help but give up runs. I'm ready to move on from him, but for reasons I've mentioned in weeks past it probably won't happen this season. The Sox tacked on four more for good measure and blew the M's out 14-1 to open up this series with a win. Rafael Devers continued to stay red hot at the plate and Mitch Moreland hit his team-leading eleventh homer of the season. That made it three straight wins for the Sox, tying their longest streak of the season and at 20-19, marked the first time all season that they were over .500.
(5/11 vs. Seattle Mariners): Rick Porcello looked like it was still early April when he gave up four runs in the top of the first inning, but after that he settled down to shut out the Mariners for the rest of his outing. Also unlike the beginning of the season, this time it didn't seem insurmountable for the Sox to come back from. Moreland hit yet another home run to make it twelve on the season and even Sandy Leon (no, really) hit a three-run bomb. Apart from a harmless solo homer late in the game, Seattle couldn't do anything but go down in defeat again to the score of 9-5. That made it four straight wins for the Red Sox as they continued to score runs in the ways we expected to from the start of the season. It really seems as though they were about a month behind in spring training and are now where we expected them to be in early April. Better late than never, right?
(5/12 vs. Seattle Mariners): Having won the first two against Seattle, I was greedy and wanted the sweep and it looks like the Red Sox did, too. Playing on a cold and drizzly Mother's Day, they put a beating on the M's that would make any mother proud. After giving up a single run early in the game, the Sox put the game out of reach by scoring nine runs over the next six innings. For good measure they tacked on a couple more late to run away with an 11-2 victory and a series sweep. JD Martinez hit two home runs (a solo shot and a two-run blast), Devers continued to stay hot and upped his average to .336, and Michael Chavis broke out of his slump with a four RBI day. Even the fact that this was a bullpen game started by Hector Velazquez didn't matter; he pitched five strong innings and picked up the win. With their fifth win in a row and the Yankees beating up on the Rays over the weekend, the Red Sox gained some ground in the division and look poised to gain more as the month progresses.
Quick Hits: The Sox went 5-1 this week and finally got over the .500 hump. They've in fact won five in a row and at 22-19, sit just three games behind the Rays for first and 2.5 games behind the Yankees for second. Building off of their strong last couple of weeks, the pitching has continued to be strong but the real revelation has been the hitting. We'd been waiting all season to see the potent league-leading offense that we saw in 2018 and it seems to have finally arrived this past week. The Sox put up thirty-four runs against Seattle over three games and came back from early deficits in two of those games. Whereas those early holes seemed too much to climb out of earlier in the season, nothing seems to be too much for this team now. They're starting to show the swagger and confidence that we saw all of last year and that's very bad news for the rest of the American League. Getting back to the pitching, Eduardo Rodriguez has thrown a few excellent starts over the last couple of weeks...is this finally the year where he puts it all together and does that consistently? As for Chris Sale, his eight inning/fourteen strikeout/zero walk performance in Baltimore was jaw-dropping and hopefully shows that he's fully back and in fine form going forward. If that Sale, the REAL Chris Sale, is anchoring this rotation going forward, then things are going to get really fun. Looking at the upcoming week, the Sox have a short two-game series against the Rockies sandwiched by a pair of off days before they host the Houston Astros over the weekend. Those won't be easy games, but the Houston series marks the beginning a stretch of seventeen games in a row without a day off, so after the Rockies leave town the Sox need to be ready to play some of their best baseball of the season. It's going to be a tough end to the month but I'm now confident, for the first time all season, that these guys will do just fine.
22-19 record, 3rd in AL East (3 GB the Rays)
Photo: (AP Photo/Steven Senne)