There is no doubt that the Boston Red Sox are one of the surprise teams in Major League Baseball so far.
The team will begin the second half of the season in first place in the American League East, which is one the deepest divisions in baseball, as four of its five teams have winning records.
The Sox have a game and a half lead on the Tampa Bay Rays and an eight-game lead on the Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Yankees. They were supposed to begin a four-game series in New York on Thursday, however the game was postponed because of positive COVID-19 tests among vaccinated New York pitchers Jonathan Loaisiga, Nestor Cortes Jr. and Wandy Peralta.
The Red Sox were entering the game 6-0 against their hated rivals this season.
The Red Sox are 55-36, and 17 of the 18 teams that won 55 of their first 90 games have made the playoffs since the advent of the Wild Card playoff game in each league in 2012.
But we are Sox fans, so we are waiting for the clock to strike midnight and the carriage to turn back into a pumpkin.
Of course, we aren’t as jaded or as skeptical as we used to be. Four World Series championships since 2004 have significantly reduced the frustration.
And since most Red Sox fans are also Patriots, Bruins and Celtics supporters — teams that have combined for eight more championships this century, including six Super Bowl wins by the Patriots — we have nothing to complain about.
That would be greedy.
The two architects behind the Red Sox success are manager Alex Cora and Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom.
Cora, who was suspended a year for his role in Houston’s sign-stealing scheme, is a player’s manager.
He gets the most out of his players. He relates to them and has earned their respect.
He holds them accountable but doesn’t rip them in the media.
He will acknowledge a poor performance but will explain the reason for it rather than chastising the player. And he has done a masterful job juggling his lineup and his bullpen.
Most of his decisions have paid off.
Bloom, who helped build the low-budget Tampa Rays into a consistent contender, has made a number of clever moves to bolster the team.
He brought in a bunch of players for low money who are at a crossroads in their careers and has given them a chance to prove they are still valuable commodities. Two that stand out have been right fielder Hunter Renfroe and versatile Kike Hernandez, who has played a number of positions.
Renfroe was a career .228 hitter and hit just .156 for Tampa during the 2020 season, which was abbreviated by COVID-19. Now he’s hitting .263 with 13 homers and 46 runs batted in, he leads the Major Leagues in outfield assists with 11.
All together, Red Sox outfielders lead the Major Leagues in assists with 28. In the last full season, 2019, Cleveland led the Majors with 38 assists.
Hernandez, who has been the center fielder most of the time, has 31 extra-base hits among his 66 hits including 11 homers and 19 doubles. He has played in 75 games. He had 37 extra-base hits in 130 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2019 and 41 in 145 games in 2018.
The Red Sox have six players with 10 or more homers led by American League All-Stars Xander Bogaerts (.321 batting average with 15 homers and 51 runs batted in), J.D. Martinez (.299-18-62) and Rafael Devers (.282-22-72). Devers has 48 extra-base hits among his 93.
Alex Verdugo (.278-9-36) has been a charismatic, high-energy influence and infielder Christian Arroyo (.264-5-22) is hitting over 30 points higher than his career average.
The Red Sox are third in the Majors in team batting average (.259) and fifth in runs scored per game (5.1).
The question going forward is the starting pitching. The bullpen has been the biggest surprise and has bailed out the five starters, who have a combined 4.47 earned-run average.
All-Star Nathan Eovaldi (9-5, 3.66 ERA) is the ace of the starting rotation and Nick Pivetta (7-4, 4.30), Eduardo Rodriguez (6-5, 5.52), Martin Perez (7-5, 4.04) and Garrett Richards (5-5, 4.91) have had some impressive outings — but will have to be more consistent.
Tanner Houck and ace lefty Chris Sale will give the rotation a big boost after returning from injuries. Houck was called up by the Red Sox on Thursday and Sale is going to begin a rehab stint in the minors.
Closer Matt Barnes (4-2, 2.61, 19 saves, 63 strikeouts in 38 innings), who was also an All-Star, has been a vital component in the bullpen as has Garrett Whitlock (3-1, 1.44), who was obtained in the Rule 5 draft. Whitlock had never reached the Major Leagues until this year.
Lefty Josh Taylor (0-0, 3.86), who had only 60 Major League appearances entering this season, had 25 consecutive scoreless appearances. Former Yankee Adam Ottavino (2-2, 2.68), Hirokazu Sawamura (4-0, 2.45), Darwinzon Hernandez (2-2, 2.70) and Brandon Workman (0—0, 3.21) have also contributed.
This team is fun to watch. They enjoy each other’s company and have a determination and resiliency that has resulted in 27 come-from-behind wins.
Just how far they go will depend on their starting pitching. Don’t be surprised if Bloom picks up a starting pitcher in the next couple of weeks.