As the weather in New England begins to finally heat up, and as the calendar page turns to May, fans of the 2021 Red Sox understand the team is a victory away from finishing April with 17 wins and 10 losses. The Red Sox finished the 2020 shortened season with just 24 wins. A win this evening, and the Red Sox have only seven wins to tie to total from their 2020 season.
The 2021 Red Sox find themselves tied with the Oakland Athletics for the most wins in the American League. Imagine that, a team projected to win just 80 games, and have a one percent chance of winning the division, will enter May with either 16 or 17 wins, and a lead in the American League East. Sound familiar at all? Sure does. Is it still early? Sure. A lot can happen, but this 2021 Red Sox team is for real. So, just how did they get to the top of the East?
2021 Red Sox: The Pitching
The Red Sox entered the 2021 season with a whole heck of a lot of question marks as it pertained to the starting rotation. In 2020, the rotation was a big heaping pile of garbage, and that’s putting it quite nicely. The 2020 Boston Red Sox finished with the fourth-worst collective pitching ERA with a cool 5.58 and an MLB worst 1.60 WHIP. They were bad. Bad. Bad. Bad. Right now, the 2021 Red Sox owns a team 3.16 ERA, fourth-best in the American League, and has a 1.25 WHIP. The pitching is pretty darn good.
The largest glaring hole in the rotation for 2020 was ace Chris Sale, who missed all of the season to Tommy John Surgery. The second was losing number two starter, Eduardo Rodríguez, for the season to myocarditis, a result of having contracted COVID-19. The Red Sox entered the 2020 regular season with number three Nate Eovaldi as the defacto ace of the staff.
Rodríguez entered the 2020 season healthy and ready to pitch again at an elite level. The last time Rodríguez pitched in the majors, he finished the 2019 season with 19 wins, a major league-leading 34 games started, a 3.81 ERA, 1.328 WHIP, 128 ERA+, and 213 strikeouts in 203.1 innings. Eddie was aces in 2019, and he’s looking like he’s picking up right where he left off, after having a little bout with “dead arm” to begin the season. Rogríguez currently has a 4-0 record, with a 3.52 ERA, a 121 ERA+, 0.87 WHIP in 23 innings pitched. Having Rodríguez back really helps fans forget that Matt Hall, Zack Godley, Kyle Hart, Mike Kickham, Chris Mazza, and Ryan Weber ever started games for their favorite team. Wow! 2020 sure feels like a fever dream.
Nasty Nate, as he’s so affectionally referred to throughput New England was named the 2021 Opening Day starter, the second of his career. Eovaldi was unequivocally the ace of the 2020 Red Sox. Eovaldi finished 2020 with a 3.72 ERA, a 126 ERA+, 1.20 WHIP and 53 strikeouts in 48.1 innings. Eovaldi enters his April 30th start against the Rangers with a 3.77 ERA, a 113 ERA+, 1.151 WHIP, and 27 strikeouts in 28.2 innings. Eovaldi right now is pitching as the 2021 Red Sox number two, and when Sale comes back into the rotation somewhere around late July, Eovaldi will side nicely into the third position in the rotation. Eovaldi is the perfect three for the Boston Red Sox, the question for him has always been health.
Boy, oh boy did Garrett Richards really know how to anger most of the Red Sox fanbase. Not only did the beginning of Richards’ career with the Red Sox get off to a horrendous start, but the man also backed it up with the quick quip, “I mean I didn’t even pack a jacket for a season until this year.” If there’s one thing the Fenway Faithful hates, it’s when a player makes excuses and Garrett Richards quickly joined the ranks of being hated in the vein of John Lackey.
What did Richards do to fix his April woes? He worked diligently between starts with pitching coach Dave Bush to fine-tune his mechanics, and wow, did it work.
As you can see, Richards worked much more from the stretch in his latest start against the Mets, and he absolutely dominated. Richards struck out 10, the most he’s had since April 2018, one run, and zero walks in seven innings of work. The zero walks might just be the most eye-popping of his stats, as coming into the start he had given up more walks to strikeouts. If Richards’ last start is any indication of what’s to come, it’s safe to say, the Red Sox got one heck of a steal of Richards at $10 million.
Martín Pérez is what he is. He’s a barrel of laughs on Twitter. The fans love him. And if he’s the fourth or fifth starter on your favorite team, your team is in pretty good shape. In 2020 Pérez was asked to be the only other reliable starter for the Red Sox. Pérez, unlike most of the slop, thrown out to pitch in 2020, knows how to get major league hitters out. And he’ll occasionally know a nice gem. Pérez is steady and will eat innings. His 2021 numbers are a 4.70 ERA, 1.478 WHIP, and a 91 ERA+. Fine numbers for a guy that’s going to be the fifth starter upon Sale’s return.
Pivetta might truly be the surprise of the 2021 Red Sox pitching staff. Since coming to the Red Sox in a trade for Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree, Pivetta has been nothing but nails. For the 2021 Red Sox Pivetta has a 2.81 ERA, a 5-0 record, a 1.247 WHIP, a 152 ERA+, and 25 strikeouts in 25.2 innings pitched. His best start might just have come in his last, matched up against the best pitcher on the planet, Jacob deGrom. Pivetta pitched five innings, gave up one hit, seven strikeouts, and three walks. If there’s anything that Pivetta needs to work on in 2020, it’s pitching deeper into games.
Honestly, the Red Sox have a pretty darn good rotation, if not plagued by the injury bug. The pen can actually be quite terrifying. The pen is anchored by Matt Barnes, who, oh my God, figured out that he possesses elite stuff. Coming into April 30th, Barnes has 25 strikeouts to 14 innings pitched, a 2.57 ERA, six saves, and a 0.57 WHIP. He’s been lights out, and the combination of Barnes and former Yankee Adam Ottavino could prove to be a see you later, goodnight to the opposition with a late lead.
There are far too many Chaim Bloom haters in Red Sox Nation. It’s actually baffling. Chaim Bloom and company are a major reason why the 2021 Red Sox bullpen is second in the American League in fWAR. The additions of Adam Ottavino, Matt Andriese, Phillips Valdez, Hirokazu Sawamura, and Garrett Whitlock could prove to be invaluable.
2021 Red Sox: The Lineup
As good as the pitching has been, that’s also how good the 2021 Red Sox offense has been. The Red Sox currently has the third-best batting average in MLB, second-best slugging, third-best on base, and are also third in OPS. This offense is good, but it’s also quite top-heavy. The lineup could stand a bit of a shakeup, as current leadoff hitter Kiké Hernández owns a .226 OBP over his last seven games. Not ideal for a leadoff man.
Alex Verdugo would settle better in the leadoff spot, but if there’s anything manager is, it’s loyal, and sometimes to a fault. The two through five hitters, Verdugo, Martinez, Bogaerts, and Devers are all producing at elite levels. The largest worry is the lack of offense from Marwin Gonzalez, Hunter Renfroe, and Franchy Cordero, who are all hitting under .200. If the Red Sox are going to continue to crush pitching as well as they have been, these men will need to quite literally step up to the plate, or look for a shakeup to the bottom of the lineup.
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Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images