(Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated)
By Joshua Nord-@nordjoshua
The month of April has come to an end as the Sox square off in a series against Texas. For all the talk in the offseason, for all the moves they have made and not made, for every individual performance by the players, Boston is on top of the American League East after posting the strongest April performance in franchise history. However, despite all the good news, it hasn’t come without it’s faults. Lets go over the good, the bad, and the ugly to what started this young, new season.
Honestly it would be a big list to go over everything positive about the Sox so far despite what some fans might think. So for now we’ll just look at some of the biggest positive contributions to the team’s success.
Number one would be the new manager, Alex Cora. Many believe the team is good enough that just firing the old and behind the times manager John Farrell was enough to spur the team over the hump in which they have been stuck behind for the last two seasons. While others thought Cora might be too inexperienced to lead the club. However it should be noted that although Cora is a rookie manager, so is Aaron Boone, who was given the reigns of another storied American League ball club. Both have performed very well, but Boone had struggled with bullpen management, while Cora has been nothing but fantastic in just about every aspect of his job. Even if you disagree with this sentiment, it’s still a great change of pace considering the constant confusion and frustration with Farrell for five seasons.
Speaking of change of pace. the Red Sox tied the 1996 Montreal Expos for most grand slams before May 1st with six. To put this into perspective, the 2017 Boston Red Sox went an entire season, and four games in the playoffs without hitting one. What this means is that the long ball is back in the repertoire of the Sox offense. Betts, Ramirez, Martinez, and Xander are all launching basesballs out of the park once again. It has brought back an excitement level of which the Fenway Faithful couldn’t be happier about it. This young offense won’t quite reach the juggernaut status of the 2016 team, but it’s nice to know 2017 was a fluke and find a happy medium.
While both Chris Sale and David Price have still shown some promising upside, they haven’t exactly been as locked down dominant as many of us have hoped. Specifically Price, who probably has hit a rough patch since leaving in the first inning of his April 11th start against the Yankees due to injury concerns, the shortest start to his career. Sale also has not looked quite as sharp as he was last year. His walk rate makes him look mortal compared to his otherworldly performance in 2017. Still, it’s hard to believe both players won’t heat up along with the upcoming summer weather this season.
The injury bug has also been of some concern. It’s impossible to go through an entire season with each player on the roster completely healthy, but Xander Bogaerts and Brock Holt have had some misfortunate. Not to mention the continued longterm rehab programs of Tyler Thornburg, Steven Wright and Dustin Pedroia. The Red Sox must maintain a better record of health if they want to keep the Yankees at bay. The three latter players cannot come back soon enough.
Another issue which seems ominous, is how does Cora get his non-injured players who are underperforming to heat up at the plate? In the case of catchers Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon, both appear to be healthy, yet neither could be playing any worse. In fact they are the worst catching tandem out of all thirty major league teams. One has to wonder if this continues, that Blake Swihart, Boston’s own latchkey child may finally get a second chance to prove he can produce offensively and defensively at the major league level as a primary catcher.
Despite Boston’s struggles, they haven’t experienced a total freefall, but there have been moments this season where it felt like this may occur. The most glaring example would be the no hitter thrown by Oakland Athletics pitcher Sean Manaea. Don’t get it twisted, Manaea is a talented pitcher, but this isn’t 2002. He’s still an Oakland Athletic, and the Red Sox should be able to defeat them handily. The no hitter was quite a shock for the team, which subsequently sparked a bit of a skid to the end of the month.
Another dose of ugliness was the opening day disaster. It might seem like a long time ago, before even April, but it served as a warning sign for some inning troubles which plagued the Sox towards the end of the month. Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly, Carson Smith, all demonstrated their fair share of issues. Its proved that getting the ball to Craig Kimbrel to close out the game at times might not always be an easy endeavor unless these guys improve.
Speaking of pitching, while the offense has covered for most of their mistakes, there are still some key players who need to step up their game if the Sox do expect to hold onto the division lead. Drew Pomeranz is still trying to figure out his curveball which has no break, and Brian Johnson is trying to get an 88MPH fastball by big league hitters. Both haven’t found any consistent success so far, and it will be paramount to the pitching of this team that they eventually discover that success very soon, or it won’t mean anything come late September.