The Boston Red Sox have been a surprise this season after a lousy performance in 2020.
In 2021, they are in second place of the American League East division, with a 36-23 record after a weekend sweep of the New York Yankees.
Boston is only one game back of the Tampa Bay Rays, and they are ahead of the Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays.
There are lots of things happening in Boston to explain the unexpected return to contending status.
However, these two are the most important reasons why the Red Sox are, once again, in the thick of things.
2. The Heart Of The Order
The Red Sox are a good offensive team, capable of scoring runs on some of the best pitchers in the league.
Not coincidentally, they are the Red Sox’s third, fourth, and fifth hitters, and opposing pitchers trying to navigate the lineup always have that headache to deal with.
Martinez has rebounded from last season’s awful performance (having access to video to study his own swing has certainly helped) and is currently batting .321/.389/.569 with 12 home runs and a 160 wRC+ (100 is considered average).
The ever-consistent Bogaerts is slashing .318/.376/.536 with 10 home runs, four stolen bases, and a team-leading 2.8 fWAR (the FanGraphs’ version of Wins Above Replacement).
Devers has also been more consistent this year and leads the Red Sox in home runs.
LIVE look at the home run leaderboard:
Vladimir Guerrero Jr: 18
Fernando Tatis Jr: 17
Ronald Acuña Jr: 17
Shohei Ohtani: 16
Adolis García: 16
Jesse Winker: 15*
Matt Olson: 15
Rafael Devers: 15
* = HR today
— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) June 6, 2021
Overall, the third baseman is batting .275/.343/.573 with 15 round-trippers.
If the Red Sox want to be contenders in 2021, they need to have the rehabbing Chris Sale back at some point in the second half, and also hope for their star offensive trio to be healthy all season.
1. Surprising Rotation Performance
Of course, when healthy, Sale is far and away the Red Sox’s best pitcher, but the starting rotation has been surprisingly good.
In fact, the only name that has been a disappointment was the one that the team expected to carry the rotation until Sale returns: Eduardo Rodriguez.
E-Rod has a 5.59 ERA in 58 innings in the 2021 campaign, but other run-prevention metrics such as Fielding Independent Pitching or FIP, think he has been better than that (3.69).
Garrett Richards has been solid with a 3.88 ERA in 65 frames.
Nathan Eovaldi has been just as good, with a 3.78 ERA in 66.2 innings, but with a stellar 2.39 FIP.
Nick Pivetta has been surprisingly consistent, something he hadn’t been able to achieve to this point in his career: he has a 3.77 ERA in 59.2 innings.
Last, but not least, left-hander Martin Perez has a sparkling 3.09 ERA in 58.1 innings pitched.
Martín Pérez is among the elite in the American League when it comes to ERA. pic.twitter.com/O5qPTFPS7v
— Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) June 4, 2021
There isn’t too much length in the bullpen, but as long as the rotation performs, they will likely stay in contention.
And when Sale is ready to return, manager Alex Cora will have a good problem on his hands.