The Boston Red Sox are growing right before our eyes.
“They’re the exact same team as last year,” yelled Tony Massarotti in a rant regarding the 2018 Boston Red Sox on 98.5 The Sports Hub.
Massarotti, a Boston sports reporter and radio personality, often spews hot takes that have a lot of truth and accuracy behind them. He’s not a blind Boston sports fan, and won’t hesitate to run teams, players and coaches into the ground — or praise them if they deserve it.
However, the notion that the Red Sox are the same team as last year’s solely based off the offense’s slow start is incorrect.
The Red Sox proved that again today, completing a 7-2 comeback to win 8-7.
The rally started in the eighth inning with Mitch Moreland‘s wall-ball RBI double. Then, Rafael Devers chopped a double down the left field line before it pin-balled between the Green Monster and the third base bleachers. All of a sudden, it’s a 7-5 game with two outs in the eighth.
The very next batter was Christian Vazquez, and in a 1-2 hole, the catcher smacked a line drive up the middle to close the gap to a one-run ball game. The Red Sox not only had life, but felt a wave of momentum crash over the stadium and baptize the bats to answer late-inning prayers of the Fenway faithful.
How magical was the comeback? The Red Sox finally made a terrific play on the base paths, something that plagued the team for over a year. Hallelujah.
Mookie Betts kept the rally going with a screamer into left field that plated Vazquez on a terrific sliding effort that evaded the catcher’s tag. Just like that, it’s a 7-7 ballgame. An utter meltdown was on the mend for the young Rays.
The slumping Andrew Benintendi finally caught a break by slapping the ball onto the warning track, before it fell past the outstretched glove of Mallex Smith. Betts scores easily, and the Red Sox close it out with Craig Kimbrel in the ninth. Meltdown complete, comeback complete. Red Sox win 8-7.
To Massarotti’s point, yes, the Red Sox haven’t exactly mashed the ball out of the ballpark yet. And no, J.D. Martinez hasn’t set the world on fire to start the season — though neither has his counterpart, Giancarlo Stanton, who is being showered with boos at Yankee Stadium following every at-bat.
However, the 2018 Red Sox are not the same team as last year’s.
The Red Sox were 5-65 last season when trailing after eight innings.
This year? 2-1 through nine games. And let’s not forget the heroics in Miami to win in extra innings, either.
Mazz and the rest of The Sports Hub will point out that two comebacks in a home series against the Tampa Bay Rays is hardly something to brag about. Fine.
But the Rays have an excellent bullpen annually, despite their lack of offensive talent. Tampa ranked eight in baseball with a 3.83 bullpen ERA.
In 2016, Closer Alex Colome posted a stellar 1.91 ERA and converted 37 of 40 saves. Last season, his ERA spiked to 3.24, but he still saved 47 of 53 opportunities. Even if he does surrender runs, he usually shuts the door for the Rays.
The Red Sox have faced the heart of that talented bullpen by gutting Colome in consecutive outings to complete comebacks. Not too shabby for a team who struggled to complete comebacks last year.
Chalk the 8-1 start for Boston to a unified club house under manager Alex Cora.
Xander Bogaerts is hitting the cover off the ball and looks like an MVP candidate.
Hanley Ramirez is hitting the ball with conviction in the clutch, and has even made some fine plays with the glove at first base.
Betts, Benintendi and Jackie Bradley Jr. have eliminated “Win, Dance, Repeat” but seem more relaxed than last year. Betts and Bogaerts have noticeably smiled more on the field; both claimed last year’s campaign was too tight for comfort under former manager John Farrell.
There have been smiles all around the Red Sox club house, and the team hasn’t even played their best yet.
The starting pitching has been exceptional aside from Eduardo Rodriguez‘s start today.
The offense has rallied through the performances of Bogaerts, Betts and Ramirez, but have otherwise been cold to start the season.
Starting second baseman Dustin Pedroia has yet to take the field due to knee rehab.
The bullpen has been shaky, excluding closer Craig Kimbrel.
Starting ace Chris Sale hasn’t even picked up a win this season.
However, the Red Sox are 8-1, and there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic that the team will transcend into another level of success. The team has bought into Cora’s strategy and are playing loose for the first time in two years. The passion is back, the buzz surrounding the team is positive and the Red Sox are happily unified.
When were those attributes used to describe last year’s team? Never.