The Boston Red Sox went to Tampa Bay as a sinking ship and emerged as a team that resembles the World Series champions of last year.
A three-game losing streak dropped the Boston Red Sox to the bottom of the AL East heading into a series with the division-leading Tampa Bay Rays. A sweep threatened to put the Red Sox 11 games back in the race, a nearly insurmountable deficit even at this early stage of the season. The series did turn into a sweep yet it was Boston breaking out the brooms to move within five games of the Rays.
It was the first time this season that the Red Sox have won a series and the current three-game winning streak is their longest of 2019. Instead of allowing themselves to be buried by a division rival, the Red Sox finally showed signs of life that may have saved their season.
Beyond the desperately needed tallies in the win column, this series provided several reasons to be optimistic about this team turning things around from a dreadful start.
A lineup that was the best in the majors last year has struggled to find consistency and timely hitting this season. Down in Tampa Bay, the Red Sox showed they could come through in the clutch.
Mookie Betts busted out of his season-long slump in dramatic fashion, belting a game-winning home run in the eighth inning of the first game in the series. The reigning MVP recorded a pair of hits in each game against the Rays, marking the first time this season he’s had consecutive multi-hit games. Betts was sitting right at the Mendoza Line entering the series but raised his average to .244 over the last few games.
Andrew Benintendi powered the Red Sox to a win in Game 2 of the series with his first career grand slam. Going deep with the bases loaded was a staple of Boston’s offense last year when they hit 10 grand slams, one shy of the franchise record for a season. Benny’s grand slam in Tampa Bay was the team’s first this year. The Rays would rally back to tie the game but Benintendi came through again with a sac fly in the ninth. While Benny gets credit for driving in the winning run, the opportunity was set up by a clutch double by Michael Chavis in his first career plate appearance.
The big blast from Benintendi highlighted the middle game of the three-game series but the Red Sox needed a bit of small ball in extra-innings to escape the finale. A leadoff single by Rafael Devers and a walk from Chavis put the first two on for Boston in the 11th inning. Jackie Bradley Jr. dropped down a textbook bunt to move both runners into scoring position to allow Christian Vazquez to drive in the game-winner with a sac fly.
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A starting rotation that was woefully unprepared to begin the season is finally showing signs of getting back on track. Eduardo Rodriguez has now put together consecutive solid starts, holding the Rays to three runs over 5 2/3 innings. Rick Porcello made it through five innings for the first time this season while allowing a season-low two runs. He’s still seeking his first win but it was the first time he’s started a game this season without being tagged with a loss. David Price settled for a no-decision when he was lifted after only five innings with his pitch count reaching 100 but he continues to be the team’s most reliable starter. Price allowed only two runs and struck out a season-high 10 batters on Sunday.
They are still among the league leaders in committing errors but the Red Sox only had one in the three games against the Rays. Of course, it was Devers, whose six errors are the second most in the majors. At least the rest of the team managed to avoid making sloppy mistakes. That’s progress!
This is still a team that has some flaws, most notably a bullpen that has no more than three relievers they can trust in high-leverage situations. The offense isn’t exactly a juggernaut and they aren’t getting dominant pitching performances. However, a team that was failing in every aspect of the game is finally showing encouraging signs of improvement and it’s translating into wins.
Boston has a long way to go to enter the conversation of contenders but they’ve climbed out of the basement and into the hunt.