Boston Red Sox hitters tee off against Tampa Bay Rays

The Red Sox offense put on a fireworks display against the Rays

The Boston Red Sox got off to an ice cold start this season against the Baltimore Orioles. Red Sox hitters combined for a paltry 15 hits in 94 at-bats in that series (.160 batting average), and only managed to score five runs while Baltimore completed the three game series sweep.

The pitching wasn’t great either, but prior to Garrett Richards’ meltdown on Sunday in which he allowed 6 runs in just 2 innings pitched, the Red Sox staff had mostly held the birds’ hitters in check. Pitching wasn’t expected to be one of Boston’s strengths this season. Aside from Richards’ outing, most of Boston’s pitching performances were at least excusable, if not actually pretty good.

The offense, on the other hand, has routinely been heralded as the strength of this ball club, and with good reason. They led the grapefruit league in nearly every major offensive statistical category in spring training this year. Over their last two seasons, which can be considered down years for the club compared to recent success, the Red Sox lineup still ranked 6th in OPS. If fans are supposed to be able to count on anything from this team, it’s the offense, but the bats just didn’t show up over the weekend.

Dropping three straight games to a team Vegas projects to have the third lowest win total in the entire league doesn’t inspire much confidence heading into a series against the American League champion Rays. It may have just been three losses in a 162 game season, but the Red Sox needed to get going soon to inspire some confidence in the fans, in the locker room, in themselves.

Boston took their first lead of the season with an RBI double from Franchy Cordero in the 2nd inning of Monday’s contest and didn’t look back from there. Once the seal was broken the runs didn’t stop coming. The lineup exploded for 11 runs on 16 hits in an 11-3 victory, their first of the season.

A thrilling 6-5 extra innings victory on Tuesday followed by a comfortable 9-2 afternoon rout on Wednesday rounded out Boston’s series with Tampa Bay. The swept became the sweepers.

The Red Sox bats finally came alive, but two hitters in the lineup are a cut above the rest so far this season.

J.D. Martinez is all the way back. 2020 was bad for J.D., there’s no two ways about it. He went from slashing a career high .330/.402/.629 in 2018 to a meager .213/.291/.389 slash line in 2020. People were ready to write him off as another aging DH past his prime.

This year, Martinez is on a comeback tour to prove the doubters wrong. We’re just 6 games into the 2021 season, but Martinez has already positioned himself as one of the toughest outs in the game today. He’s slashing a gnarly .440/.481/.920 through his first six games. He leads the league in extra base hits with 8, including 6 doubles and 2 home runs. His late game heroics walked off the extra-innings win against the Rays and he drove in multiple runs in every game this past series.

One of my bold predictions for the 2021 season was that J.D. would finish top-10 in AL MVP voting. I’m starting to think that prediction may not have been bold enough. If he keeps this up he’ll be in contention to win the award himself.

Christian Vazquez is a criminally underrated player. That can happen when you’re in the same lineup as hitters like J.D. and Xander who each have multiple silver sluggers to their name. Since 2018, Vazquez ranks 3rd in WAR at the catcher position, behind only J.T. Realmuto and Yasmani Grandal.

He’s consistent both at the plate and behind it, performing in the offensive and defensive aspects of the game. So far this year he’s cranked it up a notch. He’s hitting .421/.476/.789 with 2 home runs, including a clutch solo shot to send the game into extras on Tuesday. His slash line leads all qualified catchers and he’s in the top 10% of the league as a whole for weighted on base average.

Martinez and Vazquez are driving this Red Sox offense in 2021. Combined they are 19-44 on the year (.432 average), without them the team is 35-165 (.212 average). If the rest of the lineup can follow the lead set by these two, the Red Sox offense will return to its place as No. 1 in the game in 2021.