Red Sox have bounced back extraordinarily well from a rough 2020
What a difference a year makes. The Boston Red Sox dragged themselves through a nightmare pandemic-shortened season that was limited to 60 games yet somehow felt like 600. The misery we endured on the way to one of the worst seasons in franchise history was excruciating. Nothing seemed to go right for this team.
We’ve now hit the 60-game mark in the 2021 season and the results couldn’t be any different from where the club finished last year.
The Red Sox finished with a dismal 24-36 record in 2020. The win total was naturally the lowest in franchise history given they played the shortest schedule but even the caveat of a season limited to 60 games doesn’t sugarcoat how poorly the year went. Their .400 winning percentage was the fourth-worst in the majors and 12th-worst in franchise history.
Boston has essentially flipped that record around through the first 60 games of this season by going 37-23. They sit a mere half game behind the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East and their .617 winning percentage would tie for the eighth-highest ever recorded by a Red Sox team if they can maintain it.
The Red Sox produced a -59 run differential last year that ranked as the third-worst in the American League and sixth-worst in the majors. Their +54 run differential is currently fourth in the AL and seventh in the majors.
The turnaround has primarily been built on pitching. Boston struggled to cobble together a viable five-man rotation last year, using a patchwork staff filled out with openers and fringe major league pitchers. That resulted in a collective 5.58 ERA that was the third-worst in the majors and the -0.1 WAR from their pitching staff ranked dead last, per FanGraphs. It seems unfathomable for an entire pitching staff to collectively produce negative value but the Red Sox managed to do it.
Those pitching woes would be short-lived as Boston has bounced back with a respectable 3.83 ERA that currently ranks 12th in the majors and 5th in the AL. Red Sox pitchers have actually pitched better than their ERA suggests, as they rank second in the majors with a 3.42 FIP and third with 9.3 fWAR.
The return of Eduardo Rodriguez has helped solidify the starting rotation. While he sputtered in the month of May, E-Rod still remains an upgrade over the mud Boston threw at the wall last season hoping it would stick.
While the presumed ace is still working his way back from a lost season, the rest of the rotation has exceeded expectations. Nick Pivetta (3.78 ERA), Nathan Eovaldi, (3.78 ERA) and Garrett Richards (3.88 ERA) all rank in the top-20 in ERA among qualified AL starting pitchers. Martin Perez (3.09 ERA) will likely join them following Monday’s start when he should log enough innings to be counted as a qualified pitcher.
Boston’s bullpen was one of their greatest weaknesses last season when they produced a 5.79 ERA that ranked fourth-worst in the majors. Red Sox relievers have flipped that around this year, entering the day with the fourth-best bullpen in the majors with a 3.52 ERA.
Matt Barnes has been lights out as the new closer, converting 14 of of 16 save opportunities while posting a 2.73 ERA and career-high 6.71 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Adam Ottavino (2.88 ERA) and Hirokazu Sawamura (2.63) have excelled in setup roles building a bridge to the closer while Rule 5 draft pick Garrett Whitlock (1.61 ERA) has been a revelation as a multi-inning weapon out of the bullpen.
We can’t talk about the Red Sox without discussing the offense. The bats certainly weren’t the problem last year, as Boston led the AL with a .265 batting average and they were fifth in the league in runs scored.
Despite this silver lining, there were still some troubling concerns. Most notable was the complete collapse of J.D. Martinez, who stumbled through the worst season of his career with a .213 average and .680 OPS. He’s bounced back in a big way this year, currently tied for fourth in the league with a .321 AVG while ranking second with a .958 OPS.
Xander Bogaerts has emerged as a legitimate MVP candidate, hitting .321 with a .913 OPS and ranking second in the AL with 2.8 fWAR. Rafael Devers is tied for the league-lead with 48 RBI. His 18 doubles stand alone at the top of the AL while Martinez and Bogaerts are right behind him with 16 apiece. The trio all sit within the top-12 in the league in fWAR.
One of the keys to Boston’s success has been their ability to avoid long losing streaks. The Red Sox are one of only four major league teams without a losing streak of 4+ games this season. They have lost three consecutive games on three occasions but bounced back strong from each. Boston ripped off nine wins in a row after getting swept in the first series of the season. They followed a three-game losing streak in May by winning seven of their next nine and they are currently riding a five-game winning streak since dropping three games in Houston.
There’s still a long road ahead before we reach the finish line but the Red Sox have put themselves in position to be a contender with a strong performance through 60 games. They are in a tight race for the division title and should still be in the mix for a Wild Card spot even if they moderately regress.
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One thing we can undoubtedly agree on is that his year will turn out significantly better than last year, which will hopefully make the brutal 2020 campaign seem like a distant memory.