Explaining how the Boston Red Sox turned it around

BOSTON, MA - MAY 20: Trevor Story #10 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after hitting a grand slam in the third inning of a game against the Seattle Mariners at Fenway Park on May 20, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 20: Trevor Story #10 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after hitting a grand slam in the third inning of a game against the Seattle Mariners at Fenway Park on May 20, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

The Red Sox have gone from cellar dwellers to playoff contenders

20 days, that’s how many days it’s been since May 8th. The Boston Red Sox at 10-19 had just been swept by the Chicago White Sox, and were in the midst of a five-game losing streak. About a month into the season they had only won one series against the lowly Detroit Tigers.

Many were ready to pronounce the season dead. It seemed like this year may be a market correction to the surprise playoff run by last year’s team, fueled by many of the team’s hitters having career years. It seemed some of the magic surrounding Chaim Bloom was starting to wear off as his big offseason acquisition Trevor Story was struggling at the plate.

However, since then the Red Sox have proven the many of us who doubted them wrong. Since May 8th the Red Sox have gone 11-5 and have not lost a single series. This was punctuated by the recent series win against those same White Sox, where they scored a combined 33 runs in three games.

While the Red Sox still find themselves 11.5 games behind the New York Yankees in the AL East, they have nonetheless during this run moved out of the basement of the division into fourth place and are now only three games under .500. They are also now only four games behind the Toronto Blue Jays for the American League’s third wild card spot.

Given all of this it is safe to say that the Red Sox are back. So how do we explain this quick turnaround? Well first we should begin by analyzing how the team dug themselves into that 10-19 hole on May 8th in the first place.

It was not the starting pitching. Heading into the season many had predicted that starting pitching would be the Achilles heel of this team, after they let Eduardo Rodriguez and Martin Perez walk in free agency, and it was revealed in Spring Training that Chris Sale had fractured his rib cage and would once again miss the start of the season. However, the Red Sox starting pitching has proven to be the strength of the team. At the peak of the team’s struggles on May 8th, the Red Sox starting rotation ranked 4th in the American League with a team era of 3.28. During the team’s turnaround that ERA has actually increased to 3.92 and the rotation’s ranking has fallen to 8th.

The problem was something that had not been predicted prior to the season, the offense. Though it probably should have been. The Red Sox had lost Kyle Schwarber, one of their biggest bats and a team leader last season, to free agency. They traded away Hunter Renfroe, who had hit 31 home runs, second on the team only to Rafael Devers, for Jackie Bradley Jr. who was coming off a season where he hit for a career worst .497 OPS. It should have also been expected that there would be some regression after Kike Hernandez posted the second-highest OPS of his career and there was no way Bobby Dalbec was going to continue hitting at the pace he had the last two months of the season.

Sox fans had hoped that following the Renfroe trade, Bradley would simply serve as a fourth outfielder after the Red Sox signed another in free agency such as Seiya Suzuki or Kyle Schwarber. However, once it became clear that was not going to happen, they looked for the team to make an upgrade offensively at second base to make up for the lost production in the outfield, which they did by signing Story.

Story, after missing most of Spring Training due to the birth of his child as well as being a late free agent signing, struggled to start the year. By May 8th, Story had a subpar OPS of .545. With Story not filling the void left by letting go of Schwarber and trading Renfroe, the offense predictably struggled to score runs to start the year, as many on the team pressed trying to be the guy to save the offense.

On May 8th, after J.D Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, and Devers, the rest of the Red Sox lineup was a barren wasteland with the  position player with the next highest OPS being Alex Verdugo at .573. Hernandez and Christian Vazquez were also posting career worst OPS of .536, .569, and .440 respectively. All together the team hit for a collective .621 OPS that ranked 26th in the majors between Opening day and May 8th.

As predictable as their struggles were to start the year, so was their turnaround. Most Sox fans knew that once someone on the offense, most likely Story, got hot, everyone else would stop pressing and soon follow. That is exactly what happened.

From May 11th to May 18th the Red Sox saw subtle improvement from Story, who hit for a .833 OPS during that stretch and hit his first two home runs of the season. Then on May 19th, Story exploded, hitting three home runs in one game against the Seattle Mariners, and kicking off statistically one of the best single weeks in MLB history. From May 19th through May 26th, Story launched 7 home runs and knocked in 21 RBIs, more than any Red Sox player in a single seven game stretch since 1920, when the statistic first began being recorded. He also raised his OPS from .613 at the beginning of the week to .776 by the end.

As Story got hot the rest of the offense soon followed. Since May 11th when Story hit his first home run of the season, Vazquez and Hernandez have hit for OPS of .959 and .759 respectively. And over the past week, Verdugo has hit for a triple slash line of .375/.423/.542.

The offense is likely to see even more improvement as the season progresses. While Dalbec is certainly not good enough to put up the kind of numbers he did the last two months of the season on a consistent basis as some Red Sox fans may have hoped, he is also better than the .488 OPS he has hit for so far this season. The team is also likely to get reinforcements from the minor leagues in Triston Casas as an everyday regular at first base, Jarren Duran as a potential everyday left fielder, and Ryan Fitzgerald as a lefty utility option with some pop off the bench.

While the offense is likely to keep rolling for the rest of the season, the rotation is another story. As previously mentioned, they have already shown signs of regression falling from 4th to 8th in the American League in team ERA. While the rotation’s 3.92 team ERA has proven to be good enough during this hot stretch, if it regresses any farther it could be what ultimately sinks this team.

However, the Red Sox will have reinforcements coming later in the season in Sale, James Paxton, and/or a trade deadline acquisition. The bullpen will benefit from these reinforcements as well as they will most likely lead to a return to the pen for Garrett Whitlock. What ultimately will determine whether this Red Sox team makes a return to the postseason will be whether or not  the current rotation can keep it together until those reinforcements come.

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