The Red Sox opened the season as American League East afterthoughts, but they’ve engaged the afterburners during a nine-game winning streak that makes it fair to ask if their long-term place in the divisional pecking order has changed.
Simply put: Hell yes it has.
The Red Sox are the only AL East club with a winning record, and even if they aren’t as good as their current streak, they’re less flawed than their competitors in a division that was supposed to belong to the Yankees and Jays, at least until Boston upended everyone’s expectations with a run of scintillating baseball.
While the Red Sox were sweeping a doubleheader from the Twins on Wednesday, the Yankees were getting walked off by the Jays, dropping into last place.
Even if New York doesn’t stay there long, the problems afflicting it aren’t easily corrected. Meanwhile, Boston is rolling.
“Overall, it was a great day for the Red Sox,” manager Alex Cora said.
The Red Sox opened the season as 16-to-1 longshots to win the American League East, but now the division looks very much up grabs.
Why? The Yankees are a good place to start. New York reached 100 wins in both 2018 and 2019, but it’s now clear that many of us overrated them after last year’s second-place finish to the Rays.
The Yankees entered the season with inexcusable questions in their starting rotation beyond ace Gerrit Cole, especially with right-hander Domingo German coming off a domestic violence suspension and former ace Luis Severino recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Rather than attack their deficiencies with proven options like NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer, the Yankees went the bargain-basement route, signing former Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber to a one-year deal and acquiring former Pirates ace Jameson Taillon, who hadn’t thrown a pitch since 2019, thanks to Tommy John.
Kluber (6.10 ERA) and Taillon (7.56) are off to horrible starts and the ineffective German has already been demoted. That leaves Cole and left-hander Jordan Montgomery as the rotation’s 1-2 punch. Yankees starters have failed to complete five innings in seven of their 12 starts, including Wednesday, when Kluber lasted just four innings in a 5-4 loss to the Jays that ended with a Bo Bichette home run.
Add defensive struggles for shortstop Gleyber Torres, some horrible baserunning — catcher Gary Sanchez ran them out of a potential big comeback vs. the Orioles earlier this week — and the continued struggles of Giancarlo Stanton, and that’s a recipe for a club that’s already two games below .500.
“It’s the little things,” slugger Aaron Judge told reporters. “It’s either baserunning mistakes, mistakes in the outfield, not coming up with the clutch hit.”
Contrast that with the Red Sox, who in the last three days alone have won a slugfest over the Orioles, a close game against the Twins that was powered by the bottom of their order, another against the Twins that ended with a diving catch by Alex Verdugo, and then the nightcap built around one big inning fueled largely by walks.
The Red Sox are beating teams in multiple ways. The Yankees aren’t.
Then there are the Blue Jays. Toronto shelled out $150 million to snare free agent prize George Springer, but he has yet to play because of an oblique strain in spring training and then a quad injury during rehab. The Jays also haven’t seen prized right-hander Nate Pearson, one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, because he’s battling a groin strain. They’re also without slugging outfielder Teoscar Hernández, who recently tested positive for COVID-19, leaving young stars Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bichette to carry the offense, which is middle of the pack.
The pitching, led by Hyun-Jin Ryu and Mets castoff Steven Matz, has been outstanding, it should be noted, with a team ERA of 3.00.
With all due respect to the Orioles, that leaves the Rays. Tampa lost former Cy Young winner Blake Snell and All-Star Charlie Morton over the winter, and replacing two such high-caliber arms has proven challenging.
Outside of ace Tyler Glasnow, whom the Red Sox outlasted last week, the Rays have struggled mightily in the rotation. They started Wednesday with a team ERA of 4.88, and they also ranked 10th in in runs scored, which is a bad combo.
Even with a loaded farm system that includes No. 1 overall prospect Wander Franco, Tampa already appears to be entering one of those reset seasons that is inevitable for such a small-market club.
That leaves the division wide open. It also leaves the Red Sox — dare we say it? — in the driver’s seat.
For now, it sure looks that way.