Thirty-six games and 22 wins into the Red Sox season, those of us who have been aboard the “sneaky good” train since Fort Myers can’t help but notice that those who wrote them off as the No-Chance Brigade back then are saying an awful lot of nice stuff about them now.
I can’t crow beyond that mild I-told-you-so, though. They did lose their first three games, which seemed to confirm some of the worst suspicions about the shape the season would take.
It should have been obvious, even during that rough first series, that Chaim Bloom’s roster-building ingenuity had improved the organization’s depth and quality over last season’s 24-36 abbreviated debacle — but no one foresaw this:
The Red Sox entered Monday with the best record in the majors at 22-13, and the largest first-place lead (3½ games) in any division, and playing at a 102-win pace.
At some point this week, the Red Sox will surpass last season’s win total. Over the next 25 games, they’d have to go 2-23 to equal last season’s 60-game record. They could bring back Zack Godley to start every single game and they’d still beat their 2020 mark.
No one saw this coming. And I’m not sure anyone — those who believed in this team, and those who didn’t — can be trusted to forecast what’s to come.
NESN analyst Jerry Remy broached a similar theme on Twitter Monday, asking, “In about a week the season will be 25% over. At what point, would you say, we enter the ‘this is for real’ zone?”
Personally, I was convinced they were for real when they ripped off nine straight wins from April 5-14 to go from 0-3 to 9-3. It’s been further confirmed since then that they are legitimately good, and there’s nothing sneaky about it.
But that doesn’t mean that they’re going to coast to the AL East title. They reside in a division that as of Monday featured three other teams over .500. For all of their injuries and erratic play, the Yankees are just 3½ games out.
Sure would have been helpful for the Red Sox to have played the Yankees during their turbulent April rather than having to wait for that first meeting in early June. The old rivals clash 14 times in June and July, including eight in July. Those summer showdowns are going to have a huge say in how this race to the postseason shapes up.
There are certain truths about this Red Sox team that can be counted on as the season turns toward the summer and the guts of the schedule. It’s clear having Alex Cora back in the managerial saddle has enhanced the composite confidence of the entire roster.
That 0-3 start could have been demoralizing to a team trying to put the sloppy, disjointed 2020 season behind it. Cora’s confidence never wavered, and his team didn’t get down; it got hot. Say what you will about his past transgressions, but he paid the price, and he’s the right manager for the right team in the right city at the right time.
It helps that Cora has a true superstar who says and does everything right as the fulcrum of the ball club. Xander Bogaerts helped the Red Sox win the World Series as a 20-year-old late-season callup in 2013, was the consensus No. 2 prospect in baseball entering 2014, won his first Silver Slugger at 22, made his first All-Star team at 23, helped the Red Sox win another World Series at 25, hit 33 homers and finished fifth in the MVP balloting at 26 … and here, in his age 28 season in which he currently is batting .349 with an MLB-leading 45 hits, it’s entirely possible that he was actually underestimated all along.
Bogaerts is the Red Sox’ version of Patrice Bergeron, and I imagine Cora would be the first to agree that he should never play an inning for another organization.
Other truths? Well, we’d better acknowledge that J.D. Martinez (1.075 OPS, 10 homers, a team-best 1.9 bWAR despite having minimal defensive or baserunning value) was right about how his wretched 2020 season was an outlier after the exceptional ones he had before that as a late-blooming professor of slugging.
We also should note, presumably to near-unanimous agreement, that Christian Vazquez is one of the most complete catchers in the game today, featuring many of the attributes for which Jason Varitek was lauded.
And that Matt Barnes has become overpowering in part because he has stopped overthinking it; working fast and trusting his stuff the way he always should have, he’s become a lights-out closer.
And that a locked-in Rafael Devers is a delight to watch at the plate, with his Beltre-ian quirks and an endless supply of scorched line drives in his bats.
Maybe you’ve recognized a few other truths about this team and the compelling group of players it comprises. I have just one more from here: With a quarter of the schedule almost gone already, it’s been a pleasure, and maybe a bit cathartic, too — to watch them remind us that faith can be rewarded, even coming off the lousiest of years.
Get Boston.com's browser alerts:
Enable breaking news notifications straight to your internet browser.