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With 11 weeks left in the 2023 MLB season, the Red Sox have already gone through their fair share of twists and turns.
And even though Boston currently sits in last place in the AL East, they are five games over .500, and have been buoyed during a recent 8-1 surge by a number of contributors who weren’t necessarily on many fans’ radar back in February.
With the Red Sox readying themselves for the second half, here’s a quick look at some of the top surprises so far — both good and bad.
After a lackluster 2022 season where he regularly slumped at the plate and played a defense that left much to be desired, Duran seemed to be on the outside looking at regular reps in the big league this year.
Batting just .221 over 58 games last season, Duran has emerged this year as a dynamic difference-maker at the plate, on the base paths, and in the field.
In 70 games so far, Duran is slashing .320/.367/.519 to go along with five home runs, 33 RBI, and 17 stolen bases. His 0-to-60 speed routinely stretches relatively harmless bloop singles into extra bases, with only Freddie Freeman and Marcus Semien collecting more doubles than Duran (27), despite the Sox outfielder’s lack of everyday reps, especially in April.
Duran is playing like an All-Star talent in his latest go-around in the MLB ranks. And even if the 26-year-old regresses in August and September, a dip from his lofty current stat line still paints the picture of an impactful starter moving forward.
As Boston looks to build a sustainable roster aimed toward the future, Duran is playing like a key cog in Boston’s next core.
“He’s one of those guys that should never have to second-guess himself,” Christian Arroyo said of Duran, per Boston.com’s Trevor Hass. “He’s super talented. It’s just awesome to see what he’s been doing. The way he’s matured from the mental side of the game, handling failure and handling success, even, that’s a big thing, too. He’s been Steady Eddie for us since he’s been up.
“His whole entire game has changed, and it’s truly special to see,” Arroyo added. “He’s a great dude. I’m super happy for him and looking forward to continuing that and getting to watch it every day.”
For the first time in a long time, the Red Sox might have a homegrown ace developing on their pitching staff.
After an up-and-down rookie campaign in 2022, Bello had a delayed start to his follow-up season due to a forearm strain, and was then knocked around in his first few outings.
But over the last few months, Bello has been giving opposing lineups fits. He’s surrendered more than two earned runs just once over his last 12 starts, and holds a 3.04 ERA through 14 starts.
Speaking with The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier at the 2023 All-Star game in Seattle, Mariners ace Luis Castillo was impressed with Bello’s makeup at just 24 years old.
Little seems to have gone right for Boston’s starting rotation this season, due in large part to injuries. Still, Bello’s emergence as a potential No. 1 option stands as a much-needed development for a team that needed internal candidates to step up.
So far this season, it’s been appointment viewing whenever Bello toes the rubber at Fenway.
Kikè Hernandez was an unsung hero on Boston’s unexpected run to the ALCS in 2021, boosting his new team thanks to timely hitting, defensive versatility, and veteran leadership.
Injuries hampered Hernandez’s impact in 2022 (93 games played). But with Trevor Story on the mend from elbow surgery, Hernandez was expected to slot in as Boston’s stopgap shortstop in 2023.
So far, Hernandez’s 2023 season has fallen far below expectations.
Hernandez has played plus defense in center field and at second during his tenure in Boston, but his play at short has prompted Alex Cora to roll with a carousel of infielders at the position to stop the bleeding.
Hernandez has already committed a league-high 15 errors this season, while he hasn’t helped his case at the plate, either (.221 batting average).
Boston is in desperate need of a return for Story in August.
There was plenty of skepticism when Boston signed Masataka Yoshida to a five-year, $90 million contract back in December.
Yoshida’s high contact rate, plate discipline, and underrated pop were hallmarks of his game over in Japan.
But many doubted that his skillset would translate over to the MLB ranks, at least on a consistent basis.
So far, Yoshida has proven many of his doubters wrong.
The 29-year-old outfielder has been precisely as advertised as a poised and refined hitter who consistently gets on base and punishes pitchers with his keen eye at the plate. So far this season, Yoshida is batting .316, with 44 RBIs, 27 walks, six steals, and a 10 percent strikeout rate.
He’s been on fire so far in July, batting .480 with seven straight multi-hit games going into the All-Star break.
Barring a sharp drop off, Yoshida should be one of the favorites for AL Rookie of the Year this season alongside Rangers third baseman Josh Jung.
Surges by Duran and Bello have played a large part in Boston’s recent stretch of strong play.
But all season long, Alex Verdugo has delivered as Boston’s most consistent contributor.
After being called out by Alex Cora at the end of last season for his up-and-down play, Verdugo has played at arguably an All-Star level this season.
Entering spring training with plenty to prove, Verdugo is batting .290 on the year with 26 doubles, 38 RBI and a 3.2 WAR through 83 games played.
Even though his power (seven home runs so far this season) has still not exactly translated, Verdugo has rounded out his overall game, including significant strides in his defensive play in right field.
Without Verdugo keeping the team afloat at various stretches, Boston likely wouldn’t even be over .500 at this point in the season.
Ever since Craig Kimbrel left Boston in free agency, the Red Sox have struggleid to find a consistent, dependable closer.
That problem has been solved by the arrival of Kenley Jansen, who served as Boston’s lone All-Star representative earlier this week in Seattle.
Now 35 years old, Jansen may not be the prime closer he was during his lengthy career with the Dodgers. But this season has shown that he still has something left in the tank.
Even though his ERA (3.23) has been a bit high, Jansen has converted on 19 of his 22 saves this season. Jansen, who became the seventh player in major league history to earn 400 saves back in May, has become a trusted leader in Boston’s locker room less than a year into his tenure with his new team.
Not to be outdone, Boston’s offseason investment in another reliever in Chris Martin has also paid dividends. Serving as the Red Sox’ primary set-up option, Martin has posted a 1.57 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP over 28.2 innings of work.
The Red Sox’ bullpen should be an area of strength down the final stretch of the season, especially after John Schreiber returns from the IL.
In some respects, this season has been one of surprises — and expected outcomes — when it comes to Boston’s top southpaw in Sale.
Injuries have hindered Sale over the last few seasons, with the 2022 campaign involving one setback after the other.
The 2023 season was expected to be a clean slate for the 34-year-old ace. After a rough start, Sale was in the midst of his best stretch in years, going 4-1 with a 2.87 ERA over his final eight starts.
Unfortunately, yet another injury has once again derailed his season. A stress reaction in his shoulder blade has put Sale on the 60-day IL, with a potential return in August still on the table.
If the Red Sox managed to orchestrate a late-season run, it’s going to need a healthy Sale back in their rotation.
He may not be the same pitcher that captured two Cy Young Awards in Cleveland, but the 37-year-old Kluber has still been a solid back-end starter for the last few seasons.
That hasn’t been the case this season, as Kluber went 3-6 with a 7.04 ERA over 15 games before being placed on the IL. Even before his injury, Kluber seemed to be on the outside looking in as far as Cora’s circle of trust, primarily handling long-relief reps in June.
The first few months of the 2023 season were some to forget for Pivetta, who posted a 6.30 ERA as a starter. But since shifting over to the bullpen, Pivetta has embraced his role and thrived as a power arm.
With the 30-year-old Canadian capable of ratcheting up his fastball over a lesser workload, Pivetta has posted a 2.63 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 24 innings of relief work.
Even though his early work this year left plenty of be desired, he has made the most of his shifting role on a Red Sox bullpen that has been dominant for extended stretches.
Expectations were low for Paxton in 2023.
After a lost season due to injuries and multiple setbacks in 2022, the jury was out on whether or not the lefty was going to be able to put it all together at the pro level once again.
But since making his first start in over two years back in May, Paxton has regained his form and is arguably Boston’s best starter after Bello.
In 10 starts this season, Paxton is 5-1 with a 2.73 ERA. He has struck out 64 batters over 56 innings of work.
If the Red Sox do opt to sell at the trade deadline, the 34-year-old Paxton could be an appealing trade chip for a team looking to bolster their rotation. Chaim Bloom has plenty of decisions to make in the coming weeks.
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