It’s been one month of the 2021 MLB season so far. Some teams have been surprised, and others are just as good as we thought they’d be. Some players have yet to make the impact most prognosticators expected. Some have burst onto the scene. On the team front, however, the Boston Red Sox must top most lists of pleasant surprises. This team is just a year removed from trading superstar Mookie Betts.
That was a clear sign that they’d be in somewhat of a rebuilding phase. Much like their arch-rival New York Yankees in 2015, the Red Sox have seemed to skip over that phase. Instead, they’ve strut right into contention and the top of the AL East. There’s plenty of reasons to believe this success will last into October.
Having a potent top of the order is a must for any true contender. The Red Sox certainly fit that bill. The crown jewel in the Betts trade return, Alex Verdugo, is emerging as a stud. His .306 batting average shows he’s been a consistent force this year.
JD Martinez and Xander Bogaerts have already established themselves as stars in the league. We all know this league is run by the long ball these days, so having a slugger like Martinez is another necessary ingredient in a playoff run. He’s currently tied for the league lead in homers. There’s no reason to expect a drop-off, so a run at the AL MVP can’t be ruled out. Having that MVP contender as a leader both on and off the field is huge.
The rest of the line-up does present some question marks. You can’t expect everyone to have their best seasons. But if Rafael Devers and Hunter Renfroe can find a way to maximize some of their potentials, that’ll give pitchers a tough time through the order.
Pitching is huge in October. So when analysts were seriously questioning the Red Sox rotation in the off-season, it was fair to wonder whether they’d even reach October. So far, their starting staff has surprised in a big way. None of their starters has an ERA over 4.70. That’s pretty incredible.
Nick Pivetta has stunned hitters in his 5 starts to the tune of a pristine 2.81 ERA. Eduardo Rodriguez has always been the one guy with tantalizing stuff. If he could just put it together, the Red Sox would have an ace in their hands. He hasn’t allowed more than 4 runs in an outing this season but hasn’t gotten deep enough in games either. These middling numbers have led to a 4.18 ERA. Still, there are reasons for optimism with him.
Nate Eovaldi has been a consistent force within the rotation and already has a ten strikeout game this season. Bottom line, if these guys along with Garrett Richards and Martin Perez continue to have respectable ERAs, the Red Sox will far exceed expectations in the pitching department. If they exceed those expectations, there’s no reason why the line-up can’t put up enough runs to win a ton of ball games.
The relief corps has left some to be desired and has cost them some games. However, with the starting pitchers getting more into the flow of things as the season progresses, expect them to last deeper into games taking pressure off of the bullpen. Additionally, the Red Sox will likely be buyers in this year’s trade market. There will be plenty of options for them to acquire should they choose to go in that direction.
The Rest of the AL East Doesn’t Stack Up
Let’s be real — the AL East is a total mess this season. The payroll kings in the New York Yankees have disappointed this year. They even got off to one of the worst starts in franchise history. Although they’ve won some recently to close the gap a little bit, they still have far too many questions. They will likely find a way to make it to the post-season as a wild card, but they don’t pose the greatest threat to the Red Sox. That should serve as a relief to the Sox fanbase who fervently despise the Yankees.
The Blue Jays believed adding one star in George Springer would be enough, but they aren’t ready for the spotlight. The quick rise to stardom from Vlad Guerrero Jr. and shortstop Bo Bichette will keep it close and make them an exciting watch. But the Jays also aren’t the biggest threat to the Red Sox. It’s not even worth it to mention the Baltimore Orioles. They are a few years away from serious contention, but they have had a better season than expected.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is the Red Sox have built themselves a cushion, giving them room for error. The rest of the division doesn’t have that luxury. Expect some of these other AL East teams to make some runs towards the division crown and definitely towards a wild card berth. But for now, the Red Sox are firmly situated atop the standings, and if they keep doing what they are doing, they will be your 2021 AL East champs.
The biggest threat comes in the form of the reigning AL champion Tampa Bay Rays. Their experience coupled with a respectable lineup and pitching makes them the likeliest threat to unseat the Red Sox atop the standings. But they’ve been mediocre so far. The division as a whole has been somewhat of a disappointment. But the Red Sox have shown the most consistency and flash in 2021.
There’s clear evidence that it’s not just a strong start. Expect it to continue through the remainder of the campaign.