Wait, are the Red Sox a threat to the Yankees this year?

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Andy Martino
·3 min read
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Alex Cora J.D. Martinez Red Sox
Alex Cora J.D. Martinez Red Sox

This early in a baseball season, we can’t draw many conclusions from the statistical sample available to us. But we can trust our eyes and years of experience in noticing the general feeling that emanates from a given team.

If you’ve watched the Mets, for example, you know that they have some pep in their step. The ballclub seems confident and engaged. The Yankees, so far, are the opposite; they are making mistakes, underachieving, and simply not clicking. There’s plenty of time for that to change, but they’re slogging through the initial weeks.

On that subjective spectrum, the game’s biggest early surprise comes in the form of an opponent not generally expected to present a threat to the Yanks this year. The overlooked Boston Red Sox have that ineffable feeling of a good team.

Whether they have the pitching to actually pose a threat to the Yankees in the A.L. East is something that we’ll learn over the next several months. But after winning nine games in a row -- the streak ended Thursday with a gutty loss in Minnesota -- the Sox are poised to be far more relevant this year than most of us expected.

It starts with the offense, which was always loaded with top players. This was easy to forget.

But now J.D. Martinez is having a resurgent season. Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers are still stars.

Catcher Christian Vazquez has quietly emerged as an offensive threat, and Alex Verdugo -- though he will always be part of the unfortunate trade that made Mookie Betts a Dodger -- appears on his way to a second consecutive strong season in Boston.

Even Thursday’s loss showed energy and persistence. With the Sox trailing 3-0 in the eighth inning, Verdugo tied the game with a bases-clearing double that came at the end of a ten-pitch, lefty-on-lefty at-bat.

“That was spectacular,” longtime NESN analyst Jerry Remy raved. “That was one tough, tough at-bat.”

Apr 15, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Adam Ottavino delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins in the ninth inning at Target Field.
Apr 15, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Adam Ottavino delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins in the ninth inning at Target Field.

Yankee castoff Adam Ottavino lost the game in the ninth, but it was on a blooper to center field, and his signature slider was moving well.

That blip aside, the Sox pitching has been strong, after an abysmal 2020. The team has liked what it has seen from Nathan Eovaldi, Eduardo Rodriguez and Nick Pivetta. Garret Richards has struggled in two starts and been decent in one, but the team still sees potential in his stuff, if he can command it. Martin Perez is a perfectly acceptable fifth starter.

In the bullpen, closer Matt Barnes is dominating, Darwinzon Hernandez, Ottavino and Gerrit Whitlock are effective, and whenever Ryan Brasier returns he will further deepen the group.

All told, those are a lot of strong elements clicking for the hot streak to be merely flukey. And with the Yankees and Rays struggling, there might be more opportunity in the division than expected.

If any manager can take advantage of those circumstances, it’s Alex Cora. Whatever one makes of his ethics regarding the Astros cheating scandal in 2017, Cora is a beloved figure among players, and has a strong feel for in-game tactics.

It’s impossible to quantify the impact of Cora’s return on wins and losses, just as we could never calculate the advantages that a team derives from starting a season free from the weight of outside expectations. But we know that the Yanks are playing under the burden of a championship drought and that prime years for Aaron Judge, Gerrit Cole, Giancarlo Stanton and others are ticking by.

It’s a heavy time to be a Yankee. You can feel it while watching their games. And you can feel that the Red Sox are having fun, and believe in themselves more than we believed in them this winter and spring.