The Boston Red Sox have been in first place for more than a month. Thanks to a strong rotation, they haven’t allowed slumps to become epic losing streaks. It’s what good teams do, and the Red Sox are proving they are a good team.
Even the best teams have to deal with bumps along the way, like Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Angels at Fenway Park. Mike Trout’s bloop dropped in with two outs in the ninth and Shohei Ohtani followed up with a home run that curled around the Pesky Pole to give the Angels a 6-5 lead. Just like that, Boston’s three-game winning streak was over.
The Red Sox were poised to celebrate another comeback win before the two Angel MVP candidates combined to ruin that celebration. Still Boston heads to Dunedin, Florida, to play Toronto (another phrase that didn’t make a lot of sense before the pandemic) with a tremendous amount of confidence in its offense.
There is production from the bottom of the order. In Sunday’s loss the No. 7 through 9 hitters went 5 for 11 with a homer, two RBI and three runs scored. That coming a day after Bobby Dalbec and Franchy Cordero, batting eighth and ninth, respectively, hit back-to-back doubles twice.
They’ve also had different players contributing in the leadoff spot. Michael Chavis was at the top of the order Sunday with Kiké Hernández and Christian Arroyo both on the injured list. Chavis went 2 for 5 with a double, upping his average to .259 this season.
Chavis’ day was overshadowed by Hernández, who was batting leadoff for the Worcester Red Sox in a rehab game against the Syracuse Chiefs. Hernández hit the first grand slam in WooSox history and seemed ready to return to the big club.
That’s why manager Alex Cora wasn’t willing to speculate on the future of Chavis, or any other player, before Sunday’s game.
“I hate to look ahead,” Cora said. “There’s some people that are coming off the IL. Let’s take it day-by-day, you know? The other day, everybody was excited about (Chavis) hitting a home run and hitting two doubles.
“To win a World Series, it’s more than 26 guys. And you have to make moves based on your roster and the people that you have available. So the way I put it is he’s leading off today. (Monday) is an off day. We’ll see what the future brings. But the future for him is today. The future for this team is today. So we’ll leave it at that.”
If you listen closely, you’ll hear Cora putting a bigger emphasis on maximizing his roster and his lineup each night. The Red Sox would never admit it, but jumping out to the front of the division — and showing they can stay there — means there’s little time for development of young players. This team has a chance to make something special out of this season. It can’t sit through youthful inconsistency for long.
“We understand that they’re very talented and they’re going to contribute at some point,” Cora said of his young players when he spoke with me on NESN’s Friday Night Fenway last week.
“But also we’ve got to be careful how we balance that. We’ve got some capable players, guys that are swinging the bat better right now and we’re going to use them. And they understand that. There’s constant communication of what we do here.”
The goal is to get those young players producing, and to ease the burden on the heart of the order.
“This is a good offense and we can score runs with the best of them,” said Cora, “but at the same time we rely too much on the two, three, four, five and six hitters.”
Those batters — Alex Verdugo, Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Rafael Devers, and Christian Vazquez — have gotten the Sox this far. It will take more production from more hitters to keep them atop the division. Cora knows that, and will have to make some difficult decisions as players return from the injured list this week.
Tom Caron is a studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN.