It used to be that when the Yankees were good (which definitely isn’t the case now), not only did it piss everyone off, because YANKEES, but it was an indictment of the whole league. The Dodgers have taken that mantle for the most part, but seeing either team atop the standings, past or present, meant that they had an unfair advantage. How could anyone compete with that checking account? The whole system needs to be overhauled, so the thinking went when the Yanks were cruising to another division, as the Dodgers are now (though they’re not cruising at the moment).
The Red Sox had a little of that in the past, though as the blood rival of the Yankees it never quite fit them. There was just relief that they weren’t wearing pinstripes, even if their spending power was equal. Of course now, seeing them comfortably atop the AL East, it’s a different kind of indictment. It’s not that fans around the world who are not Carmine-inclined would rebel, but that owners everywhere will look at the Red Sox and say, “Well, they traded Mookie Betts and look how it’s going for them!” before they quickly ship out whatever star they have with the temerity to ask for more than $20 a week. I guarantee this will be among Jed Hoyer/Tom Ricketts’ first paragraph next week, when they deal away anything that’s not nailed down at Wrigley Field.
So what are the Red Sox doing here? While the launching of Betts will never be acceptable, the furor over it did ignore that at the time the Sox were a year removed from a World Series winning roster. A 108-game winning roster. As good as Betts is, he obviously couldn’t do it himself. And a nexus of Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and J.D. Martinez is one that most teams would kill for (that is, if most teams were trying). All three have a wRC+ of 140 or more. The trio has led the Sox to the second-most runs in the AL, and fourth place in on-base percentage. Even the return for Betts, Alex Verdugo, has been representative without being spectacular (109 wRC+).
Bogaerts, especially, has somehow been under the radar while being one of the league’s best shortstops over the past four or five seasons, though there is a little noise in his offense so far this year. He’s got a .361 BABIP without a noticeable jump in his exit velocities or hard hit rates, and all his expected stats come in under his actual ones. But there shouldn’t be a huge deflation if there’s one at all, and it won’t be enough to offset the whole Red Sox ship.
Perhaps the real key for the Sox isn’t that the rotation has been all that good, it’s just been there. The Sox have only used six starters, and even that’s kind of a misnomer because Tanner Houck has only made two starts. Nathan Eovaldi, Nick Pivetta, Martin Perez, Garret Richards, and Eduardo Rodriguez have taken the other 84. Eovaldi has been the one who’s been plus, and Rodriguez has been unlucky (3.48 FIP vs. a 5.42 ERA), but because they’ve been present it means no one has had to be moved out of the pen for any length of time, leading the Sox to have nine guys to have made 20 appearances or more in relief. We should mention that reports indicate they just might get Chris Sale back before too long, as well.
And that’s been the real strength of the team, with six relievers that have an ERA under 3.00, seven guys striking out a hitter per inning or more. And they’ve been fresh, as the Sox are only middle of the pack in innings pitched by the pen, while the Rays lead the league by 20 innings. Yes, the Rays do that by design, but it’s still an advantage for the Sox, especially with Sale riding in soon.
The Sox certainly have benefitted from the rest of the division having major issues. The Yankees can’t get out of their own way. Still seems a year early for the Blue Jays. The Rays’ offense fell apart during the last month.
And the Sox have feasted on the teams they’re supposed to, going 27-15 against teams currently under .500, while also piling up a six-straight wins over the Yankees, who might as well be under .500. They’re 21-17 against everyone else. But hey, there’s a lot of shitty teams out there, so you might as well beat them.
The AL has come up pretty wide open, and we’re getting to the point of asking “Why not the Sox” instead of, “Why?” Which will lead to the uncomfortable image of John Henry smirking all the way about trading one of the game’s leading lights and getting away with it, and every other owner save the Dodgers hoping to wear that smirk one day themselves.
You see, Red Sox Nation, you’ve become what you loathed.