TORONTO — Here’s something that you may not remember — the Boston Red Sox actually finished last in the American League East last year at 24-36, a game back of the dreadful Baltimore Orioles.
Hard to believe, right? Because even after trading Mookie Betts, the Red Sox still had a solid base with Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, J.D. Martinez, Christian Vazquez and Alex Verdugo, while Baltimore, on the other hand, was hella bad.
Perhaps that’s why the Red Sox largely slid under the radar over the winter, even though objective projections suggested they’d be reasonably competitive. Still, now off to a 12-6 start after Tuesday’s 4-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays, it’s clear that, at minimum, they’re going take wins away from their rivals in the American League East, if not more than that.
“It’s funny because the whole time they never got credit,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said before the game. “I was looking at this team, oh, now, that’s a pretty good team. Everybody was talking about their pitching, but their pitching is doing good enough. With that offence, they’re dangerous.”
In theory, the Blue Jays are supposed to be dangerous, too, but by and large their offence has been untracked all year. Amid mounting injuries and losses in four of their past five outings, during which they’ve scored 14 runs, the lack of production has been increasingly glaring.
On Tuesday, they managed only three hits — two of them solo homers by Bo Bichette and Randal Grichuk — over six-plus innings against lefty Eduardo Rodriguez, who missed all last season after contracting COVID-19 and a resulting case of myocarditis. Matt Andriese, Adam Ottavino and Matt Barnes followed and allowed just one hit and a walk to secure the win.
The Blue Jays took only one at-bat with a runner in scoring position.
“It’s early,” said Marcus Semien, 0-for-3 with one of his team’s two walks and a stolen base. “Everybody’s trying to see how the league attacks them. We’re starting to face some division opponents and we’re seeing some trends that I’m sure we will learn from during this tough stretch. Of course, we all want to be hot at the same time. That’s going to be really fun when that happens. Right now, we’re not quite there yet.”
To some degree, their current slide may be tied to the ongoing absences of George Springer and Teoscar Hernandez, who represent a loss of 5.5 wins above replacement as projected by ZiPS.
T.J. Zeuch’s addition to the injured list Tuesday with shoulder tendinitis — infielder Santiago Espinal was recalled to take his place — pushed the projected WAR of sidelined pitchers up to 6.9. That’s 12.4 projected wins missing from the roster, and while projections are just that and the numbers vary between different systems, eventually the loss of so much impact is going to show up.
“That happens to every team,” Montoyo said of being thinned out by injuries. “But honestly, I know the last two games we haven’t hit, but our pitching is keeping us in the game and as a manager you’re always, OK, if we’ve got the pitching, when the hitters start hitting the ball, we’re going to do well. That’s what makes me feel good right now, our pitching. We’re leading the American League in ERA (at 3.15). Our starters have been really good and our bullpen has been outstanding. That’s the reason we have been in every game. We’re just not hitting right now.”
The Blue Jays expect to start getting players back this weekend in Tampa Bay when they face the Rays, as Springer, Tyler Chatwood and Jordan Romano all could be activated. Friday is also the first day Teoscar Hernandez will be eligible to come off the COVID-19 list, provided he clears all necessary protocols.
He’s no longer symptomatic but his timeline is complicated by the fact that he last played April 8 and right now is limited to hitting off a tee at his house, according to Montoyo. He’s not able to be at team facilities until he’s through protocols.
“We’ll see how long it will take him to get into baseball shape,” said Montoyo, “because he was out for a while now.”
So it may be a few more days still before the Blue Jays more closely resemble the whole they were supposed to be, and hit closer to expectations, the way the Red Sox are.
Hyun-Jin Ryu got a rude introduction to that Tuesday, cruising through the Boston lineup on 30 pitches the first time through before hitting a wall in a four-run fourth. Leadoff singles by Christian Arroyo and Martinez were followed by a Bogaerts three-run homer on a fastball up and in. He cleverly pulled his hands in to get a barrel on the ball and drive it.
“The location of that pitch wasn’t too bad, something that the hitter did really well to hit it,” Ryu said through interpreter J.S. Park. “Obviously it could have been a little higher or a little lower, just felt like it was just along the border where it should have been pitched. But in a situation like that, you’ve got to give the hitter credit for it.”
Bobby Dalbec cashed in a Marwin Gonzalez double with a triple later in the inning.
The Red Sox grinded Ryu for 25 pitches that inning, then 27 more in a scoreless fifth and then made the 4-1 lead built against him stand up in the type of game the Blue Jays expect to win more often than not.
“I don’t think (the injuries) have caught up with us, to be honest,” said Ryu. “Obviously, if there are ups there are going to be downs. I understand that we lost our last three games, but that’s part of the season. Once our hitters and pitchers get into the right balance, I feel that we’re going to get back on a roll.”
Like the one the Red Sox, last year’s afterthought, are on right now.