February 2, 2023

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Winning streak over, but Red Sox happy with progress

4 min read

CHICAGO — The 2021 Red Sox had a simple recipe for success: score runs and have the starting rotation pitch well enough to carry them to victory. The 2022 Sox showed glimpses of that same approach during their recent hot streak (six straight wins), which they hope is an indication of what’s to come this season. 

Although Boston’s winning streak ended on Wednesday night in a 3-1 loss to the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field, there were signs that the level of the 2021 team — which finished with a 92-70 record and made it to the American League Championship Series — can be reached. 

“There was a lot of stuff that was real in April,” manager Alex Cora said. “One thing that we were positive about was the hard contact. And now it kind of evens out. But they did an amazing job of staying disciplined. We’re very proud.”

After Boston erupted for a season-high 16 runs on Tuesday night, the offense got off to a fast start on Alex Verdugo’s RBI single in the first inning. But the rest of the night, the Red Sox struggled, accounting for only one run on seven hits.

“We had chances and not every night is going to be like yesterday,” Cora said.

Rich Hill provided enough for the Red Sox early on after he retired the 11 of the first 12 hitters he faced, and didn’t allow a hit through the first four innings. But the southpaw ran into trouble in the fifth after a double by José Abreu and a throwing error by Rafael Devers. Then, Hill threw Jake Burger a 67-mph slider in the zone and watched as the ball was crushed 444 feet, according to Statcast.

“The ball came out well,” Hill said after he tossed five innings, giving up two hits, three runs (two earned), and one walk with one strikeout. “That drop-down slider, that’s on me. [That’s] one pitch that we’d like to have back, but that’s the game.”

But Wednesday’s loss takes little away from Boston’s improved position.

Since May 8, when the team was 10-19 and last in the American League East, the Red Sox have played better than any team in the Majors. They’ve gone 10-4, won three straight series, and had their season-high six-game winning streak. And during that streak, they got it done using that same 2021 formula.

Their starting rotation pitched well when it had to — Nick Pivetta’s complete game on two hits and one run against the Astros on May 18 stands out. But it wasn’t Boston’s main source of wins.

Last season, Boston starters had a team ERA of 4.49, 17th best in the Majors. The Red Sox didn’t have a starter with under a 3.50 ERA. During the six-game winning streak, Boston’s starting rotation had a 4.88 ERA, 17th-best in the league.

But where the Red Sox really flourish is on offense. And with their recent production at the plate, they have shown that their hitting is back.

Over their streak, Boston finally found its identity after weeks of struggles. It ranked first in runs (54), tied for first in home runs (15), second in batting average .321, and first in slugging percentage (.623) during that stretch.

“The progress is unreal and guys are feeling better,” Cora said. “We’re doing a much better job. We’re still swinging a lot. But the swing decisions are a lot better.”

Most importantly, though, the lineup has done it with the contribution of all nine hitters, something Boston thrived on last season. In 2021, the club had 10 batters hit over .250 — with a minimum of 100 at-bats — to help Boston finish with MLB’s third-best batting average at .261.

“We’re very pleased with where we are offensively,” Cora said. “We’re controlling the zone and we’re in a good spot right now.”

Now, the Red Sox are finally getting that production from batters outside of J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts and Devers — all of whom are hitting well over .300 on the season. Trevor Story had six home runs and 17 RBIs over the win streak, while Christian Vázquez was 9-for-20 at the plate with seven RBIs.

“He’s working so hard,” Cora said on Vasquez’s at-bats of late. “He’s staying short to the ball, and he’s more compact. He’s swinging at strikes, good swing decisions, and he’s in a great spot.”

The team’s bats have finally come alive and the streak has pushed them in the right direction.

“We’re a different team than we were weeks ago,” Cora said.

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