The Mariners head out to Boston to take on the best team in the American League.
Are you a diehard baseball fan who already knew the Boston Red Sox are in first place in the AL East, or were you like me and completely shocked to learn that after seeing them get swept by the Orioles, cackling and generally forgetting about their existence until today? There are some real shenanigans at work in these early-season AL standings, but the Red Sox are just the tip of that iceberg (come stai, Royals?). Boston still carries their big market money and name recognition, but this may be the most evenly-matched series the M’s have had all season: Both teams are both coming off of split two-game series with similar overall records, and find themselves perched atop (or near the top) of divisions that once seemed clearly out of their grasps.
Similar to the Mariners, the Red Sox fiery start has surprised many, particularly given their Opening Series sweep at the hands of the Orioles (did I mention they got swept by Baltimore to start the season?). Like our boys in Northwest Green, who seem so fond of their late-inning heroics, Boston also seems to have cosseted the luck dragons — to the tune of a staggering .342 league-high team BABIP.
They’ve taken an aggressive approach at the plate, swinging at nearly 50% of the pitches they see and making contact at a 76% clip, while maintaining the third-worst BB% in MLB. It’s a feast-or-famine effort that is certain to bite them in the butt at some point, though likely not soon enough for the Mariners’ tastes. Their pitching has been just-good-enough to sustain them until an inevitable offensive flurry, while their defense has more or less kept them out of trouble.
Be on the lookout for their charming laundry cart home run celebration — although they won’t be facing MLB-leader-in-home-runs-allowed, Marco Gonzales.
UPDATE: Raffy has just crushed his second HR of the game. pic.twitter.com/BCFzZmj3DD
— Red Sox (@RedSox) April 11, 2021
J.D. Martinez: Very good. Xander Bogaerts: Also very good. Marwin Gonzalez: Conspicuously less good. Rafael Devers is hitting the ever-loving bejeesus out of the ball, and it’s a pleasure to watch — though we may only see him in 2/4 starting lineups, depending on if Alex Cora continues to sit him against lefties. Their lineup, aside from Bobby Dalbec, the Seattle-born rookie, should be pretty familiar to anyone who’s watched American League baseball in the last few years.
Way back in 2018, Nick Pivetta enjoyed a breakout season with the Phillies in his second year in the majors. His success was driven by an excellent four-seam fastball and a diving curveball, leading to a 3.80 FIP that far outpaced his 4.77 ERA. The next year, he wasn’t able to maintain his success, allowing far too much hard contact and nearly two home runs per nine innings. He fell out of favor in Philadelphia quickly and was included in the Brandon Workman trade in August of last year. With the Red Sox, he’s ditched his once great curveball for a hard slider. He’s also managed to limit the hard contact against him by nibbling on the edges of the strike zone. That’s led to a rise in walk rate but he’s only allowed a single home run this year. With his history, I suppose that’s an acceptable trade off, though it probably won’t be sustainable.
A long-time staple of the Rangers rotation, Martín Pérez left Texas in 2019 and tried to reinvent his repertoire with the Twins. He added a cutter to his pitch mix and started using it as his primary pitch at the expense of his mediocre sinker. That change earned him a fantastic half season in Minnesota but he fell apart in the second half of 2019. He wasn’t much better in Boston in 2020 but the Red Sox decided to bring him back this season to fill out the back of their rotation. He’s still throwing the cutter as his primary pitch which has led to a dramatic decrease in his ground ball rate. The arsenal might be a little different, but the entire package is essentially the same as the Mariners faced for years in Texas.
When healthy, Nathan Eovaldi has shown electric stuff with a fastball that can reach triple digits and a pair of plus secondary offerings. The trick has been staying on the mound. He’s made more than 22 starts just twice in his career and has spent time on the injured list in all but one season of his career. Last year was a mostly healthy year, with just a couple of weeks spent on the IL due to a calf strain. But the health of his arm was seemingly perfect. He posted the highest strikeout rate of his career and paired that with the lowest walk rate of his career. The only thing spoiling what would have been a career year was a uncharacteristically high home run rate.
Eduardo Rodriguez missed the entire 2020 season after developing a case of myocarditis — an inflammation of the heart muscle — brought on by contracting COVID-19. Back in 2019, he had finally put together a complete season and looked like he had cemented himself in the middle of the Red Sox rotation for years to come. In an industry where 20-somethings believe and act like they’re invincible because of the exceptional health and fitness required to be a professional athlete, Rodriguez’s story is the warning too many are probably ignoring. All credit to him for working tirelessly to rebuild his strength after suffering through such a debilitating condition.
The Big Picture:
The AL West
I suppose it’s a good thing the Athletics are getting their annual hot streak out of the way early this year. Their 11-game win streak has included plenty of luck — they won yesterday’s walk-off on a pair of errors in the 10th inning — but their pitching staff has also been lights out. They’ve pitched four shutouts in the past week and won two other games in walk-off style. They travel to Baltimore this weekend. On the other side of the coin, the Astros have continued to implode. They were swept in a brief two-game series in Colorado and have now won just once in their last ten games. They begin a four-game series against the Angels tonight before another four-game set against the Mariners next week. The Rangers won their series against the Angels earlier this week and will travel to Chicago to face the White Sox this weekend.