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The Red Sox are at least watchable again

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Are they good? I don’t know. But they are watchable.

Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

I don’t know if the Red Sox are good. I thought they were closer to mediocre than good coming into the season, and I’m really not going to change my mind too much based on five games. After all, this is still a team that sits below .500 (at least for the time being). This is still a team that started its season by getting swept at home to the Orioles, who for their part were projected by basically every outlet to be among the very worst teams in baseball, and who right now are getting beaten up a bit by the Yankees. So yeah, I’m not planning a duck boat parade or anything at this point. But in terms of watchability? Yeah, after only five games I’m willing to go so far as to say they blow 2020 out of the water.

Take Tuesday night’s game for example, a contest in which the Red Sox persevered through a 12-inning affair for the victory. That was, frankly, the most fun I have had watching a baseball game since at least 2019. That is not going to be a typical game, of course. In fact, it will almost certainly end up being one of the best and most exciting games we watch this team play all year. It had a little bit of everything. Both sides’ starting pitcher got the job done, keeping it close early. There were a couple of controversial calls. There was mostly clean baseball played on both sides by the defense. There were clutch hits in just about every inning starting in the seventh.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

And we had a walk off with fans in the building. The crowds are still quite small, but it’s hard to overstate just how much of a difference it makes in those late-and-close situations when you can hear real fans rather than that piped in crowd noise. (No disrespect to the people operating the fake crowd noise last season, because I think they did as well as anybody could have, but I would be okay never dealing with that again.)

So yeah, Tuesday ruled. But this team is just generally giving off a different energy than it did a year ago, and that starts in the rotation. The thing about having good starting pitching is that it makes every game more exciting to watch. For one thing, it goes more quickly. It’s not a four-and-a-half hour slog with six pitching changes every game. Good starting pitching makes for a crisp pace.

On top of that, it keeps the team in the game. Last season wasn’t just brutal because of the record. It was brutal because they were out of the game by the second inning night in and night out. That’s horrible for the fans to watch, and it sucks all of the energy out of the offense knowing that they have to put up two touchdowns to win a game every night. Through the first turn in the rotation this year (a turn that, we should mention, did not include the best pitcher on the roster) four out of the five pitchers kept them in the game and then some.

Obviously that didn’t exclusively lead to wins, but other than Sunday’s game with Garrett Richards’s blow-up, they were in it. As a fan, that is at least more exciting, knowing they are always one or two swings from being all knotted up. I don’t know that the pitching will stay this good, but it’s hard to imagine they won’t be better than last year, and that alone makes them infinitely more watchable.

The starting pitching is the biggest part of this, but it’s not everything. J.D. Martinez is very much back. Again, five games, blah, blah, blah. But the man is a hitting machine, and he is probably my favorite pure hitter to watch on this team. The absolute Terminator-feel that you get with Martinez on a hot streak is unlike anything I’ve seen since Manny. It’s just pure hitting.

And the energy is just so much better around this team. Again, I think a lot of this goes back to the starting pitching not putting them in a six-run hole after one every single night, and then a big chunk is also likely due to fans in ballpark. But they look like they’re having fun out there, and they look like they’re locked in on every play and every at bat. Has that always translated to results? No. But last year it was very much the impression that they were going through the motions. And it’s hard to blame them, even though we still probably should. Right now, big hits are being celebrated with emotion, and the dugout looks like a fun place to be rather than just a place to sit down for 10 minutes at a time.

In terms of strict on-the-field performance, I’m not ready to budge from my prediction that this is largely a .500 team. I predicted them to finish a bit below that mark, and that’s where they are here on this Wednesday morning. But .500 teams can come in a lot of different packages, and through five games the Red Sox seem to be on the more positive side of that spectrum. Sure, part of that is because they’re being compared with one of the most miserable teams to watch in recent memories, but this team is legitimately fun to watch and could make this summer an enjoyable one, even if they don’t necessarily exceed expectations.