I’ve started the last few weekly Red Sox review blogs with some variation of “Well, the fellas did some cool stuff and some not-so-cool stuff as they finished the slate at around .500.”
Certainly won’t be opening this week’s post with that, though!
What a week, baby. What a goddamn week.
A stretch of 8-2 has put the Red Sox right at the table in the American League title conversation; maybe not at the head of the table like Tampa Bay, of course, but they’ve nevertheless got a seat just over a month into the season. The proof of concept has been on display: Boston’s plan for success features hanging with the league’s best on offense (their 336 hits and 208 runs are both top three in MLB) while shortening the game with a sturdy bullpen, featuring multiple arms that can be relied on...and Ryan Brasier (more on the relief pitching coming right up).
And y’know what? It’s working.
Best of all, perhaps, is the fact that this team is simply a blast to watch. You can tell that the guys in the clubhouse are jelling together. Is that a cliché observation? Perhaps, but look back to the 2022 Sox and then try telling me that the energy hasn’t turned for the better.
But enough with the general stuff. Let’s dive into some specifics.
It’s Monday Morning Brushback time, y’all.
Are You In Good Hands?
Kenley Jansen’s two-year deal worth a total of $32 million signed in the offseason looks to be one hell of a move by the Boston front office at this juncture. The closer, who could be on his way to Cooperstown after the final stanza of his career is written, stands at the doorstep of the 400 save mark, a milestone that only six other men have ever reached (though former Boston fireman Craig Kimbrel is just a few away from that accomplishment as well).
What makes the signing of Jansen look so great, though, is that he hasn’t missed a beat with his age. The 35-year-old is pitching like a 25-year-old, with his trademark cutter looking as good as ever as he peppers the arm-side of the plate. In fact, the expected slugging percentage against Kenley’s cutter (.221, pretty damn good!!!!) is currently the lowest it’s been since Statcast started tracking it in 2015.
That’s not exactly a small sample size, either: Jansen has thrown his primary offering about 80% of the time, the highest rate since 2018. For reference, 2018 was the last time he made the All-Star team, posting a 3.01 ERA and 0.99 WHIP for the Los Angeles Daaaaaaaaaaaaaahdjurzzzzzzz.
It seems like throwing your best pitch more often is, actually, a good idea! Who knew?!
The raw skills mixed with the veteran composure on the mound has resulted in Jansen allowing just a single earned run over 10.2 innings while logging 16 strikeouts. For those curious, that résumé is good for a mind-boggling 567 ERA+, implying that he’s 467% better than the league-average pitcher. That works juuuuust fine for me!
Isn’t it great to finally have another certified stud handy to close out games? Ever since the departure of Kimbrel—who wasn’t without his rough moments himself—the Red Sox closer situation has been in flux, to put it diplomatically. A long-term situation hasn’t presented itself. Matt Barnes’ hot start in 2021 was the closest we had seen to that set-it-and-forget-it closing option...don’t ask what happened after that.
But as we enter the middle of May, Boston has a legit finisher in their bullpen to finish out games, to go alongside the other solid relief arms (Winckowski, Schreiber, Martin, maaaaaaybe Whitlock later in the year?). Sit back and enjoy the show that Jensen puts on.
The Arrival of the Macho Man
After the summaries—which were more like obituaries—of his career were already written prior to his MLB debut (here and here, to name a few—neither of them were from Over The Monster dot com I’ll have you know!), outfielder Masataka Yoshida has only gone and made himself a key part of the Red Sox offense. He’s officially arrived, folks.
Admittedly, there were some struggles for Masa in the first few weeks of his MLB tenure. Yet even with that, here he stands in the midst of one hell of a hot streak—a streak that’s seen him get a hit in 16 straight contests. The OPS stands at .939 thanks in part to six homers and a .403 OBP. His hard hit rate sits in about the 80th percentile across MLB, he’s walking more than he strikes out, he’s putting the ball in play—he’s doing just about everything you could have wanted after he signed a five-year deal in the winter.
What’s impressed me about Yoshida is his ability to hit the ball to all fields. He’s showing us that station-to-station baseball is not only surviving, but thriving in the age of shift restrictions.
The Red Sox offense has been especially impressive to begin the campaign because of the variety of ways they can strike, and Yoshida has been a microcosm of that fact. They’re hitting for power (they’re a top five team in home runs and slugging percentage) and they’re keeping the line moving (third-best in on-base percentage). Masa’s been a contributor to both of those realities.
The dynamic factors of this lineup are what really encourage me going forward. They’re not a slow-pitch beer league softball team—they don’t need to rely solely on home runs, unlike some teams based in The Bronx in recent years, to get the job done. Masataka Yoshida is to partially thank for that strength in the team, even after the verdict on him was already made in December.
And speaking of rushing to conclusions...
The Apology Needs To Be As Loud As The Disrespect
Remember Opening Day? Remember that loss to Baltimore? That kinda stunk, didn’t it?
Well, resident muppet of Boston sports media Dan Shaughnessy certainly agreed with that sentiment. In fact, he went as far as basically closing the book on the 2023 season after game one (1) of one hundred sixty-two (162).
Well, well, well, Dan.
That nerd-larded operation currently has the team in position to make the playoffs—in a format that just resulted in an 87-win team coming within two victories of raising a World Series banner...the same team that Boston just won a series on the road against, by the way. That analytics department helped build a roster that just clinched a four-game sweep against a division rival that was considered one of the favorites to win the American League pennant in the preseason. That “fourth-most-popular team” (a claim that was never true to begin with) is tied for the fourth-most wins in the majors (a claim that is true).
Look: this is not to say that the Red Sox will certainly make a deep run into October. There’s still a ton of baseball to be played and plenty of time for this season’s outlook to improve or turn for the worse. To swing all the way to the positive extreme of the spectrum from the negative, even after this incredible week of play, would be naïve.
But therein lies the point: there’s still so much of the 2023 story that has yet to be penned. So what’s given anyone the authority to define this team’s floor or ceiling—a decades-long track record of being a credentialed wet blanket? Does that qualify someone to rush to conclusions? Why don’t we, I don’t know, see how the team actually plays before we make any generalizations about their fate?
And not for nothing: Shank was not alone in his disdain. This is anecdotal, so your mileage may vary, but I had seen enough bellyachin’ online and in-person about the Red Sox early on. Granted, I get why people have felt jaded—2022 was a disappointment and the face of the franchise went west. But the players at least deserved a chance to show what they can do.
So far, so good.
The AL East is going to be an absolute gauntlet all season long. Even with the expanded playoff format, qualifying for postseason play will be no easy feat. Yet the Red Sox at least have a chance to do something special in 2023.
That’s more than what some people thought after Opening Day.
Song Of The Week: “Ocean Avenue” by Yellowcard
Read my lips...or, I guess my words, technically: pop punk will never die.
Same time and same place next week, err’body. Go Sox.