What a journey it has been for the 2021 Red Sox.
From the preseason prognostications of doom and gloom -- which manager Alex Cora and his team never bought into – to the surprisingly fast start to the potholes such as a major August slump and an early September outbreak of COVID-19, it has been a wild ride.
But here they are, back in the postseason for the first time since 2018.
How they were built
Amateur draft: RP Matt Barnes, SP Tanner Houck, IF Bobby Dalbec, C Christian Vázquez
Rule 5 Draft: RP Garrett Whitlock
International signings: RP Darwinzon Hernandez, RP Hirokazu Sawamura, SS Xander Bogaerts, 3B Rafael Devers
Free agents: RP Ryan Brasier, RP Martín Pérez, RP Garrett Richards, C Kevin Plawecki, IF José Iglesias, OF Kiké Hernández, DH J.D. Martinez, OF Hunter Renfroe
Trades: SP Nathan Eovaldi, RP Adam Ottavino, SP Nick Pivetta, RP Hansel Robles, SP Eduardo Rodriguez, SP Chris Sale, RP Josh Taylor, 1B/OF Kyle Schwarber, OF Alex Verdugo
Waivers: 3B Travis Shaw, 2B Christian Arroyo
Acquiring Kyle Schwarber’s big bat the day before the Trade Deadline turned out to be a master stroke by chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom. Though the Sox had to wait a couple of weeks after the July 29 deal for Schwarber to play, because of an injury he had sustained earlier in the season, it was well worth it. Schwarber has been a force in the lineup, and his plate approach and winning attitude has rubbed off on the rest of the team.
There was some skepticism when Cora installed Kiké Hernández as his leadoff hitter, which was understandable considering the free-agent acquisition came into the season with a career batting average of .240 and an on-base percentage of .313. Though Hernández started slow, he got red hot in June and is having a career year across the board.
Defining season stretch
August was the worst month for the Red Sox, as they staggered to a 12-16 record in the pursuit of playing as well as they had earlier in the season. Then came the COVID-19 outbreak, which started in Cleveland and continued onto the second leg of the road trip against the Rays at the end of the month. After losing the first two games of a four-game series at Tropicana Field, which included team leader Xander Bogaerts coming off the field in the middle of a game due to a positive COVID test, the Red Sox seemed in danger of falling out of the race. But they buckled down and salvaged a split by winning the last two against the Rays, and that fueled their stretch run. They were 17-11 after August.
As a Rule 5 Draft pick from the Yankees, Garrett Whitlock came into Spring Training as a relative unknown. But in Cora’s first media availability of camp, he referenced Whitlock as a player to watch. That proved to be prophetic, as Whitlock emerged into the team’s best reliever of the season.
When the Red Sox are at their best, they are relentless on offense while getting quality starting pitching. The more the Red Sox can lessen the load on their bullpen, the better chance they have.
Remember that Sunday afternoon on July 25 when the Red Sox had been no-hit through the first seven innings and trailed 4-0 to the Yankees? You remember it because of how dramatically the Red Sox hit their way out of it. They thrilled the masses at Fenway with five hits and five runs in the bottom of the eighth to take a 5-4 win.