BOSTON -- In an age where the question "is/are _____ back?" seems to never go away, it's time to ask the question: Are the Red Sox back?
The idea of that question being raised following a three-game win streak in April paints a pretty clear picture of how poorly things have gone for the team out of the gate this season. But for anyone waiting for Boston to flip the switch and revert to the dominant force that presided over the baseball world last year, it at least provides some hope.
However, even though Boston had its best week of the season to-date, there are still various points of concern that suggest there isn't going to be some sudden, magical turnaround that skyrockets them to the top of the league.
Of course, every MLB campaign is a grueling marathon filled with peaks and valleys, and there are certain noteworthy aspects to be taken from the highs and lows and everything in between. As such, throughout the course of this season, we'll check in with the Red Sox to see where they're at in defending their throne, what we've learned recently and what's next for the reigning champs.
Then: April 23, 2018: 17-4, 1st in AL East | Now: April 23, 2019: 9-14, 4th in AL East
They're capable of winning a series
Well hot damn! And not only that, they're capable of sweeping a series! After being swept themselves in a quick two-game series with the Yankees last week, the Sox took three of three against the Rays in Tampa over the weekend. That gave this Boston club its first series win of the season, and against a solid team nonetheless.
The Rays,, entered the three-game set with the best record in baseball (14-5) and hadn't yet lost a series yet. That changed when the Sox were able to pull out three late-game wins at the Trop. The score was tied after seven innings on Friday, tied after eight innings on Saturday and tied after 10 innings on Sunday. The Boston bullpen didn't exactly make it easy on anyone's blood pressure level -- it seems that it's strikeouts or bust with this group -- but the damage was limited and the offense managed to come through each time.
What about the offense?
The Red Sox offense continues to be paced by Mitch Moreland, who leads the club in home runs (seven), RBIs (14), extra base hits (12) and slugging (.652). He homered twice in the Tampa series, giving him more dingers than singles (five) this season. In fact, 70 percent fo Moreland's hits this year have gone for extra bases.
Last week we touched on Mookie Betts' and frustrations with an inability to help the team. This week, it feels safe to say that Betts is turning a corner. The reigning AL MVP had two hits in each of the three games against the Rays, including a game-winning home run late in the series opener.
After a red-hot start to the season in Triple-A, Red Sox top prospect Michael Chavis got the call up to the big leagues last week. The 23-year-old promptly delivered a huge pinch-hit double in his first career at-bat, helping to set up the game-winning sac fly in the ninth inning of Saturday's game.
The Red Sox picked Chavis in the first round (26th overall) of the 2014 draft and his arrival in Boston has been anticipated for some time. That arrival was likely delayed by a positive test for PED use last year, which resulted in an 80-game suspension .
And the pitching?
We've already mentioned the stress induced by the guys out of the bullpen, but the rotation has seemingly pulled it (somewhat) together following a terrible start to the year. Over Boston's first 13 games, starting pitchers were 0-8 with an 8.79 ERA. Since then, they've gone 2-3 with a 3.21 ERA.
There are still pretty large concerns surrounding Chris Sale, who has yet to look like the ace that earned the $145 million extension that was handed to him a month ago. He took the loss in last week's 8-0 loss to the Yankees, making him the first Boston pitcher to be hit with a loss in four consecutive starts to begin a season since Danny Darwin in 1993. Not great company. He .
But the biggest story involving a starter this week was the news regarding Nathan Eovaldi, who . He's expected to miss six weeks, though it was a two-month recovery when he underwent a similar surgery last season with the Rays. In four starts for the Sox this year, Eovaldi has surrendered a team-high six home runs and has an ERA of 6.00 in 21 innings.
Moment of the week
Christian Vazquez had himself a week. The Sox catcher homered three times in the span of seven games, matching his season total from last year (three in 80 games). That gives him four dingers on the year already, putting him one shy of his career high (five in 2017).
But for as explosive as Vasquez has been at the plate, his best work has come behind it. His top highlight came over the weekend when he sealed a Red Sox victory with a game-ending pickoff at first base while the Rays were threatening in the ninth.
Following a rainout on Monday, the Red Sox have a day-night doubleheader against the Tigers on Tuesday. That kicks off a 10-day, 10-game homestand in which they'll play the Tigers four times, the Rays three times and the Athletics three times.