Red Sox

MLB Notebook: A look back at a (mostly) great first month for Red Sox; Minors geared up to start

Now that the first month of the 2021 season is in the books, it seems like as good a time as any to evaluate where the Red Sox stand.

Very few would have expected the Red Sox to sport the best record in all of baseball as the calendar flipped from April to May -- especially after the season began so disastrously for them with a three-game sweep at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles.

Since those forgettable first few games, however, the Red Sox have won 17 of 24 games, and in the process, given hope that this season can be something more than an exercise in building toward some future goal.

Here's a look at what went right -- and, as important, what didn't -- through the season's first month:

BIGGEST SURPRISES

1. Starting pitching. Perhaps because the bar was set so low by the abysmal work of the rotation last season, there was nowhere to go but up here. Instead of Chris Mazza, Zack Godley and a cast of thousands, the Red Sox actually can count on having a legitimate starter every night. Whether they perform that way every turn through is another matter, but the fact is, Red Sox fans no longer have to cover their eyes when watching this rotation. Eduardo Rodriguez has fully rebounded from his lost season, a development that was by no means guaranteed. Nathan Eovaldi has pitched with a newfound aggressiveness and might finally get results commensurate with his stuff. Garrett Richards has been uneven, but has at least demonstrated an ability to make adjustments. That he's healthy is, in and of itself, no small factor. What's more, there's vastly improved depth in the likes of Tanner Houck and Matt Andriese for when the inevitable injuries hit.

2. Kiké Hernández, center fielder. When the Red Sox signed the former Dodger, it was with the announced intention that he would play mostly second base while still retaining the versatility to occasionally contribute in the outfield. Instead, for a variety of reasons, he's essentially become the everyday center fielder, he started 18 of the first 27 games in center with just five starts at second. While it could be argued that some of his value is lost by (mostly) utilizing him at one position, Hernandez has been superb in center, meanwhile, the combination of Christian Arroyo and Marwin Gonzalez have ably covered second base.

3. Matt Barnes. For the first week or, whenever he was asked who his closer was, manager Alex Cora all but began his answer with: "On the advice of counsel, I invoke my fifth amendment privilege against self-incrimination and respectfully decline to answer your question.'' He was helped by the fact that it took forever for the Red Sox to actually have a save situation. When the time finally came, it was revealed that Barnes was, indeed, the Masked Closer. But no one could have foreseen the dominance he's shown. Other than a three-run homer in a non-save spot, Barnes has pitched with a newfound aggressiveness. He's thrown his fastball for strikes and even developed a third pitch (splitter). At 30, heading for free agency and eight years into his major league career, he's finally peaked.

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