Joe Kelly

Kim Klement/USA Today Sports

Red Sox 2, Rays 1: Bullet-pointing strengths and weaknesses of Red Sox after four games

John Tomase
April 01, 2018 - 7:52 pm

The first Red Sox series of the season ended on Sunday with a taut 2-1 victory over the Rays, moving Boston to 3-1 and into sole possession of first place in the American League East.

Four games do not a season make, but it's never too early to offer some observations, so here are a handful.

1. The starting pitchers have excelled

We had high expectations for Chris Sale, but the rest of the rotation represented a series of questions marks. Sale started the only loss, but it wasn't his fault -- he went six shutout innings while allowing only one hit before the bullpen imploded on Opening Day.

What's been so reassuring is everyone else. David Price dominated Tampa with his fastball, something he rarely did, if at all, during a changeup- and curveball-heavy 2016. He looked like the Price of old, challenging hitters with low-90s heat and flummoxing them with cutters to both sides of the plate. Assuming his velocity creeps up from 93 mph to the 95 mph range as the season progresses, the Red Sox appear to be in business.

Even better, former Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello allowed just one run on Saturday. Coming on the heels of a disastrous 2017 that saw him lead the AL in homers allowed (38), the fact that he kept the ball in the park, even against Tampa's lowly offense, was encouraging.

Then came righty Hector Velazquez on Sunday. He'll never overwhelm with velocity, but he limited the Rays to five hits and a run while pitching into the sixth inning. His stay in the rotation is expected to be short, with Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez nearing returns, but it's good to know there's depth in the system.

"Honestly, it's been a dream," Velazquez told reporters in St. Petersburg. "I appreciate every day that I get to be here. Looking around at all of the teammates I have in this locker room, I see them all as idols. I feel truly fortunate to be here."

2. Joe Kelly is struggling

A bullpen built around closer Craig Kimbrel needs to find a way to reach him, and the man for the eighth inning was expected to be Kelly.

After contributing to the eighth-inning implosion in the opener, Kelly returned to the mound in the ninth on Sunday and made things dicey, allowing a pair of two-out singles before striking out Denard Span to strand the tying run at third and earn the first save of his career.

"For us to accomplish what we set to accomplish, he's a big part of that bullpen," manager Alex Cora said.

3. Matt Barnes and a host of no-names have answered the bell

Pitching for the third time in four games, Barnes was again solid, striking out two after Bobby Poyner recorded the first out of the eighth. He has not allowed a run in 2 2/3 innings, striking out two.

He was joined by Poyner and Marcus Walden, who tossed 1 1/3 scoreless innings in his big-league debut at age 29.

"We had Barnes to get the high-leverage situation in the middle of the lineup in the eighth," Cora said. "We had Poyner to get the lefty out, and then Barnsey for the middle guys. Barnsey has been throwing the ball well the last week, and then I was going to Joe. But I felt that eighth inning was going to be very important to get us to the ninth."

4. Xander Bogaerts is on fire

Even after taking an 0-for-5 on Sunday, the 25-year-old shortstop is hitting .471 with a home run and six extra-base hits. Whether it's launch angle, swinging with two hands, or being more aggressive early in the count, Bogaerts is hitting the ball in the air with authority for the first time in two years.

5. The rest of the offense is on ice

It's a good thing Bogaerts is destroying the ball, because everyone else is in hibernation. The Red Sox are hitting just .214 and only one of their two home runs has left the park. Their other, off the bat of Eduardo Nunez, was a flare to center that fell between two fielders and rolled for a mile.

With two hit-by-pitches and two singles on Sunday, leadoff man Mookie Betts reached four times, stole a base and scored a run. But outfielders Andrew Benintendi (0-for-11) and Jackie Bradley Jr. (1-for-10) have been punchless, while free agent slugger J.D. Martinez is hitting just .200.

6. Bad baserunning

The Red Sox ran into another out on Sunday, with Brock Holt easily erased at home with one out in the sixth on an aggressive and unwise send from third base coach Carlos Febles. That makes a league-high four outs on the bases in four games. A year after the Red Sox routinely ran into trouble, the plan to tighten that up hasn't panned out.

7. The Yankees are scuffling

Following the euphoria of Giancarlo Stanton's two-homer debut, the Yankees have fallen on hard times. They dropped their second straight in Toronto on Sunday and the injuries are already mounting. Injuries to outfielders Aaron Hicks, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Billy McKinney forced Aaron Judge into center field. Reliever Adam Warren is also sidelined after being hit by a line drive. Slugging first baseman Greg Bird opened the season on the DL, and once-overpowering reliever Dellin Betances is a mess. He allowed a go-ahead homer on Saturday and then watched Jays outfielder Kevin Pillar steal second, third, and home on him.

Whatever struggles the Red Sox are experiencing offensively, they've been mitigated by outstanding starting pitching and mostly effective relieving. The Yankees are scrambling.