Tomase: Offensive explosion shows us how Red Sox can still be a playoff team originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The Red Sox are finally who we thought they were -- inoffensive starting pitching, extremely iffy bullpen, offense that could take them to the playoffs anyway.
The offensive turnaround from April to May has been remarkable, with Tuesday's 16-3 annihilation of the White Sox the most dazzling example yet.
From a bunch of free-swinging easy outs to open the season, the Red Sox now dictate the tempo to opposing staffs. Kiké Hernández led off Tuesday night by ambushing a Dylan Cease fastball and ripping it into the left field seats. The ball barely got eight feet off the ground, but Hernández was all over it with exactly the kind of swing that inspired manager Alex Cora to bat him leadoff in the first place.
The hits just kept on coming. Trevor Story, who was being (erroneously) compared to Carl Crawford just three weeks ago, continued his rampage with his eighth homer of the month and four RBIs, giving him 25 for May. There isn't a more scorching hitter in baseball.
Story's outburst has obscured one of the hottest stretches of J.D. Martinez's distinguished career. The slugging DH went 4 for 5 with a double to run his average to a league-leading .366. Only two weeks ago, he was hitting .289, but he's hitting .523 since.
Xander Bogaerts is hitting .323. Catcher Christian Vazquez, who homered last night, too, has rediscovered his center- and right-field approach and is hitting .393 over the last month. Even right fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is getting in on the fun with consecutive multi-hit days.
It may not sound like much, but for the first time this season, every regular in the Red Sox lineup is hitting at least .200. That's a far cry from early May when Hernández, Story, Bradley, and Bobby Dalbec were all looking up at the Mendoza line, and Vazquez and Alex Verdugo were plummeting towards it.
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From last place in the American League East, the Red Sox have risen to within two games of .500, just 2.5 games behind the Blue Jays in the race for the final wild card. They have their offense to thank.
"Obviously we had a lot of work to do to get to the point we're at right now," manager Alex Cora told reporters in Chicago. "They did an amazing job canceling the noise, because it was loud. It was very loud. We understand the process. We understand that it's 162, and that we have a good baseball team. We're working very hard to get to the next step. We're almost there, almost reset the season. We still believe we have a good team and we can compete with the big boys in this division and obviously the league. Just little steps -- keep winning series, keep doing that, and the rest will take care of itself."
While Story is the most obvious example of improvement from month to month, he's far from alone. After hitting just .225 with 12 homers and 48 walks in April, the Red Sox are blowing those numbers away in May, batting .277 with 27 homers and 63 walks. That last number might be the key, because it reflects a more patient approach from a team that swung at more pitches out of the zone than anyone over the first month, but is now controlling the strike zone.
While Hernández's leadoff homer came on the first pitch, Story delivered his three-run shot five batters later on the seventh pitch of his at-bat with a full count. He worked Cease and laid off a high fastball before catching a hanging slider and ripping it into the left field seats in what is becoming a familiar sight.
"Coming into the season we knew we were going to hit," Cora told reporters. "If you look at the numbers today, we're probably a top-three offense in the league."
Indeed they are. From the misery of April, they now rank third in runs and first in batting average (.251). Even if Story, Devers, and Martinez are unlikely to maintain their current levels of production, they shouldn't have to; maybe a month now from now, they only win Tuesday's game 8-3 instead of 16-3.
Either way, that's more than good enough. The Red Sox are finally winning in the fashion we expected, and there's no reason their offense can't once again give us a baseball season worth watching.