So, the Boston Red Sox are pretty good. They're now 15-2 after clobbering the Los Angeles Angels for the second night in a row with a 9-0 win, which is noteworthy because the Angels began the week with just as much buzz and the Red Sox have turned them into a speed bump.
They're 15-2 even though Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts and Drew Pomeranz are on the DL, J.D. Martinez is just starting to heat up, their catchers are hitting .212 without a home run, Andrew Benintendi hasn’t homered, and they blew a 4-0 lead in the eighth inning on Opening Day. Heck, they haven’t even played the Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers or Kansas City Royals yet.
It mostly has been about the great starting pitching, like Rick Porcello tossing six scoreless innings on Wednesday. He's 4-0 with a 1.40 ERA and has been a strike-throwing machine with only one walk in 25⅔ innings. Chris Sale has given up only three runs in his four starts and David Price opened the season with two scoreless outings. Pomeranz, who won 17 games with a 3.32 ERA last season, will return to the rotation Friday after missing time because of a flexor strain suffered in spring training.
The other hero Wednesday was third baseman Rafael Devers with this grand slam:
Brought the slam to the West Coast. 💪 pic.twitter.com/vVyAB3bhjy— Red Sox (@RedSox) April 19, 2018
That's four slams already for the Red Sox, after not hitting one in 2017, and they're the first team with four grand slams before May since the 2007 Tigers. While they lead the majors in runs per game, it's not just because of finding some power again after ranking last in the AL in home runs last season. While the major league average has dipped to .240 so far, the Red Sox are hitting .287, first in the majors, with the lowest strikeout rate as well. They do rank eighth in home run rate and watch out for Martinez: He went 4-for-5 on Wednesday with his fourth home run, raising his average from .271 to .313.
When a team gets off to a hot start like this, it's easy to conclude those wins and good vibes will continue throughout the season. After all, bad teams don't start 15-2. The Red Sox are the seventh team of the live ball era (since 1920) to start 15-2 or better:
1981 Oakland Athletics (16-1)
Final record: 64-45, lost in ALCS
Record after first 17 games: 48-44
The A's didn't give up more than three runs in any of their first 15 games. This was the strike season, and though they reached the ALCS, they were barely over .500 after the hot start.
1984 Tigers (16-1)
Final record: 104-58, won World Series
Record after first 17 games: 88-57
This team had the famous 35-5 start it rode that all way to a title.
1987 Milwaukee Brewers (16-1)
Final record: 91-71, missed playoffs
Record after first 17 games: 75-70
The Brewers started 13-0, including a Juan Nieves no-hitter in the ninth game but would give that away with a 12-game losing streak in May.
1955 Brooklyn Dodgers (15-2)
Final record: 98-55, won World Series
Record after first 17 games: 83-53
The Dodgers actually ran their hot start to 22-2 and went on to win the only World Series in Brooklyn history.
1966 Cleveland Indians (15-2)
Final record: 81-81, missed playoffs
Record after first 17 games: 66-79
Manager Birdie Tebbetts didn't even last the season, resigning in August. It probably didn't help that the Indians had 18 doubleheaders that year.
2003 San Francisco Giants (15-2)
Final record: 100-61, lost in NLDS
Record after first 17 games: 85-59
The hot start included five straight wins over the Dodgers.
Anyway, the Red Sox seem more '84 Tigers than '87 Brewers, especially with the early positive signs from Price and Porcello. It's a reminder that the Red Sox won the AL East title last season even though several key players had disappointing campaigns. Among those poised for a better year is Mookie Betts, who followed his three-homer game with two more hits and is now at .390/.486/.763, looking like the guy who finished second in the 2016 MVP voting.
Obviously, it's early. The Red Sox haven’t played the Toronto Blue Jays, who are off to their own 12-5 start, and they had only the one series against the New York Yankees. But they also opened up a sizable gap over the Yankees and that matters. The Red Sox now have to be considered the division favorite.
Mets salvage series finale: The Washington Nationals looked poised to sweep the New York Mets at Citi Field with a 4-2 lead entering the bottom of the eighth, but the Mets had an inning for the ages, scoring nine runs as they beat up on Ryan Madson, Sammy Solis and A.J. Cole. Yoenis Cespedes capped it off with this grand slam, but the key hits were Todd Frazier's two-run single to tie it, with Cespedes scoring on an aggressive send by third base coach Glenn Sherlock, and then Juan Lagares putting the Mets ahead when he stuck out his bat and poked a double over first base. Ahh, putting the ball in play.
Climb that ladder, Yo!@ynscspds crushed a grand slam for the @Mets on a pitch that was 3.82 feet high.— #Statcast (@statcast) April 19, 2018
That's the highest pitch he has hit for a HR in his career and the highest for any @MLB hitter this year. pic.twitter.com/xDx3OLcCiX
Our old pal Mark Simon weighed in:
It's rare that I would ever say this, especially in April, but that is both a great and stunning win for the Mets.— Mark Simon (@MarkASimonSays) April 19, 2018
That's very much a Tim Kurkjian "Circle This Game" kind of win.
(I'd @ him, but he's busy sideline reporting right now :))
One takeaway is that Madson had to pitch for a third day in a row and fourth time in five days and just didn't have much going. Once you get past Madson and closer Sean Doolittle, the depth of the Nationals' bullpen is a concern. Solis has a high strikeout rate but is still prone to walks, Brandon Kintzler hasn't thrown well, and Shawn Kelley will have to earn his way back into a prominent role after struggling in 2017. Manager Dave Martinez will need to find a reliable third and fourth reliever so he doesn't burn out Madson by July.
Marathon men: The best part of the Minnesota Twins' 2-1, 16-inning victory over the Indians in the second game in Puerto Rico was the performance of Jose Berrios, who tossed seven scoreless innings in his return to his island home. That's three scoreless starts already for Berrios, and if last season was his breakout, it's possible 2018 will be his rise to ace status. Ryan LaMarre finally knocked in the winning run:
Meanwhile, earlier in the day, the A's outslugged the White Sox 12-11 in 14 innings. Your early major league leader in total bases: Jed Lowrie.
This guy loves April: Eric Thames was the big story in baseball last April when he hit .345 and slugged 11 home runs. He slowed down after that and began the season in a part-time role, sharing first base with Ryan Braun. Well, he's heating up again:
His two-run homer provided all the offense in the 2-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds. His two-run homer on Tuesday provided all the offense in a 2-0 win as well. Only once before had one player accounted for all the runs in back-to-back games against the same team via home runs. And that happened earlier this season, when Joe Panik hit solo home runs in 1-0 wins for the Giants in the first two days of the season. Baseball.
Freeman hit on wrist ... again: Let's hope this isn't as bad as it looked as Freddie Freeman was hit by a pitch by Philadelphia Phillies lefty Hoby Milner and immediately went into the clubhouse without even waiting for the trainer to take a look:
Freeman was hit on the wrist last year and missed 44 games. Look for updates Thursday.