For a month, anyway, it was open season on Chaim Bloom.
The Red Sox chief baseball officer had avoided major criticism during his first two years on the job, first because no one blamed him for doing ownership's bidding in moving on from Mookie Betts in 2020, and then because the team overachieved en route to last year's American League Championship Series.
But when April rolled around, Bloom found himself in an unfamiliar position: facing the expectations of an impatient fan base that had tasted unexpected success, and also on the hook if the team struggled.
And struggle it did, opening 10-19 while the flaws of Bloom's roster construction glared like Klieg lights on the GM's box, particularly at the back of a bullpen that couldn't save a cat from a very short tree. With the starters barely going five innings, the bullpen a mess, and the lineup impotent beyond the Big Three of Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, and J.D. Martinez, ire turned to Bloom.
Why didn't he sign a closer? Were Michael Wacha and Rich Hill enough to fortify the rotation? Why isn't he taking advantage of the Devers-Bogaerts-Martinez window before it closes? Did he really think Jackie Bradley Jr. could be an everyday outfielder again? Why is Bobby Dalbec still the starting first baseman? Will he ever trade a prospect to help the big-league club?
But the most damning criticism of all was this: Is he really just a small-market GM?
The cries of "Tampa North" that once sounded patently absurd -- why would an organization with the resources of the Red Sox decline to exploit its financial might? -- suddenly filled fans with unease. If the Red Sox didn't want to spend, would they still be the Red Sox? And what did that mean for the future of Devers and Bogaerts, a couple of favorites?
For his part, Bloom acknowledged the struggles, but preached patience. The lineup boasted too much talent to rank at the bottom of the American League in runs. When the weather warmed, the offense would, too. And he actually liked what he had seen out of an unheralded rotation, but after a shortened spring training, starters wouldn't be stretched out until May. As for the bullpen, he recognized the need for upgrades, but also believed the right pieces could potentially emerge from within.
Well, wouldn't you know it, he might've been right. The Red Sox have been the hottest team in baseball for the last six weeks (non-Yankees division), and many of Bloom's either maligned or ignored acquisitions are leading the charge.
As the Red Sox begin the killer portion of their schedule on Friday in Cleveland vs. the smoking-hot Guardians, they do so as winners of four straight and 16 of 20. Their winning percentages have increased from .409 in April to .500 in March to .800 in June. They haven't sustained a run like this since winning it all in 2018, and it's worth noting that outside of a nine-game winning streak last April, they were never this hot in 2021, a season we'd all gladly repeat.
While the holdover superstars are certainly doing their thing, it's only fair to give Bloom his due, too. After all, he's the guy who saw something in underachieving Phillies right-hander Nick Pivetta, acquiring him for right-handers Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree in 2020. If the All-Star Game were held today, Pivetta would have a strong case for inclusion after opening 7-5 with a 3.31 ERA.
Of course, he'd have competition in the form of Wacha, who's 6-1 with a 2.34 ERA. Wacha is a classic example of the kind of player Bloom targets. Signed for one year and $7 million this winter, he not only posted a 5.00 ERA with the Rays last year, he was at 5.00 for the last three years.
But the Red Sox noticed how much better he pitched in September after shelving a grossly ineffective cutter, and believed he could maintain that success over a full season. Wacha may not light up the Statcast leaderboards, but his changeup is filthy and he keeps the ball in the park. At some point, what he's doing isn't a fluke.
Meanwhile, the bullpen is finding some shape after a rough start, with Tanner Houck shifting to closer, offseason acquisitions Matt Strahm and Jake Diekman doing their jobs, and an unexpected lift coming from burly sidewinder John Schreiber, whose rising fastball hit 97 mph this week. If there remains a valid of criticism of Bloom, it's that he didn't do enough. His signings have hit, he just needed one or two more of them. Fortunately for him, the Aug. 2 trade deadline offers an opportunity for redemption.
That leaves the lineup. Bloom stretched beyond his comfort zone to sign Trevor Story to a six-year, $140 million deal, and the converted shortstop has rewarded him with a team-leading 48 RBIs, Gold Glove defense at second base, and tremendous production on the bases. Story may not be as consistent offensively as we'd like (.223 average), but he's consistently impacting games even when he's not swinging it.
The Red Sox have also received unanticipated production from outfielders Franchy Cordero, Jarren Duran, and Rob Refsnyder, and the different-hero-every-night approach of the supporting cast is paying dividends.
For that, we must give credit where it's due. We may have put Bloom through the wringer in April, but as we roll into July, all it takes is a look at the standings to see that his plan might actually be working.