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Tomase: Five reasons the Red Sox are currently a playoff team

NBC Sports
Nick Pivetta

Not even three weeks ago, the Red Sox hit the canyon floor.

On May 17, ace Nathan Eovaldi surrendered five homers, Rafael Devers and Franchy Cordero committed errors, and the Astros cruised to a 13-4 victory that dropped the Red Sox to 14-22, just a game and a half out of last place in the American League.

The next day, right-hander Nick Pivetta won a two-hit complete game. And then came the stretch of the schedule that would decide the season.

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Gone were the Astros, Yankees, Rays, and Jays, replaced instead by bottom feeders like the Orioles, Reds, Mariners, and A's. If the Red Sox were going to salvage their season, this was the time to do it.

Thirteen wins in 18 games later, they've not only clawed their way back to .500 for the first time since 7-7, they've also claimed the third wild card spot in the American League. That's right: if the season ended today, they'd be in the playoffs.

So how have they done it? As they prepare to open a four-game set in Anaheim against the reeling Angels on Monday, let's break down some of the factors that have helped them salvage a season that could've easily spun completely out of control.

 

1. The offense came alive

After topping five runs only three times in April, the Sox exploded for 11-plus runs five times in May, with highs of 16 bookending a series with the White Sox.

The usual suspects have led the way, with Devers hitting .377 over the last month and J.D. Martinez at a scorching .409.

But more importantly, the rest of the lineup finally started providing support to the big three of Devers, Martinez, and shortstop Xander Bogaerts. Christian Vazquez is hitting .338 over his last 20 games. Franchy Cordero has provided surprising power. Jackie Bradley and Alex Verdugo have found their strokes. Even Bobby Dalbec has a homered twice in the last week and a half.

It turns out that three players, no matter how good, aren't enough to carry this lineup. Give them a little help, however, and the Red Sox are transformed.

2. Trevor Story caught fire

Trevor Story deserves a section unto himself after a monster May that saw him blast nine homers and drive in 32 runs. The power hasn't carried over to June, but he's starting to hit for average. He's at .333 this month and showcasing his entire range of skills, from power to patience to defensive prowess to incredible instincts on the bases.

After a slow start defensively, he's taking to second base. He made a leaping catch in short right to rob the A's of a run over the weekend, and hasn't committed an error since early May. He has also stolen a team-leading seven bases without being caught.

Story suddenly looks like the five-tool player the Red Sox envisioned when they signed him for six years and $140 million. Don't let the .230 average fool you. He's impacting the game on a nightly basis.

3. Nick Pivetta is the stopper

Pivetta looked lost through April, posting an 8.27 ERA and inching onto the list of starters who could be moved to the bullpen when Chris Sale returned. He couldn't throw his curveball for strikes and his velocity had ticked down nearly two full mph, too.

But starting on May 7 vs. the White Sox, when he threw six shutout innings in a no-decision, Pivetta has been a monster. His latest effort, on Saturday against the A's, is typical: seven innings, two hits, no runs.

Over his last six starts, Pivetta is 5-0 with a 1.32 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 41 innings. After walking 13 in his first four starts, he has issued just eight free passes in seven starts since.

Over his last six starts, Pivetta is 5-0 with a 1.32 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 41 innings. After walking 13 in his first four starts, he has issued just eight free passes in seven starts since.

 

Pivetta has become essential to Alex Cora's bullpen management, tossing at least six innings in each of his last six starts, finishing the seventh inning twice, and adding a complete game. The fiery right-hander exhibits the demeanor of a top-of-the-rotation starter, and now he's got the results to match.

4. Taking advantage of the schedule

It's not sexy, but it's necessary. Since the Astros left town, the Red Sox have not faced a team with a winning record, and that streak will unexpectedly continue in Anaheim, where the Angels have lost 11 straight to drop from first in the wild card race to 27-28, a half game behind the Red Sox.

The series will still be a test, because the Angels are desperate and overdue to break out. All-world outfielder Mike Trout is mired in the worst slump (0 for 26) of his career, and hasn't had a hit in more than a week. He's hitting just .095 during the losing streak.

The Red Sox are looking at another couple of weeks of this, with the series in Anaheim followed by a visit to Seattle and a homestand vs. the A's, Cardinals, and Tigers. Then things get rough, starting in Cleveland and continuing through a bear of a July vs. the Yankees, Rays, and Jays.

They'll need to keep banking wins while they can, because the competition will stiffen shortly, and they spent April digging themselves a huge hole that they're only just now escaping.

5. Alex Cora shaved

The numbers speak for themselves. Since losing the salt-and-pepper beard he carried into spring training before a two-game series in Atlanta in early May, Cora has watched the Red Sox go 17-8. That's a 110-win pace over a full season, and all the evidence Cora needs never to grow so much as a moustache ever again.