The Red Sox fielded two very different teams

Through Sunday, the Sox starters were eighth in the American League with an ERA of 3.77 and in the top half of the league in strikeouts (8.5 per nine innings) and strikeout ratio. on balls (3.05).

The middle of the pack is strong considering the Sox made the bargain in the offseason with Rich Hill (one year/$5 million) and Michael Wacha (one year/$7 million) and didn’t have Chris Sale all season.

The Sox are 9-4 in games pitched by Hill and Wacha, who have a combined 2.82 ERA.

Considering Sale’s unexpected loss to a cracked rib and then a mysterious illness, the rotation has been better than expected and may even improve over time.

James Paxton picked up the pitch after a backhand and could be an option after the All-Star break.

Connor Seabold and Josh Winckowski have emerged as viable Triple A picks with 23-year-old right-hander Brayan Bello now on the same path.

Sale? Maybe it’s 12 starts. Maybe there isn’t. The Sox are strangely lacking information on their former ace. But even without him, they have enough rotational depth to compete during the season.

Alex Cora’s side have gone through two distinct stages this season.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

The bullpen needs a reliable closer, but that’s been true since last August. Matt Strahm seems like the more valid choice. Maybe Austin Davis? If the Sox continue to move up the standings, Chaim Bloom owes them help from the bullpen, sooner rather than later.

Offensively, they are two very different teams.

The Sox averaged 3.27 points in their first 29 games and had an embarrassing .621 OPS. Since then, they’ve averaged 6.58 carries with a .854 OPS.

The Sox had a .777 OPS last season and should be able to settle around that mark again this season because there are so many upgrade opportunities.

The Sox have the worst first base production in the majors with just one home run and .481 OPS. The league average is five home runs and a .734 OPS.

Triston Casas has the fifth highest OPS among Worcester players with at least 120 plate appearances. He didn’t bully his way into the majors and needs to.

In the meantime, the Sox can certainly do better than curl up Bobby Dalbec with Franchy Cordero. Maybe see if the Nationals will deal Josh Bell?

The Sox also have terrible outfield production with just six homers and .585 OPS.

Kiké Hernández picked it up in the last two weeks and won the right to stay in the center.

Jackie Bradley Jr has done well at home this season.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Jackie Bradley Jr. crashed at Fenway (.309 with a .883 OPS) and was mush on the road (.111 with a .331 OPS). What has been incredible defense in right field (6 DRS already) keeps him in the lineup.

Alex Verdugo has been in the fog all season, returning to spring training. He went from being a solid all-around player to leaving you wondering how the Sox didn’t get much for Mookie Betts.

Alex Cora likes to say that competition brings out the best in players. Verdugo might face some competition, perhaps from Jarren Duran. Or even Rob Refsnyder.

The Sox arrived here Sunday night just four games shy of a wild card. They have three games against the White Sox starting Tuesday before returning home for five games against the Orioles and Reds.

They stay in position to continue climbing. Nick Pivetta hosts the White Sox on Tuesday night. He’s allowed two earned runs in 22 innings in his last three starts, playing a big part in changing the course of the season.

Peter Abraham can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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