By Norm Elrod

(CBS Boston/CBS Local) — Late April is way too early in the MLB season to make any grand statements about most teams, or even most players. The sample set of games is just too small. But winning only two of 10 games to start the season, as the Boston Red Sox did, certainly raised a few eyebrows. A World Series champion with largely the same roster, even one shaking off the rust, should be better than that.

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It turns out that the Red Sox probably are better. After splitting a four-game series with the lowly Orioles and dropping two to the Yankees, the Red Sox swept three games from the AL East-leading Rays in Tampa Bay this past weekend. And they did it in a fashion reminiscent of last season’s 108-54 campaign… close wins bolstered by strong pitching.

Cody Bellinger, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ hard-hitting first-baseman and outfielder, has experienced no such letdown to start his 2019 season. He’s putting up stats that have many comparing him to Milwaukee Brewer Christian Yelich, the defending National League MVP who, himself, is hitting at a torrid pace. Again, it’s early, but it’s nice to be noticed. Just ask Dallas Keuchel. The free-agent pitcher has yet to be signed, but is back on a few teams’ radars. Signalling his willingness to accept more favorable terms is certainly part of the reason.

This week’s Baseball Report looks at the Red Sox’s changing fortunes, along with Bellinger’s scorching hot bat and Keuchel’s prospects of signing a contract in the near future.

Rafael Devers #11 of the Boston Red Sox is congratulated by Andrew Benintendi #16 after scoring in the 11th inning of a baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on April 21, 2019 in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Rafael Devers and Andrew Benintendi (Photo Credit: Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

Red Sox Winning Again

The defending World Series champions started the season 2-8, and it wasn’t at all pretty. The pitching was a mess, and the hitting was suspect at times. The Tampa Bay Rays, projected as a possible Wild Card contender, but no more, jumped out to a 7-3 record. Their pitching was stifling, while their bats generated just enough run support to notch wins. It wasn’t a formula for long-term success, but it’s been working in April.

Going into a weekend series with the Red Sox, the Rays looked to have a legitimate shot in an AL East with two World Series contenders. The Yankees will be fighting to stay afloat amidst all the injuries until possibly as late as the All-Star break. As for the Red Sox, who have a few injuries of their own, well, it’s hard to know when the sleeping giant will awaken.

Then again, maybe it just did.

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The Red Sox swept the Rays in three-game series over the weekend. It was their first series win of the season and included their first set of consecutive wins. David Price pitched five solid innings Sunday against his former team. The top of the Red Sox’s order finally produced up to their capabilities, with Andrew Benintendi going 3 for 13 on the series, with a grand slam, and Mookie Betts going 6 for 13, with a double and a home run.

The Red Sox will likely improve in the standings over the coming weeks. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts continues to earn his $120 million contract extension. Ryan Brasier has filled the void at closer left by Craig Kimbrel. And Betts looks to be rounding back into form. The Rays (15-8), with the second best record in the majors, still lead the Red Sox (9-13) by 5.5 games in the division. But Boston looks ready to climb out of their early-season hole.

Cody Bellinger’s MVP-Type Start

The Dodgers first baseman and outfielder is looking like MVP material, even more so than the Brewers Christian Yelich, last season’s NL MVP. Three weeks into April, Bellinger is batting .424 with 11 home runs and 28 RBIs. Compare that to Yelich, who is hitting .353 with 13 home runs and 31 RBIs.

The power is nothing new for Bellinger, the 2017 NL Rookie of the Year, who has collected 74 home runs in his first two seasons, while hitting .260 and .267. His 2019 average, however, will come back down to earth, just as surely as his home run total will rise.

Bellinger and Yelich played each other over the weekend, when the Dodgers came to Milwaukee for a four-game series with the Brewers. The Dodgers won three of four, including Sunday’s exciting finale. Late in that game, Bellinger robbed Yelich of a home run, then hit a game-winning home run an inning later.

Dallas Keuchel Still Available

Baseball’s offseason free-agent market was slow right up until it wasn’t. But when it settled, Dallas Keuchel didn’t find himself among the players signed. The former Houston Astro, who went 12-11 with a 3.74 ERA last season, was looking for a longer-term deal. But teams weren’t willing to commit to a 31-year-old starter showing early signs of decline for more than a season.

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Keuchel seems to have changed his tune and is now open to a one-year deal, as opposed to the multi-year deal he’d been seeking. Multiple teams are sniffing around, including the Astros, Brewers, Philadelphia Phillies and San Diego Padres. The 2015 American League Cy Young winner still has the arsenal and experience to hold down a spot in a rotation. However, any team that signs him would likely have to wait a month for him to ramp up.