It’s hard to believe I was once against the Red Sox signing JD Martinez. But can you blame me? There have been so many free-agent slugger signings in recent years, all starting off with so much hope, but quickly dissolving into costly disasters. I was hesitant to make yet another one of those situations the focal point of this season.
Thankfully, JD Martinez has been the opposite of his predecessors so far. He started off slowly, but it’s safe to say he’s officially red hot; he’s hitting .411 with 5 home runs over his last 14 games. Last night, he hit his 11th homer of the season, putting him only two behind MLB’s leading homer-hitter, teammate Mookie Betts. 6 of his homers this season have come in his last 12 games.
While the team flounders around him, going 11-11 in their last 22, Martinez has only improved. He’s hit safely in 14 of the Sox’s last 15 games, including the home run that won them the final game of their series against the Yankees, preventing a series sweep. Boston is 12-1 in series finales, and have won the last 6 of them.
The Red Sox are 11-5 in one-run games, and he’s been a key difference-maker in a lineup still struggling to produce consistently at the plate. In Sunday’s game against the Blue Jays, he had a 1st inning home run and 3 RBIs. They say he’s as studious as Big Papi, watching hours of footage and writing notes by hand in a notebook, always trying to learn and improve. Manager Alex Cora said he’s “becoming a force… becoming a leader.” You’d be crazy to disagree with him.
Last night, Martinez was the first Red Sock to get a hit off A’s pitcher Sean Manaea, the pitcher who wreaked what seems to have been semipermanent havoc on the lineup in the April 21st no-hitter. He followed it up with a home run, his second in as many days. Both homers were hit off the first pitch he saw, too. At .641, JD is fourth in MLB for slugging percentage; only Mike Trout, Manny Machado, and league-leader Mookie Betts are faring better.
Last year, hitting was the main problem for the Red Sox. Though they won the AL East, once they faced the Houston Astros in the ALDS, it was clear that they were not a playoff-caliber team. They finished last in the American League in homers.
JD Martinez, meanwhile, hit 45 homers last season, nearly twice as many as Mookie Betts, who led the 2017 Sox with a measly 24. Splitting his season between the Tigers and Diamondbacks, he finished the year with 104 RBIs, 131 hits, and a .303 batting average in just 119 games. He’s on pace to vastly outdo himself in 2018.
Most of us expected JD to be the primary DH and fill the gaping hole left by Papi. But he’s actually spent more time in the outfield, freeing up his manager to play with a lineup that still needs a lot of figuring out. With JBJ batting in the low .100s, Cora can swap him out for Moreland and know that JD will take care of business in the outfield with Betts and Benintendi. Expectations for Martinez? I consider them exceeded, on all fronts.
Mookie might be getting more attention (and he definitely deserves it), but don’t let JD’s first few months as Red Sock go unnoticed; he’s exactly what this team needed.