Well, the first semester is finally over, and it definitely was not what anyone expected. For the entire week of the All-Star break, I’ll be doing Red Sox report cards for every aspect of the team. I started with our starters earlier this week, and today, we’re talking bats, the good and the bad.
The Red Sox offense has been hot and cold this season, but they’re actually better than they seem. It’s not exactly their fault; they’ve had some really bad lineups and a fair amount of injuries. But despite actually leading MLB in most offensive categories, they’ve also struggled mightily when it comes to driving in runs. Their 5.66 runs/game is the 3rd best in MLB, but they’re 19-19 in games decided by two runs or less, and 13-11 in 1-run games; practically the same lineup went 25-14 in 1-run games in 2018. In short: they’re doing pretty well and getting better all the time, but with the state of Sox pitching, they’re going to need to do even more.
Since there are so many batters on this team, I’ll be breaking them down by temperature: hot, lukewarm, and cold.
Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts are both having career years. Of course, this is more notable for Bogaerts than Devers, seeing as it’s only Devers’ second full season in the majors. X leads American League shortstops in almost every offensive category, including home runs, doubles, RBI (he has 65 and no other AL SS has more than 48), walks, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS. He had 17 homers coming into the break, making him on pace for more than 30 home runs this season; his current career-high is the 23 he hit last year. More importantly, Xander has emerged as a team leader, not in a flashy way, but in a solid, reassuring way. His mentorship of Devers resembles that of an older and younger brother, and at times is more precious that staring at a basket of puppies. I’ve been calling for Xander to become the team’s first captain since Jason Varitek, and I’m far from the only one who already thinks of him as such.
And it was only a matter of time before Rafael Devers emerged as the young star of the team. After all, I predicted it, and so did David Ortiz. He didn’t hit his first home run until May 3, but then he hit 8 in May, and won AL Player of the Month. Coming into the break, he had 16 homers, and is ranked third in the AL in batting average and slugging percentage. The lineup as a whole has been markedly better since Cora moved him up to the two-spot. He’s just getting started, and it’s an absolute thrill to witness.
Speaking of career years, Christian Vazquez might have pulled a Space Jam and stolen David Ortiz’s power, because he’s a completely different player at the plate this season. He hit his 14th home run of the season this weekend, the 5th-most of any hitter on the team. But what’s even wilder is that coming into this season, he’d only hit 10 total homers between 2014-2018. No one could have predicted this offensive explosion, but the way this season has been going, no one could possibly complain.
Brock Holt has been on fire since returning from the Injured List at the end of May, as has Marco Hernandez, who has made the most triumphant return after missing over a year of baseball due to multiple surgeries. Holt is slashing .349/.391/.458 with 16 runs, 15 RBI, and a home run in just over a month back in the lineup. And Marco Hernandez has been the unlikeliest of heroes, coming up big every single time the team has needed him, which has been a lot. In his first 19 games, he’s hitting .360/.373/.560. On June 16, he hit his first Major League home run in 1,112 days. And in 9 games coming off the bench this season, he’s 7-for-11 (.636 BA) with 4 extra-base hits – including 2 home runs – and has scored 6 runs. It’s so great to see the more unexpected players step up and enjoy success, and I can’t really think of guys more deserving than Brockstar and Marco Polo.
JD Martinez hasn’t been able to replicate his 2018 numbers, but he’s still been pretty hot this season. He leads the team with 18 homers, and he’s slashing .304/.376/.541. He also has begun to heat up even more, finishing the first half with a 9-game hit streak in which he hit .447 with 6 extra-base hits, 7 runs, and 6 RBI. The Dodgers poaching his personal hitting coach certainly hurt, but if anyone can figure out how to turn themself around, it’s Julio.
Let’s get this out of the way first: even when he’s struggling, Mookie Betts is still a player every team in baseball would love to have. That being said, he needs to heat up, and fast. In 2018, he was the AL Batting Champ and AL MVP, and rightfully so, with a .346 batting average and .640 slugging percentage that were both MLB-best, as well as the most runs scored. This season, he still leads MLB in runs, but that’s due in large part to having the second-most walks in MLB. His overall slash line has dipped considerably, now at .272/.392/.467. He said it himself, his performance this season has been “unacceptable,” and it might sound crazy, but he’s right. This is Boston after all, and he’s Mookie “My Initials Are Literally MLB” Betts. And when Mookie is slumping, the entire lineup struggles. That said, Cora moving him to the two-spot and back to leadoff wasn’t his fault, and the changes definitely factored into his performance thus far.
Michael Chavis trends towards the middle of the thermometer, mostly because he’s a rookie who is still figuring some stuff out at the plate. He clearly has the power; three of the 4 farthest-hit Red Sox home runs belong to him, including a 459-foot moonshot. And his 18 At-Bats/HR is the 3rd best all-time for a Sox rookie. But he also leads the team in strikeouts, despite making his Major League debut nearly a month into the regular season; his 3.01 plate appearances per strikeout is the 3rd worst in MLB. His offense has made a huge difference, though, and I have no doubt he’s going to figure it out.
I’d love to put Jackie Bradley Jr. in the hot section, but he’s not consistent enough for me to do so in good conscience. That being said, it’s been great to see him really heat up over the last month or so. You can read more about his offensive turnaround here.
Mitch Moreland continues to be one of those solid, dependable hitters whose contributions to his team go largely unappreciated. In fact, was one of the best hitters on the team before going on the IL last month. Until recently, he led the offense in home runs, with 13 between March 29 and May 21. It’s even more impressive when you remember that he only hit 15 total in 2018!
Eduardo Nuñez is one of those players I can’t really figure out. He’ll have some really big hits, but just can’t seem to stay consistent. His numbers have improved though; in his first 27 games, he was hitting .173, but in his last 31 games, he’s up to a strong .284.
Andrew Benintendi has been better since getting moved out of the leadoff spot, but he earns his place in the chill zone because he’s been even more cold than hot this season than usual. He’s one of those guys who’s either on fire, or he can’t get a hit to save his life, and there’s absolutely no in-between. He was statistically the worst leadoff hitter this team has had in the last 20 years; his 1st-inning batting average couldn’t even break .100, and unfortunately, Cora let him stay in the top spot for far too long, which was detrimental to him, as well as Mookie, and likely, the entire lineup. But when Benny is on, he’s really on, so here’s hoping we see that side of him in the second half.
Unsurprisingly, Sandy Leon is down here in the wintery climes. But without him, I’m fairly certain Sale and Porcello would still be pitching like blind mice. Some players are 5-tool players. Some players can do a lot. And some players have what Liam Neeson calls ‘a particular set of skills,’ and that’s why they exist. To expect otherwise is fan error.
I hate to put Steve Pearce on here, but I have to. He’s barely seen action this season, but when he has, the World Series MVP is batting .180. He’s been injured for most of the season, and is now going to miss another month due to an injury sustained while rehabbing.
At the end of the day, what Cora really needs from his lineup is pretty much the same thing he needs from his starting rotation: consistency. Consistent hitting, continuing to score throughout games, rather than grabbing an early lead and not adding onto it, and most of all, driving in runs instead of stranding everyone and their mother on base. As we’ve seen all year, even one or two extra runs can make all the difference. And this second half needs to be different.
Photo: CBS Boston