It was another big win for the Red Sox today against the Astros as they continue to become relevant in the AL East race. The Red Sox have now won 11 of their past 17 games. Since July 21st, they have gained four games in the standings and they are now just six games out of first place. The Red Sox are playing very good baseball right now. This seemed unlikely a few weeks ago, but the Red Sox have always had the talent to win. They had some players who were severely underachieving who have really stepped up recently. These players include David Ortiz, Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, and Clay Buchholz. With the All Star break coming up a week from today, these next five games are very important for the Red Sox. After an off day tomorrow, the Sox will play a two game series against the Miami Marlins who are just 35-48 this season. After another off day, the Yankees come to Fenway for a three game series. If the Sox can take care of business against the Marlins, this Yankees series could prove to be a very important one. It’s been a while since the Red Sox had an important series to get the fan base excited about. We’re starting to see some buzz around this team and it would be great to see it continue through the All Star break. Here are some observations and stats regarding the Red Sox recent run and some potential keys for them.
Mookie Betts is already an All Star caliber player at age 22. There’s been a lot of talk about Xander Bogaerts being on the All Star Team and it’s deservedly so. He should be there along with Jose Iglesias. Having said that, it’s been great to see the progression Betts has made this year. He’s quietly becoming one of the top centerfielders in baseball. Betts is batting is .283 with 9 HR and 41 RBI’s. What’s even more impressive is that his .799 OPS and 3.9 WAR ranks him third amongst AL centerfielders. The only players he’s behind are Mike Trout and Lorenzo Cain. He’s ahead of Adam Jones. Another key stat for Betts is that he ranks second amongst all AL centerfielders with 41 RBI’s. The only player he’s behind is Trout with 44. This is quite an accomplishment for Betts considering he’s a leadoff hitter and he does not get the opportunity to drive in as many runs as players who hit in the middle of the order. The fact that Betts is putting up these numbers with this elite group shows that he is not just a potential star, but that he already is in the top tier of centerfielders in the league. Betts has also played a very solid centerfield. His DWAR actually ranks 3rd amongst all centerfielders at 1.5. He has made just one error. Not bad for a guy who was playing second base at the beginning of last season. Anyone still wish the Sox kept Ellsbury? Me neither!
David Ortiz is back to being David Ortiz. Ortiz has 8 home runs and 22 RBI’s in his last 30 games. The 8 homers ranks him 5th in the AL over that timeframe and the 22 RBI’s rank 6th. Big Papi is back to being a legit threat in the middle of the lineup. He’s hitting the ball to the opposite field as well which is always a good sign with him. He has received a lot of criticism for his performance this year, but he has a very good chance to hit 30 homers and come close to the 100 RBI’s the Sox have always relied on with him. He usually heats up in June and July and we’re seeing it again this year.
Clay Buchholz is pitching like an ace. This is not suggesting that Buchholz is an ace and we can expect this to continue. We never know what to expect with this guy, but I can say that watching that game yesterday, there was a lot of confidence. It just seemed like he was in full control the entire game and the Astros didn’t have a chance. He pitched a complete game and only gave up one run. He was 4-0 with a 2.33 ERA in six starts in June to go along with his start yesterday. Overall, he has had a very strong year. He currently ranks 15th in the AL in ERA at 3.27. He also is 8th in innings pitched with 110. Clay Buchholz durable?! He certainly is this year. Here’s another interesting stat for Buchholz: In his 17 starts, he has only given up more than two runs six times. I’ll say this. I’m really looking forward to him starting against the Yankees next weekend. I can’t remember the last time I said that about Clay Buchholz.
Mike Napoli should not be in the starting lineup. I went to the game today and I was actually thrilled when I saw the “1B” next to Ortiz’s name in the lineup. I don’t think Ortiz at first every day is going to happen, but there’s no reason why he can’t play there two or three times a week. Simply put, Napoli has been brutal and he is really hurting this team with his lack of production. Here are the numbers backing up that statement. Of 24 qualifying first baseman in MLB, here is where Mike Napoli ranks in the following categories: Batting Average .192 – 24th. OPS .652 – 24th. Slugging % – .358 – 24th. The numbers speak for themselves. Mike Napoli is the worst hitting starting first baseman in Major League Baseball this year. The question I’ve had going into today is how does John Farrell continue to put him in this lineup? The team is starting to play well and they have Napoli batting 6th? Why? The easy question in response here is what’s the alternative? They don’t have another natural first baseman on the roster. Sandoval, Ramirez, and Ortiz have been discussed as options, but it’s not their natural position. Meanwhile, Allen Craig has been playing better in Pawtucket. He’s batting .274 with a .761 OPS. These aren’t great numbers, but they are improved for a guy who was a very solid MLB player two years ago. So why not give him a shot? John Farrell stated he wants to see Craig “drive the ball more.” It’s interesting that the same logic does not apply to the worst hitting first baseman in Major League Baseball.
There are a lot of positives with the Sox and also some things that can be addressed if they want to address them. Anyways, we’re days away from Red Sox-Yankees at Fenway in mid-July in meaningful games. Can’t wait for next weekend…