When David Ortiz was standing in the batter’s box before hitting a walk-off homerun, everything was calculated. He knew what a pitcher liked to throw on a 2-1 count in the 6th inning and beyond. He may have seemed like a simple guy who loved to swing the bat, but Papi was one of the smartest guys to play the game. He’s retired though, and his former teammates need to stop trying to hit like him, and start emulating a 20-year old kid. Seriously.
Well, not just him—while Rafael Devers has been an illumination in the Red Sox clubhouse, so has Eduardo Nuñez, a utility player with a quick bat and a helmet that is significantly looser than it should be. The two unlikeliest sources have awakened a stagnant Red Sox offense, and pushed their team from 2nd place to back on top, 2 games ahead of New York. How? How did a kid who should be entering his Junior year of college teach a bunch of former World Series champions and MVP candidates how to hit?
Simple—they don’t think. They don’t think about the percentages, and shifts, and barrel percentage, and WAR. They don’t think about David Price and Dennis Eckersley, and “showing up the media”. Hell, they probably don’t even care about David Price all that much as a person. They care about the ball, and the big wooden stick in their hands, and making those two things meet. When you’re at the plate, that’s the only important thing. And it’s getting contagious.
Devers, in particular, is doing something that more of the team needs to emulate; hitting the ball to all fields. Xander Bogaerts, before his recent injury, was on one of the worst slumps anyone has experienced this season. Every swing was a wave towards left field, hoping to fly one off the monster and get a cheap double. Xander, I’ll tell you what I tell my Little League kids—hit it where it’s pitched. When Bogaerts exploded onto the playoff scene as a rookie, much like Devers, in 2013, that’s what made scouts and opposing GM’s stop and look. Hitting the ball to all fields is baseball’s best kept secret, but those who have discovered its powers reap the benefits. Just ask Jose Altuve, the Astros’ second baseman who hit .485 in the month of July (!!!) and is about to walk to a very deserving AL MVP award.
The Red Sox offense has an M.O., but it hasn’t been working, so maybe it needs to be tweaked. Boston sees more pitches than any other team every season, but it’s becoming a point of frustration when everyone on the team is hitting below .300. Here’s a list of the power bats you have in this lineup: Mookie Betts, Hanley Ramirez, Jackie Bradley Jr., Rafael Devers, Mitch Moreland, Dustin Pedroia. Those guys can all hit 20 homeruns in a season. Let them swing at pitches they think they can hit out of the ball park. Here’s a few other good hitters who have less power, but can still hit the crap out of the ball: Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts, and Eduardo Nuñez. If we strike out a few more times a game, it’s a worthy trade for a few more long balls. There’s very few ways to score multiple runs at a time, which proves crucial in a game where the objective is to finish with the most runs. This isn’t a team that needs to wait for the perfect pitch—if it’s a strike, a lot of these guys can do some damage.
When I watch the Yankees’ young offense, especially Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, it’s almost like they’re protecting the strike zone from strikes. Pitchers are hesitant to throw a get-me-over fastball for a strike because they know one of those guys could bounce it off the Hubble Telescope. The Red Sox let a meatball go by for strike one like there’s a rule against swinging at it. I’m a big fan of working a count, but I’m not a big fan of letting a middle-middle can of corn go by 27 times a game, either.
The Red Sox are trending back in the right direction, thanks in no little part to these two young ballplayers who are just showing up to hit baseballs all over the park. They aren’t thinking about pulling the ball, they aren’t letting the clubhouse fodder distract them, and they’re certainly not up there to look good. They know that hitting baseballs where people can’t catch them is what earns you a spot—and if Devers doesn’t cool off soon, he could find himself being a much more integral part of this lineup than opposing pitchers hope. A guy who thinks he can drive the ball no matter which part of the strike zone it’s thrown in is a pitcher’s worst nightmare.
The Red Sox have the supplemental pieces to win a championship this season. You have a potential Cy Young candidate in Sale, one of the best in the game in Kimbrel, and a trio of middle-rotation pitchers who can be great at times in Price, Pomeranz, and E-Rod. Doug Fister looked great in his last outing and has proven himself in October before. Porcello continues to struggle, but he was a 20 game winner last season, so you know he has it in him. It’s not the defense, or the pitching, or the manager—the Red Sox are 60-12 when they score 4 runs or more. It’s the offense.
The Devers call up was a ballsy move by Dave Dombrowski, but he’s certainly rewarded ownership’s faith in him by tearing the cover off the ball in his first weeks. Eduardo Nuñez is looking like the key to the Sox offense, which is pretty crazy considering at the time he was traded, he was hailed as “a slightly better Brock Holt”. These are two guys who love to hit in Fenway Park, and they’re doing it the right way.
Here’s to hoping John Farrell doesn’t try to stymie the aggressiveness of the lineup in the coming weeks. If the Yankees have anything you can exploit, it may be their starting pitching. While they also have CG shut out capability, they also let up quite a few homeruns in that tiny Little League field they play in. This is your major competition until (and maybe during) October, and you need to get your team moving in a direction to exploit whatever weaknesses you can find. Most teams are fairly prone to giving up runs on 400 foot fly balls.
Picture courtesy of the Boston Herald