Is There Another Option To Lead Off For The Red Sox?


Red Sox Manager Alex Cora announced last Thursday in New York that he was abandoning the notion of Andrew Benintendi batting in the leadoff spot and returning to Mookie Betts in the role that worked so well in 2018.  Or did it?  In my latest Red Sox Column To Be Named Later, I look at the leadoff spot and propose an alternative to Betts and Benintendi, offer some thoughts on a nearly lost weekend in New York, and run down who is hot and who is not for the defending champs.

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For Openers

The insertion of Betts into the leadoff role was one of the first actions taken by Cora after he was named Manager following the dismissal of John Farrell after the 2017.  The move was heralded as a major factor in the team’s strong start and eventual romp through the rest of Major League Baseball.  But when you examine Betts’ numbers leading off games, it is clear that the role did not necessarily suit him all that well.

Shop the Stars and Stripes Collection at MLBshop.comIn 2018, Betts led off in 131 games.  In the first at bat in those games, Betts batted only .286, with a .351 OBP and a .504 slugging percentage.  Not bad numbers, but they pale in comparison to his slash line of .365/.462/.681.  Betts’ .286 average ranked 27th in the MLB and 14th in the AL for leadoff batters.  So the contention that Betts put immediate pressure on opponents in the first inning was inaccurate at best and downright misleading.  It was not Betts performance leading off games that sparked the Red Sox strong showing, or that won Betts the MVP in 2018.

This season production leading off the game has been virtually non-existent.  Benintendi has only three hits, all singles, in 43 games for a feeble .081 average.  He has also struck out nearly 35% of the time.  Betts has not fared much better, gathering only one single in 12 games.  Neither appears to be suited for the role.  Could there be another alternative on the roster.

I offer for your consideration the name of Xander Bogaerts.  Bogaerts has been one of the most consistent performers offensively this season.  He is second in the team in both average (.305) and OBP (.386), and is tied for first in slugging percentage (.550).  His numbers when leading off innings also appear to be conducive to the lead-off role.  In 50 plate appearances this season batting with no one on and no outs, Bogaerts is slashing .356/.420/.778 with nine extra base hits (4 doubles, five home runs) and has struck out only five times.  That certainly fits the mold of someone who can put instant pressure on an opposing pitcher.

New York State of Mind

Give the Red Sox credit.  With their season potentially on the line after losing the first two games of the series to the Yankees this weekend, they bounced back to score a big 8-5 win over nemesis C.C. Sabathia in the series finale.  Although not all of the credit should go to the Red Sox.  The Yankees helped them out with a number of misplays which aided the Red Sox in scoring runs. 

Though the Yankees were only charged with one error (charged to Clint Frazier in the seventh), a bobble by Luke Voit in the third inning led to the Red Sox second run.  Frazier also had an adventurous outing in right field.  In the seventh inning Frazier’s misplay of an Eduardo Nunez liner to center and errant throw helped open the floodgates for the Red Sox three run inning, breaking open a 3-2 game to give the Sox a 6-2 lead.  And in the eighth, Frazier again misplayed a blooper to right by Michael Chavis which turned a single into a triple, and allowed the Red Sox to score two more, which made it much more comfortable when Matt Barnes struggled in the bottom of the inning and allowed three runs to score to close the gap to 8-5.

And isn’t it ironic that it was David Price on the hill in Yankee Stadium who held the Bombers in check when the Red Sox desperately needed a good outing from a starter.  Price’s struggle against the Yankees have been well documented, but that seems to be another demon that he has exorcised in his tenure in Boston. 

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Bogaerts gets the honors this week with an impressive .462/.481/.962 slash line, popping three homers, scoring ten runs and knocking in six.  In a week when the offense struggled mightily at times, he was a lone bright spot.

In a week in which the Red Sox won only two games, it isn’t a surprise that there were not too many standouts on the pitching staff.  But Price was stellar.  In his two starts this week, he pitched 12 1/3 innings and allowed only three earned runs and held a lead when he exited both games.  He struck out twelve and walked only two, limited opponents to a .209 average, and logged a 0.89 WHIP.

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Boston Bruins Eastern Conference Champs GearThere were many candidates who could have found themselves under this category after a dismal 2-4 record this past week.  Offensively, Betts gets the dubious distinction with a slash line of .192/.276/.308. 

Chavis also warrants a mention.  The rookie infielder, known for tape measure blasts, has not homered since the 13th inning of the game in Toronto on May 22nd.  Since then, the “Ice Horse” has gone ice cold.  He has failed to homer in his last 10 games and 42 plate appearances, and has only one extra base hit (the aforementioned misplayed triple Sunday night courtesy of Frazier) and has struck out 17 times over that span.

Ryan Weber fell back to earth hard in his first start after his surprise six inning performance in Toronto.  Weber was hit hard this week in his start against Cleveland, allowing seven earned runs and ten extra base hits in just four innings of work.  So much for the comparisons to Greg Maddox.

And finally, Nunez finds himself on the list not for his batting or defense, but for his base running.  He fell asleep at second base in Friday night’s series opener in New York and was picked off second by Yankee catcher Gary Sanchez.  And in Sunday night’s finale, he again ran into an out on the bases when he tried to take second base after an RBI single in the third inning.  With the offensive struggles endured by the team this week, they could ill afford to give up outs on the base paths.

Look Ahead

The Red Sox road trip continues with a three game set in Kansas City on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.  The Royals continue their rebuilding process and currently sit in the cellar in the AL Central with a 19-40 record.  If you haven’t heard of Whit Merrifield you might want to check him out.  The second baseman is one of the better players in the league who gets no recognition because he is playing on a bad team.  He leads the Royals with a .298 average, and would look really good in a Red Sox uniform.

The Red Sox will return home for a four game rematch against the Rays, which includes a day-night double header on Saturday.  The Red Sox badly need a sweep in this series to close the gap with the Rays, who going into to play in Monday hold a six game lead over the Red Sox in both the Division and in the Wild Card Race.  Anything less than a split, and the hole will be dug even deeper.

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Boston Sports Syndicate: Is There Another Option To Lead Off For The Red Sox?
Is There Another Option To Lead Off For The Red Sox?
Boston Sports Syndicate
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