Welcome back to Read Sox. This week we check in on the non-story of David Ortiz’s absence in the first half finale, the beauty that is Xander Bogaerts, the importance of Brock Holt and Ryan Hanigan, fixing the bullpen and how John Farrell’s team-first managing approach is helping the team get back into the mix.
David Ortiz missed Sunday’s ‘first-half’ finale with an upper respiratory illness, but even with the illness reported it did not stop local media from suggesting Ortiz had quit on the team and was skipping the game to start his All-Star break early. The #HotTakes were everywhere, and all as dumb as they were hot. Luckily we have someone like Chad Finn of Boston.com to come along and drop some common sense where it is desperately needed. Finn’s article is excellent in outlining how important Ortiz has been to the Red Sox over the last 13 years, and how his selfishness is an asset that has helped bring great success to the organization. While Ortiz has performed admirably at first base in his five starts at the position this season, it is not a sustainable solution. He is 39 years old, and his legs cannot handle playing the field everyday. There is no sense in accelerating his inevitable decline as a productive hitter. His numbers in April and May (109, 61 wRC+, respectively) had the hot-takers rushing to be the first to proclaim Ortiz dead. Well, he is very much alive, as since then he has posted a 121 wRC+ in June, and so far in July is at 166. While he has been abysmal against left-handed pitching (.352 OPS!) – something John Farrell needs to consider when setting his lineup and making late-game pinch-hitting decisions – overall Ortiz is still a threat in the middle of the lineup. It should not be hard to recognize that Ortiz will not be the same threat for very long if he is asked to play first base often. The best course of action is to let him focus on hitting.
When asked at the start of the season if I would rather start a team with Xander Bogaerts or Mookie Betts, I voted firmly for the Mook-man. I stand by my vote, but Xander’s performance to this point in the season has made the comparison closer than I perceived it back at the start of May. He has been a positive contributor in all aspects of the game, and while it is only half a season of data he has dramatically improved on offense from last season (82 to 106 wRC+), and has looked much, much more comfortable and smooth defensively at shortstop (-3.7 to 6.4 UZR/150). It seemed clear that Xander would be the Red Sox representative at the All-Star game, and fellow American League East infielder Manny Machado, who has been really impressed with Xander, thinks he deserved to be at the game. John Tomase of WEEI.com spoke with Xander about his continued growth as a player, and how having a plan for each plate appearance has really helped him control the strike zone and be more productive. Xander has been much better this year in taking the pitches pitchers throw him and hitting them to the opposite field. Last year he was maybe a little too pull-happy, pulling the ball 46.9% of the time and going the other way only 19.3% of the time. So far this year those numbers are at 32.7% and 32%, respectively; representative of a much better approach. Xander’s power potential has not consistently been on display this season (only 3 HR), but as he continues to mature and have better plate appearances, it should come and he will be scary.
While Xander Bogaerts probably should have been the Red Sox representative at the All-Star game, Brock Holt and all of his glorious utilityness was selected. Holt’s ability to play all over the diamond and play well has made him a Ben Zobrist-lite for the Red Sox this season. Scott Lauber of BostonHerald.com details how important Holt is to the Red Sox and how a player like Devon Marrero might want to emulate him.
Ryan Hanigan may not be a stand out performer in any aspect of the game, but Julian Benbow of The Boston Globe provides a nice breakdown on how his experience has been a stabilizing force for the Red Sox. Julian Benbow’s colleague at the Globe, Nick Cafardo, suggests that Hanigan’s presence has been important for getting Rick Porcello to re-establish himself as the quality pitcher the Red Sox thought they had when they signed him to a four-year extension.
The trade deadline is looming and there is a chance the Red Sox will be buyers. Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal details how the area most needing improvement for this Red Sox team is the bullpen. Making a trade is one way to fix things, another is to use in-house parts. Jason Mastrodonato at BostonHerald.com writes that the possibility of moving Joe Kelly to the pen has not been ruled out.
John Farrell has been the focus of some undue criticism for the poor early season returns. To his credit he has been strong through the rough months and lately has been making some difficult decisions that require players to set aside their egos in service of a team-first approach designed to give the highest likelihood of winning on any given day. At ESPN Boston, Tony Lee outlines Farrell’s bold moves.
Three Good Game Stories
Julian Benbow of The Boston Globe notes that after the Red Sox swept the Marlins last week, earning their first (and only) four game win streak on the season, the clubhouse was filled with confidence.
Some of that confidence may have been lost after last Friday’s loss in the series opener against the Yankees, but the Sox bounced back on Saturday with a solid win that included offense from the David Ortiz and Hanley Ramirez tandem, who, as Jason Mastrodonato of BostonHerald.com notes, seem to feed off each other.
The Red Sox closed out the ‘first half’ with a disappointing loss that again involved Wade Miley really struggling when facing the opposing order a third time and, as Rob Bradford writes, sends the team into the All Star break on a sour note.
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