Aug. 09, 2017
The players you wouldn't expect have carried the Sox to first-place in August
Photo credit- CSNNE.com
Throughout most of the season, the Red Sox have been inconsistent in their ability to score runs, and have struggled to hit home runs. This season, Major League Baseball will set a record for most home runs hit in a season, including the seasons that fell in the middle of the steroid era. The Sox rank dead last in the American League with only 116 home runs, with teams like the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics hitting more long-balls this season, a fact unheard of before this season. But as of late, the Sox are beginning to catch fire at the plate from some new and unexpected players stepping up their play.
In 5-games played in August so far, the Sox have hit 11 home runs with a slugging percentage of .559, and are currently riding a 6-game winning streak in which they have scored 40 runs. They have 17 home runs in the last 11 games, with 5 straight multihomer games, per Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. But during this winning streak, it hasn't been the guys you would expect to carry them. Instead of Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts doing the heavy lifting, it's been newly acquired utility player Eduardo Nunez, and rookie third baseman, Rafael Devers. Since the Red Sox traded for Eduardo Nunez on July 26th from the San Francisco Giants, the lineup has seem to catch a spark.
In 9 games with the Sox, Nunez is batting .400 with 4 home runs and 12 RBI's. At the time of the trade, many of us didn't think it'd be a game changing move for the Sox. But so far it has been, with the Sox going 7-2 since first penciling Nunez into the lineup. Nunez has been more than advertised, providing pop to a lineup that desperately needed it. He's done everything, from being able to play anywhere in the infield, to batting in the 2, 3, and 4 spots in the lineup. He's also been clutch, including a walk-off infield single against the Kansas City Royals, and a 4-RBI game in the wild 12-10 walk-off win against the Indians last week.
Nunez has been so good that manager John Farrell says he's going to keep Nunez in the lineup even when second baseman Dustin Pedroia is activated from the disabled list today. Nunez will most likely give someone a day-off in the infield everyday going forward. We might see him at shortstop more often to give Bogaerts some time off, who has been dealing with a groin and hand injuries for about a month now. It also wouldn't be a surprise to see him still at second base tonight when Pedroia returns, and have Pedroia bat in the DH spot while Hanley Ramirez gets healthy.
Nunez hasn't been the only new face that's lit a fire in the lineup. Rookie third baseman, Rafael Devers, has proved why he's one of the highest ranked prospect in the majors. Since being called up from triple-A on July 25th, Devers has batted .349 with 3 homers and 6 RBI's. Unintimidated by the Boston spotlight, the 20-year-old has shown tremendous discipline at the plate, drawing 6 walks with an on-base-percentage of .429. It's impressive how patient he is, and how he doesn't chase pitchers out of the zone like most rookies would do early on in their careers. He has a powerful swing, and might have the ability to hit the long-ball to all sides of the field. Devers recently said that he would like to be just like Adrian Beltre, another power-hitting third baseman. Too early for those kind of comparisons, but there's no doubt the potential is there.
The Sox have also been getting production from catcher Christian Vazquez, 4th outfielder Chris Young, and rookie Andrew Benintendi. Vazquez, who hit the big 3-run walk-off home run against the Indians last week, has been red-hot at the plate. The catcher who's ability to hit consistently has often been questioned, is batting .321 since the All-Star break. Utility outfielder, Chris Young, hit 2 home runs in Sunday's win over the White Sox, batting in the clean-up spot for the 5th time this season. Young is batting .364 in August with 6 RBI's.
But the best sign for the Sox has been the improved play from Andrew Benintendi. Benintendi, who only batted .222 in July, has dealt with growing pains throughout his rookie season. But as of late, Benny has turned it on, batting .462 including a home run in the 4-game sweep against the last-place White Sox. It's only 4-games, but seeing Benintendi have a good series should boost the 23-year-olds confidence, and the Sox will need Benintendi, along with the rest of the lineup hitting well if they want to win the division.
It's unlikely that Nunez, Young, and Vazquez can continue to play at the rate they've been. It's also likely that Rafael Devers, like Benintendi, will experience growing pains of his own at some point either this season or the next. But while Bogaerts, Ramirez, and Pedroia get healthy, the Sox will continue to ride this wave out heading into the most important road trip of the season to date. With a 3-game lead in the American League East, the Sox will begin a 5-game road trip tonight against the Tampa Bay Rays and the second-place New York Yankees, with the underdogs of their roster leading the charge. Interesting that the team everyone was starting to hate after the Price and Eckersley altercation, has become a team hard not to like with how tough and gritty they have become as of late.