Xander Bogaerts MVP case grows by the day

Before we get to the Xander Bogaerts MVP case, let’s give credit it where it’s due. Mike Trout continues to show us all why he may go down as one of the most talented baseball players of all time. Nobody in the league has been able to string together so many Top-2 MVP finishes before turning 30, let alone in their careers.

But the pool of talent in the majors doesn’t just end at Trout. In fact, the crop of Xander Bogaerts MVP caseshortstops currently roaming the middle infields across the show is arguably the most talented group the league has seen in decades. Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Andrelton Simmons, Trevor Story, and Javier Baez are big names that come to mind.

But the one player that has stood up against them all- and might be coming for Trout- is Xander Bogaerts.

Bogaerts has surged ahead of other AL infielders

The Xander Bogaerts MVP case is a movement that has really gained steam over the last two months. With the aforementioned deep talent pool, there’s an awful lot of competition for the league’s top shortstop each year. Perhaps unbelievably, it could be argued that Bogaerts quietly ascended to the top spot, as flashy seasons by Lindor and Correa often stole the spotlight from Boston’s recently extended star. That’s no longer the case.

Understanding the Xander Bogaerts MVP case can be as simple as looking at his eye popping numbers. Just this last week, he came off a stretch in which he recorded at least 1 hit, 1 run, and 1 RBI in a historical 8 straight games. The only other Red Sox in club history to achieve that? Ted Williams. Yes, the Splendid Splinter. Ted accomplished the feat twice, with separate streaks of 8 and 11 games. Certainly nothing to sneer at.

Need more convincing? Let’s take a peak at his numbers as a whole. The 26-year-old was slashing .312/.399/.575 entering play on July 17, with 21 HR and 74 RBI. He had homered in 4 of his last 5 games, and in 5 of 7. He joins Trout as the only players in the AL batting .300 or higher with 20+ HR.

Is that enough yet? How about WAR? WAR’s value can vary based on metrics, but according to Fangraphs, Bogaerts’ 4.1 WAR trails only Trout (6.5), Cody Bellinger (5.7) and Christian Yelich (5.2) for tops in the majors. All three of them are MVP candidates that are putting up out-of-this-world numbers. But so is Bogaerts, and that shows that he belongs.

Bogaerts sits just behind Trout in most AL offensive categories

Still have not been told enough in the Xander Bogaerts MVP case? Let’s look at where he places among league leaders across other offensive categories.

He’s T-1st in the AL with Trout in XBH (51), 2nd to Trout in SLG (.575) and OPS (.974), T-2nd with Trout in runs (74), 2nd in the AL in 2B (30), 3rd in total bases (203), and 4th in OBP (.399). Pretty great, right?

The crazy thing is, it seems like most baseball fans needed convincing to even make Bogaerts an All-Star this season. He did eventually make it in after injuries knocked out other stars, but he didn’t even finish in the the Top 3 in voting at the position. The best shortstop in the American League, by a healthy margin, didn’t get voted in to the mid-summer classic.

Trout holds a comfy lead across most offensive categories, and might even be putting together his best season yet. But there’s no doubt that Bogaerts has cemented himself as a superstar in this league. For him, it’s time to start stealing some of the spotlight away from L.A. and bringing it back to Beantown, where one of the hottest shows in town is here to stay.

Red Sox trade targets to look out for

A seemingly taxed bullpen and what’s been a thin starting rotation for a while now are problems forcing the Red Sox into considering outside options for their pitching staff. With Alex Cora confirming that Nathan Eovaldi will assume the closer role upon returning from the Injured List, a spot will remain open in the rotation. Red Sox trade targets have generally been bullpen arms the last few years, but that tune might be changing in 2019.

With a largely competitive field of teams still vying for wild card contention, the market is aRed Sox trade targets bit thinner than it has been in recent seasons. That being said, there are indeed arms that are reportedly being shopped, as sellers like the Mets, Blue Jays, and others will be looking to unload and rebuild.

If the plan for the Sox is to add a man in the rotation, there are some options on the market that might come a bit cheaper than relievers with multiple years before free agency. Let’s take a look at who some of these Red Sox trade targets might be.

RHP Zack Wheeler, New York Mets

Ken Rosenthal recently reported that the Red Sox were spotted scouting a recent start of Wheeler’s (and Matthew Boyd’s). With the Mets coming undone in another lost season, a move would make sense. While the ERA is an unimpressive 4.69, Wheeler has been able to eat up innings in New York. He has managed to work 6.0+ IP in 15 of his 19 starts, including 7.0+ IP in 9 of those starts. He has worked fewer than five innings just a pair of times, going 4.2 in each. For a Red Sox team starved for an innings eater, a low-cost soon-to-be free agent represents an excellent fit.

LHP Matthew Boyd, Detroit Tigers

Boyd has put together a career year, posting a very solid 3.87 ERA through 18 starts. He’s been the best pitcher on a poor Tigers team, but has done well in a division that features a number of solid teams like the juggernaut Twins, competitive Indians, and rising White Sox. There are two concerns, however: for one thing, he is still a few years away from free agency. With how much clubs value team control these days, Boyd will come at a high price. Not just that, but after being one of the AL’s best through mid-June, Boyd has regressed a bit. The southpaw has allowed 4 or 5 ER in each of his last 4 starts, after allowing more than 4 ER just twice through his first 14. Boyd would make another quality addition, but the fit might not be as strong.

RHP Marcus Stroman, Toronto Blue Jays

Red Sox fans might not jump all over this idea. But Stroman is having an excellent season, has always proven a tough out, and brings a swagger to the mound, which makes him a Red Sox trade target. A swagger that might energize the group. Stroman is one of the league’s best at producing high ground ball rates. In two starts against Boston this season, Stroman has allowed just 1 ER over 11 IP. His 3.18 ERA would automatically be the lowest among fellow Sox starting pitchers. What makes this deal difficult is that Toronto won’t trade a key player to a divisional rival for nothing. Like with Boyd, the Red Sox might be priced out of their comfort zone.

David Price’s return helps lead Sox in rout of Blue Jays

Don’t look now, but if the Red Sox continue to roll over teams like they did in a 12-2 victory over Toronto yesterday, the league better be on alert. After David Price’s return to form, and an offensive onslaught led by red-hot hitters Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts, the Sox have clearly put that series loss against Houston behind them.

Price looks like his old self in his first start back from the IL

David Price’s return will bolster the rotation, which was thinning with Nathan Eovaldi David Price's returnweeks away from returning. In his first trip to the mound since May 2, the southpaw was strong. Price went five innings (67 pitches) and held Toronto to just two runs and three hits, striking out four. For Price, his latest effort just adds on to his pure dominance over Toronto in his career. This afternoon’s victory propelled him to a 13-1 record all-time at the Rogers Centre. That balloons to a 22-3 career record in games pitched against the Blue Jays, good for a 2.37 ERA.

You don’t mess with David if the Jays are in the opposing dugout.

Bogaerts and Devers go back-to-back, Chavis stays hot

Carrying the offensive load for Boston were Bogaerts and Devers, led by back-to-back bombs in the 9th inning. On the day, the young sluggers each drove in a trifecta of runs, with rookie Michael Chavis adding another moonshot and a pair of runs driven in. Chavis finished the afternoon with a mammoth .981 OPS through 26 career games. That would be the highest mark on the team (for position players) if it qualified. Adding to the barrage was Jackie Bradley Jr., who drilled a line drive over the left field fence for his first home run of the season. His homerless drought had led all the way back to the ALCS against Houston. That homer came in Game 4 off of Josh James to tie the game in the sixth inning, leading to an eventual Red Sox victory.

Today’s lashing continues a powerful stretch for the Sox. Over their last 18 games (since 4/29) they have smacked 34 homers and have averaged 6.84 runs per game. In that span, they lead the majors in OPS.

The bullpen combines with David Price’s return to completely shut down the Jays

After Price allowed a two-run home run to Luke Maile in the second, the Red Sox arms shut it down. That home run was the final hit surrendered by Boston pitching for the remainder of the game. After that home run, 22 of the 23 remaining batters were retired. Brandon Workman, Heath Hembree, Ryan Brasier, and Hector Velazquez combined to throw four scoreless innings, striking out six and walking just one. The bullpen continues to be a strong point, posting a sub-two ERA over its last 22 games, the second-best mark in MLB.

As the Red Sox continue to rebound from that ugly start, all sides of the ball appear to be clicking. If the Rays and Yankees continue to battle the injuries they have suffered with, it would not be out of the question for the Red Sox to be as good a challenger as anyone for the division title.

Dustin Pedroia setback: Is his role in jeopardy?

The latest version of a Dustin Pedroia setback reawakens whispers stemming from last season. They are whispers that the most loyal Pedroia supporters have tried to silence for over a year. The whispers that might suggest Pedroia’s career winding down, due to the nagging issues from his surgically repaired knee.

Yet another setback makes a timeline for Pedroia’s return unclear

News out of the Red Sox camp today proved quite discouraging. After being scratched Dustin Pedroia setbackfrom a Saturday start in Portland due to knee soreness, Pedroia reportedly suffered a setback after a doctor examined him on Monday. The news is troubling, seeing as the second baseman has already spent a month on the injured list with a bad knee.

At the time of his IL placement, it was reported that this knee issue was not related to the part of his knee that has undergone multiple surgeries. In an at bat in Yankee Stadium, Pedroia “felt something pop,” which led to his eventual rehab assignments up in Maine. More recently, he missed Saturday’s game as more of a precaution, given some general soreness. Pedroia had been rehabbing for a decently long stretch of games. The fact that he has endured another setback ensures he will be out of the lineup for the foreseeable future.

If the latest issue really does differ from past knee injuries, then perhaps there is hope he can overcome it. As things currently stand, however, the signs point negative. Pedroia missed all but three games in 2018 due to that knee, and he fought through those limitations throughout 2017 as well. His former days as a masher and a dirt dog might well be a thing of the past. If he is to return in 2019, significant recovery will have to happen.

Pedroia will have competition for playing time once he returns

The self-proclaimed “Laser Show” has had a fantastic career in Boston, earning three World Series championships, an MVP, Rookie of the Year, four All-Star appearances, three Gold Gloves, and a reputation for laying it all on the line. There’s no doubt that his aggressive style of play has provided many victories. It could also be said that his hunger to play daily through injuries is what is hampering him. With that, the door is creaking open for that playing time to be absorbed.

Michael Chavis currently makes the loudest case to take the spot away, as the rookie infielder has thrown up a torrid .282/.407/.563 line in his first 20 big league games. His versatility to also play at third and first base gives him the edge.

Eduardo Nunez recently returned from the IL and ripped a two-run homer in his first game back. But the veteran has not been overly productive otherwise in 2019. Meanwhile, fan favorite utilityman Brock Holt recently suffered his own setback due to a bad shoulder. His recovery timeline is indefinite.

The Dustin Pedroia setback has been a major cog in the machine that has resumed the franchise’s place as a premiere team. It would be a shame for the knee that he’s had fixed so many times continue to hold him back. If he continues to miss time, there might not be a spot for him to come back to.

Rafael Devers surging as Red Sox find offensive stride

Things looked bleak for the Red Sox after a mini-sweep at the hands of New York Yankees just under a month ago. The offense had been anemic most of the season, the rotation getting rocked on the mound, and the bullpen had just blown a late lead to lose the series. If the team was going to turn things around, somebody (virtually everybody) at the plate had to step up. Somebody had to catch fire. Rafael Devers surging at the plate was just what the doctor ordered for the resilient Sox.

Rafael Devers surging at the plate has helped carry a revitalized offenseRafael Devers surging

Since that frustrating New York series, the Sox have responded to go 16-6 over their last 22 games. A major factor in that has been the brilliant hitting of Devers. While not showcasing tremendous power, the 22-year-old has instead broken out and piled on the hits. Devers left New York hitting .262 with a .659 OPS. Since then, the young stud has risen his average 74 points and his OPS a whopping 205. Over those 22 games, Devers has ripped multiple hits in 11 of them, including back-to-back-to-back three hit performances over the weekend. He’s driven in 19 of his 21 RBI, with seven coming in just his previous three games. Not to mention, he also leads the team with five stolen bases on the year.

It’s no secret that the impact Devers has on the middle to bottom of the order has put him at the forefront of run production. Among the club, Devers ranks first in games played (41, the only player to appear in every game), hits (50), doubles (12), average (.336), and ranks second in on base percentage (.408). His OBP against right-handed pitchers is a staggering .444. If there was any doubt of whether or not he could pull out of his early season scuffling, it has been put to rest. The third-year player is giving new meaning to the term “hot corner.”

This year’s strides make sense of Devers’ sophomoric struggles last season

In 2018, Devers failed to adjust back to the league once the league figured out how to throw to him. He struck out 121 times to just 44 walks, plate discipline and the high fastball often representing a problem. An average below .250 and an OPS below .800 certainly did not help either. But so far this season, his ratio has improved considerably, having struck out just 24 times to 19 walks.

With Miguel Andujar struggling for the Yankees, Devers has a real opportunity to thrust himself into the conversation for the best third baseman in the division. He might even be competing to make that claim across the AL, Among qualifiers, Devers ranks first in average, tied for third in hits, and fourth in OBP. If Devers can continue this torrid stretch, then the sky is the limit for the young third baseman.

Red Sox closers: Will the current strategy work long term?

Despite the bullpen being a bright spot for the Red Sox, fans are still calling for an impact arm. Red Sox closers have been effective, but Craig Kimbrel is not walking through that door. Perhaps a look at the numbers will ease concerns over the relief effort.

A change in the way the Red Sox handle the later innings

Instead of playing along with the standard MLB approach (having one man handle the Red Sox closersninth inning), the Red Sox brass have gone by committee this year. While Ryan Brasier has largely handled the closing duties, other relievers such as Matt Barnes have occasionally entered the final frame. Alex Cora has used Barnes in high leverage spots based on when the meat of the lineup is due up.

Barnes and Brasier have both found relative success in their roles

In 13 appearances, Barnes boasts the AL’s highest strikeout rate (50 percent) with three walks and a 2.08 ERA. Out of those 13 spots, five have come in the ninth, four in the eighth, once in the seventh, and he has pitched in both the seventh and eighth a pair of times. Barnes has had a steady rise over the years, and it has culminated into the impressive season he has put together so far.

However, Red Sox closers have combined to amass three blown saves through 11 chances. In comparison to the last three seasons with Kimbrel, that is a troubling trend. The team has already struggled to bring leads into the later innings. But the individual numbers suggest the Sox will be just fine.

Braiser has handled the bulk of the save opportunities, securing the game in six of eight tries. Despite his 2.57 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 14 innings, the calls to make a change were loud after he allowed a walk-off home run to Nick Delmonico (hitting about .150 at the time) against the White Sox on Thursday night.

Brasier has been a lot better than he’s earned credit for

An article by Alex Speier of The Boston Globe analyzed the work of Brasier between this season and last. HIs findings showed that the journeyman is still about as effective as he was in 2018. Although, he has allowed three homes runs through his 14 innings so far. That is one more than he allowed through 33.2 innings of work last season. Speier points out that there is not any direct reason for concern, as Brasier’s strikeout and walk percentages remain in tact. He is still generating lots of swings and misses with his fastball/slider/splitter makeup.

While fans might be uneasy about the plan’s long term success, Cora has put the team in a good position. There’s no analytical evidence that either Barnes or Brasier are in danger of coming undone. As long as they keep posting numbers like these, the Red Sox are in good hands.