The Red Sox are hot. Mookie Betts has been hotter.


Red Sox

As part of a bonkers LA lineup, Boston’s former homegrown star is leading the parade again.

Betts is tied for the National League lead with 12 home runs despite a slow start to the year. Matt York/Associated Press

COMMENTARY

How good has the Red Sox offense been the last two and a half weeks? So good, you probably missed what Mookie Betts is doing.

Hey! I heard that eye roll!

First, the hometown team. In 15 games since the White Sox finished their sweep at Fenway Park on May 8, Boston hitting all of .216 in losing three winnable games, the Red Sox have scored 112 runs. They’ve been held under four runs just three times in the 15, and no other American League team is within 20 of the total output.

J.D. Martinez (an MLB-best .443 average in May), Rafael Devers (16 extra-base hits in 15 games from the MLB leader in hard-hit balls), and Trevor Story (nine home runs, 27 RBIs in this run) are three of the game’s hottest hitters at the moment, the Red Sox going 11-4 and climbing from a game off the bottom of the AL to squarely in its middle.

It’s been nothing short of a complete flip. Before the run, the Red Sox had baseball’s second-worst walk rate. During it, they’ve had the sixth-best, drawing seven even as they lost on Wednesday. Before, they chased more pitches out of the strike zone than any team. During, they’re league average.

“That was impressive. Relentless,” manager Alex Cora told reporters after Tuesday’s blowout. “Obviously, we had a lot of work to do to get to the point we’re at right now.”

It is all unmatched by anyone but the Dodgers, who’ve also won eight of 10, who have 116 runs since May 8, and who have the game’s hottest hitter of the moment, Markus Lynn . . .

You know who I mean.

“Out of this world,” LA manager Dave Roberts told reporters Thursday night, after Betts’s fifth three-hit game this month.

Betts was hitting .232 with a .710 OPS three weeks ago Wednesday, arguably the fifth-best hitter in the bonkers Dodgers lineup. Since, he’s 31 for 85 with nine homers, nine doubles, 24 RBIs, and a .365/.439/.788 line.

His season OPS is now eighth in the majors (.973, just ahead of Devers’s .966), with Betts’s batting average nosing over .300 during Thursday’s win and his 12 home runs tied for tops in the National League.

It seems pretty clear there was a hangover from the lockout and its shortened spring training, with the sport in May looking a lot more like the sport we’ve come to expect. That’s been good news for the Red Sox and for Betts, the outcome most of us would like from their unholy separation.

But we can never stop relitigating this. Even if he was destined to leave. Even if the Red Sox, as ownership through Chaim Bloom hope, thread the needle and win with the generic brand of wax beans and you hardly notice the difference.

Look no further than Story at the danger of passing judgment on deals before their time, so consider this just a temperature check.

Alex Verdugo’s four hits on Thursday were a welcome surge for a player hitting the ball far harder than a .232 batting average would suggest. He remains ground-ball heavy, though, and even his expected .290 average across 2021-22 wouldn’t make him the player that ascendant 2020 suggested.

How much that matters depends, I suppose, on how close to equal value the Red Sox need to get for an MVP-caliber player they had clearly decided they wouldn’t re-sign. (A calculus that has to include $48 million saved on David Price, who has done essentially zero in LA.)

Verdugo is a solid cog on a good team, well liked in the clubhouse and producing offensively at about five percent better than league average the last two-plus years. He’s not outproducing the retooled Andrew Benintendi in Kansas City this year, though the advanced numbers suggest that gap should close.

(Speaking of Benintendi, the presumed Saturday debut of Josh Winckowski at Fenway will give us more data on assessing that move. He’ll be starting as part of the doubleheader with Baltimore, but with Matt Barnes’s awful four straight walks Thursday, it’s not hard to imagine Winckowski getting a look as bullpen help soon.)

Why bring this up now? Because Betts is going nuclear, mostly, and it’s striking how little of a ripple it’s made here. Because I was in the car Thursday morning to hear the perfunctory call-and-response of Bloom’s weekly call-in to WEEI.

Any updates on Xander Bogaerts?

Nothing to report publicly. We want him here. He wants to be here.

It’s hard to imagine a Red Sox team anywhere near contention would cut its heart out at this deadline, but while it’s been striking the degree to which Bloom has acquired valuable assets — Nick Pivetta leaps to mind — on small deals, the big ones carry more weight.

Did he get enough value for Betts? For Benintendi?

It’s the perfect sports question: Debatable and ultimately unanswerable. And provided both Betts and the Red Sox keep cooking, one that actually won’t cause mental anguish to debate.

You can’t win trading away a generational talent, but you can win enough to make most people get over it. Which, if the Red Sox continue to conduct business as they have so far in the Bloom years, which is not how the sign-our-own-free-agents way his old boss Andrew Friedman has in LA, is a gymnastics we all better get used to attempting.





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