“Right man, right spot.”
–Red Sox manager John Farrell to reporters following Xander Bogaerts’ game-winning, three-run single on Tuesday night
BOSTON (CBS) — From the very beginning, no matter where this season went and no matter where it goes, Xander Bogaerts always stood to be at the center of it. Bogaerts is the shortstop for these Red Sox. He is now their No. 3 hitter. Then and now, X marks the spot.
And so here we are now, 86 games into a season in which the Red Sox first buried themselves and are now digging out, and the best Red Sox prospect in a generation is blossoming before our very eyes. Do you understand what is happening here, right now? Bogaerts is becoming a force for these Red Sox, the foundation on which their future will be built, the key to building the “sustainable” model then general manager Ben Cherington alluded to during the offseason.
Bogaerts went 1-for-4 in the Red Sox’ 6-3 victory over the Miami Marlins at Fenway Park last night, a victory that cemented Boston’s first four-game winning streak of the season. David Ortiz was the offensive star on this night, but make no mistake where he rests now in Boston’s hierarchy. Last month, Jays manager John Gibbons managed his bullpen to match up with Bogaerts and not Ortiz, which should tell you plenty about how Bogaerts is viewed throughout the baseball world, All-Star Game or no All-Star Game.
Counting last night, Bogaerts now has batted third in 14 games this season, a sample during which the Red Sox have gone 9-5. During that time, Bogaerts has batted .344 with 12 RBI while the Red Sox have averaged 5.4 runs per game. The Red Sox still have some work to do to fully clean up the mess they made during the first two-and-a-half months of this season, but the long-prospects for the franchise suddenly look rosier than they have in a quite some time.
Please, do not misunderstand: nobody is saying the Red Sox will contend for a playoff spot this season, let alone play in October. Again, there is work to be done. But as much as Red Sox executives reminded us that the team is championship-driven during spring training, this season actually had to be about more than that. It had to be about Bogaerts and Mookie Betts, Blake Swihart and Eduardo Rodriguez. It had to be about Cherington proving that he could build something far more lasting than the fling known as the 2013 season, a one-night stand if ever there was one.
Up to now, has there been a play that has more perfectly crystallized the Red Sox’ objectives this season than Bogaerts’ three-run single on Monday night? A year ago, Bogaerts was bumped from shortstop and flailed with runners in scoring position. Now, as Farrell put so aptly put it, he is the right man in the right spot, playing the right position, delivering in the key moments of what is starting to feel, finally, like a Red Sox awakening.
Meanwhile, the speedy Betts sprinted home from first as if he were a human windup toy, sliding across the plate with all but an audible whoosh.
Don’t you just love that? For years, when a Red Sox slid, he looked like a pig taking a mud bath. Now, Betts and Bogaerts go zipping across the plate as if at a water park.
The confidence oozes from them these days. And as theirs grows, so does ours.
Yet, as much as Betts is a part of this – and so, too, are Rodriguez and Swihart – let’s remember that Bogaerts was always supposed to be the guy. Last year, he was the No. 2 prospect in all of baseball. He was the Red Sox’ best projected since Nomar Garciaparra. Another disappointing year for Bogaerts, in particular, would have only fueled questions about the Red Sox’ player development operation, about their scouting and evaluation, about their ability to build anything since Theo Epstein and Terry Francona walked out the door following one of the great demises in baseball history.
What happens from here in this 2015 season is still anybody’s guess, the Red Sox’ still possessing flaws that will likely prove fatal. But that is really only part of the story. So far this season, Bogaerts has batted .274 in April, .275 in May, .312 in June and .433 in July. Entering last night, he had batted .388 with runners in scoring position, .333 with men on base, .438 with the bases loaded. He had batted .333 at home. 329 against left-handers and .296 against righties.
Amid it all, lest there be any doubt, Bogaerts has played shortstop without the slightest hiccup, proving once and for all that he can indeed handle the position, that the Red Sox foolishly mishandled him last spring, that Boston may very well possess its own budding young star to rival those throughout the baseball world.
The best thing to happen to the Red Sox this season?
Xander Bogaerts is exactly where he should be now, back on track, marked for stardom.
Right man, right spot.