The Red Sox reached 50 wins before July 1, and they are showing signs they may start separating from the American League East pack.
They are winning games in different ways, with different players.
Manager John Farrell said the 50 wins spoke about the “depth of the team” and indeed the Sox have had to go deep. What did Brandon Snyder, the latest third baseman the team has used, do Sunday? All he did was chip in with two hits and a great defensive play to rob J.P. Arencibia of extra bases in the eighth inning of Boston’s 5-4 walkoff victory over Toronto at Fenway Park.
It was a good day for third basemen in the Red Sox organization, with Garin Cecchini getting two hits to improve his average to .352 between Single A Salem and Double A Portland, and Will Middlebrooks homering twice for Triple A Pawtucket.
Speculation is swirling that the Red Sox may be in the market for Phillies third baseman Michael Young, a veteran who could solidify the Sox at third and who also could be used at first base, second base, and shortstop.
But Sunday the star was Snyder, a former No. 1 draft pick of the Orioles who never lived up to his billing, and never had much of a chance to do so. He came through big for the Red Sox.
Snyder was called up after Stephen Drew went down with a hamstring pull. He was hitting .267 with 10 homers and 37 RBIs for Pawtucket. He had played 40 games at first base and 22 at third base since signing with the Sox after the Rangers released him March 27. He entered the day with 57 games of major league experience with the Orioles and Rangers. He came up as a catcher and he last caught last season in Texas. The person he caught: Koji Uehara.
Hitting just .212 in June for the PawSox, getting called up was like a jump-start to his season.
“Having a couple of days off, I wasn’t real happy with my at-bats the other day,” he said. “I was rusty. I got some extra work in and got my confidence back and had a good day.”
He said he felt confident at third base after a couple of days of intense practice with infield coach Brian Butterfield.
“To be honest, it doesn’t feel like it’s my secondary position, it feels like it’s where I should be playing,” Snyder said. “These guys do a great job making you feel welcome and embracing a new guy. I’ve been welcome the whole time. To do something big like that, it was a big thing. It takes the pressure off so I’ve got to do this and do that. Just do my job.”
Snyder was drafted as a catcher out of Westfield, Va. The 13th overall pick in 2005 has no idea why he has never stuck and why he found himself scrambling to sign somewhere after the Rangers released him.
He was in that rich draft class in which Justin Upton, Alex Gordon, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, Andrew McCutchen, and Jay Bruce were drafted ahead of him, with Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Garza, Colby Rasmus, and Clay Buchholz picked below him.
“I honestly don’t know why I haven’t stuck,” Snyder said. “I think I’ve done my job wherever I’ve been. I continue to work hard and do what’s asked of me. Trying to play as many positions as I can as well I can.”
He played well for Baltimore in limited time. Played well for Texas as a backup.
“It was one of those things when I was in spring training with the Rangers and I wasn’t signed and they let me go,” Snyder said.
“I wasn’t thinking, ‘What’s the best fit?’ I was looking, ‘Where can I play? Where can I be a part of something? Is it gonna be a good organization?’ I thank God I ended up with this organization because it’s a great place to play. The other stuff happens as it happens. I was having a really good year in Pawtucket and was having one of my best minor league years until the past week and then scuffled for a week, but this is the one thing that kind of got me out of it, coming back up here and kind of starting fresh again.”
Snyder was batting ninth in the order. In the second inning, after Ryan Lavarnway’s ground-rule double produced a run, Snyder came up against Mark Buehrle and stroked a double high off the center-field wall. It might have been out had the wind been blowing that way, but it produced two runs. Snyder had a couple of fly outs and then in the ninth, in another crucial at-bat with one out, he started the winning rally with a single to right-center.
For a team that has had some problems hitting righthanded, Snyder’s day was welcome.
“We’ve had some struggles from the right side of the plate,” said Farrell. “We’ve had some inconsistencies . . . with some of our guys, but not with everyone. Brandon Snyder had a couple of big at-bats today. The double on the 0-2 count in the second inning was huge for us.
“We understand where our challenges lie in terms of our opponents and what they might throw against us. We do the best we can with the personnel we have and execute in key spots.”
The veteran Young has to be appealing to the Red Sox, who know they will be in the hunt the rest of the way.
In a perfect world, they wouldn’t spend the money on Young or ship out young players. They would wait for Middlebrooks to get his act together and then plug him back in and not have to worry about it. Whether that happens remains to be seen. Snyder is likely to get more opportunities at third now that he has a couple of hits under his belt and has shown he can handle the position.
Farrell loves his team, but he knows even though it has the best record in the league, there are red flags. He knows the bullpen gives up way too many homers. He knows there’s the issue at third base.
But all in all, the Sox ended June with a good feeling. And they have the chips to obtain a Young or another bullpen piece or even another starting pitcher if they need one.
But for now, the Brandon Snyders of the world have managed to bridge the gap.