How long had it been since Xander Bogaerts had seemed so helpless in a situation? Maybe eight years?
In July 2014, as an overmatched rookie, Bogaerts struck out with the bases loaded in Tampa for the second out of an inning – only he thought it was the third. He laid down his helmet, batting gloves, and bat in the box, only to receive the humiliating word that the frame was not yet over.
It ranked among the most vulnerable moments of his career, one where a player who’d always demonstrated great situational feel for the game stood exposed with a spotlight on his failure. Over the eight subsequent years – a stretch that has included four All-Star appearances and a World Series ring – there had been few comparable moments — until Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Yankees.
In the bottom of the seventh inning of a 2-2 tie, Bogaerts had doubled – a respite from a two-week slump – and was soon joined on the bases when a shaky Aroldis Chapman (showing diminished velocity while pitching for a second straight night) drilled Alex Verdugo. Chapman fell behind J.D. Martinez, 1-0. Fenway, smelling the possibility of a third straight Red Sox win against an AL East opponent, came to life.
And then, disaster. Bogaerts – surely in excellent position to score on a hit – took off a few beats too early on a steal attempt. Chapman stepped off and flipped to third. Bogaerts looked utterly defeated as his sprint turned into a jog, accepting the tag of Josh Donaldson as he pulled up a couple steps in front of the bag. Chapman, on his way off the field, gave the disconsolate Bogaerts a hug.
“We cannot get picked off there,” said Sox manager Alex Cora after the game. “[But] he’s not perfect, right?”
The Sox star had an opportunity for redemption in the ninth, when a pair of singles placed runners on first and second with one outs. But Rafael Devers tapped a changeup in front of the plate for a force at second, and with runners on the corners, Bogaerts hit a 20-foot pop-up that was gloved for the final out of the one-run loss.
Shoulders slumped, Bogaerts took off his batting gloves on the field, a rare portrait of futility. As uncharacteristic as his misstep was, a player who has embraced his responsibilities as a team leader and spokesperson likewise took the uncharacteristic step of jetting out of the clubhouse without talking to the media.
Bogaerts – described recently by Pedro Martínez as the most consistent player the Red Sox have ever had – is hitting .222/.234/.356 with one walk and nine strikeouts this month. But he’s not alone as a Red Sox lineup anchor who has become unmoored.
Rafael Devers – who came back from an injured list stint for a hamstring strain at the start of the month – is 6 for 44 with a .136/.208/.318 line, four walks, and eight strikeouts in 48 plate appearances in August. In his last 10 games, he has a .382 OPS – his lowest over a 10-game stretch in a season since 2018, when he was 21.
“I feel good. I know I have been struggling lately and I’ve been a little bit negative to myself but that’s the game. Those are things that happen in the game. I’ll just try to get out of it,” Devers said through translator Carlos Villoria Benítez. “Right now, I’m struggling a little bit but my time will come.”
J.D. Martinez is hitting .195/.244/.244 with three walks and an astonishing 17 strikeouts in 45 plate appearances. He has a whiff percentage (the number of swings-and-misses per swing) of 42.9 percent in August, his highest in any month of his career.
Through July, that trio hit a combined .310/.370/.507. This month, with the Sox desperate to stabilize amidst their precipitous slide to the fringes of contention, they’re hitting .185/.223/.308.
“It’s the core of the lineup. We’ve got to hit. When you don’t, most of the time it’s tough to win games,” said Martinez. “It’s on us to figure it out.”
The group’s collective struggles have come with considerable cost. The Sox are 4 ½ games out of a wild-card spot and in seventh place in the chase for those three positions, yet a different outcome in a few close games could have positioned them far more squarely in the thick of the playoff chase.
It wasn’t hard to see how Saturday’s game – when Bogaerts, Martinez, and Devers went a combined 1 for 14, with the pickoff of Bogaerts undoing the promise of the group’s only hit – could have been different had the trio performed at some closer approximation of its norms.
Other recent games have unfolded in similar fashion. Maybe the Sox wouldn’t have endured a 5-4 walkoff loss to the Royals on August 6 had the trio not combined to go 1 for 11. Certainly the 9-7 extra-innings loss to Atlanta could have been different had the group not gone 2 for 13 with five strikeouts.
But a collective outage from what has typically been a remarkably consistent group at the top of the order has contributed to the Sox’ 5-7 stagger through the first two weeks of August. The group is aware of the urgency of a reversal of its misfortunes.
“It’s happened to us before – [just] not all three at the same time,” said Devers. “But we know that we’ll come out of it. We know what we’re playing for. That’s our main goal, to be there in October. I think our time will come.”