CINCINNATI – Red Sox pitchers are not the only ones who will spend the next four days in New York trying to stand between Aaron Judge and history. While Sox hurlers will try to avoid giving up history-making homers to the Yankee superstar, Xander Bogaerts hopes to serve as an impediment to Judge’s pursuit of the Triple Crown.
Judge has dusted the field in homers (60 entering Thursday, 23 more than any other American League slugger) and RBIs (128 – 13 more than anyone else). But while he’s edged ahead of Bogaerts in average (.316 to .315), it’s close, and Bogaerts welcomes the chance to compete for the distinction and to play the role of villain in the Bronx this weekend.
“They’d hate me even more [in New York],” Bogaerts chuckled of the possibility of denying Judge the second Triple Crown in the last 55 years. “I wonder if I get a base hit, if they’ll boo me? They’ll probably throw me tough. It’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to be easy. But I enjoy the challenge. I really do. It’s something that gets you waking up on the way to the ballpark.”
Bogaerts is in the midst of an excellent month, entering Wednesday’s 5-1 loss to the Reds, in which he went 2 for 4, with the second-highest average (.377) and fourth-highest OPS (1.018) of any month of his career. Yet the hits have been not an end in their own right but instead the byproduct of what Bogaerts and the Sox see as a more disciplined, patient approach this month, with the 29-year-old’s .452 OBP in September representing the highest mark of any month of his career.
“I feel like I’m taking a lot of pitches. This is kind of the me that I know,” said Bogaerts. “Sometimes we get hitterish and want to swing early on. But now I’m more like, okay, I don’t mind if I take strike one … probably until I get to New York.”
As much as Bogaerts would love to take the batting title from Judge, however, he could not help but marvel at his opponent.
“I’ve never seen anything like it with my eyes,” said Bogaerts, who recalled watching the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa on TV as a 5-year-old in Aruba. “What he’s doing … he’s seeing it some type of way, you know? Sometimes as hitters, we see the ball well, but I wonder how he’s seeing it. It’s unbelievable. He’s probably seeing it double how the rest of us see it when we’re locked in.”
A big-league glimpse for Mata?
As the Sox continue an open audition for 2023 pitching roles, the team does not currently have plans to call up righthander Bryan Mata from Triple A Worcester. Mata, in his return from Tommy John surgery, is 7-3 with a 2.32 ERA in 18 outings (17 starts) and 77⅔ innings across four levels.
The Sox believe that Mata will benefit from concluding the Triple A season — his first minor league campaign since 2019 — but the team is considering alternate ways to expose him to the big league environment as he emerges as a big league depth option entering 2023.
“Let’s say he doesn’t come up,” said Sox manager Alex Cora. “To have him around for a few days so he can see how we prepare, how we go about the business, is [valuable], but as of now, coming up here and pitching here, not yet. Not yet.”
The call-up calculus for the out-of-contention Red Sox has been altered this month by the fact that the new Collective Bargaining Agreement allowed for September roster expansion only from 26 to 28 players, rather than the 40 of prior years.
As a result, the Sox have had to be judicious in their call-ups — and have also needed to create roster vacancies to accommodate players coming up from the minors.
“It’s too bad that we’re in this [out-of-contention] situation. We hate it, to be honest with you, but you have to take advantage of it, and you have to do what’s best for the organization,” said Cora. “If it’s more than [a 28-player roster], Kevin [Plawecki] is still here. We’ve got a third catcher. But right now it’s harder.”
Plawecki landed on his feet Wednesday, signing with the Texas Rangers, his fourth team of his eight-year career. The light-hitting catcher likely won’t see many at-bats in front of starter Jonah Heim, but could slot in as a backup for the 63-84 Rangers.
A non-COVID bug has been sweeping through the Red Sox clubhouse, with some players (including starters Michael Wacha and Rich Hill, both slated to start this weekend against the Yankees) remaining in Boston rather than traveling to Cincinnati, some staying behind at the hotel prior to batting practice, and others wearing masks in the clubhouse … Former Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo — who lives in the Cincinnati area – stopped by the Red Sox clubhouse prior to the game. Arroyo and Cora were on the 2005 Sox before the team traded Arroyo the following spring to Cincinnati for Wily Mo Peña. Arroyo also joined the WEEI broadcast … Red Sox minor league coach Bianca Smith was at the game at Great American Ball Park. She worked for the Reds in 2019.