TORONTO — Alex Verdugo had some time to reflect Friday afternoon inside the visitors’ clubhouse at the Rogers Centre before the Red Sox lost 9-0 to the Blue Jays.
He’s at the tail end of his third season with the Red Sox, a bit removed from the Mookie Betts trade that, if you ask a lot of Boston fans, still exists as a gaping hole within the organization.
Verdugo, for what it’s worth, has done his part. Despite the slow start this year, he’s hitting .283 and is just one double shy of 40, a number he wanted to reach.
Still, there’s something missing. Sure, Betts is. But winning, too.
A year after coming two games short of a World Series berth, the Sox (75-82) are now guaranteed to finish under .500 and in last place in the American League East. In Verdugo’s three years with the Sox, he’s made the postseason once. The limelight Verdugo loves has eluded him.
Meanwhile, in Dodger Land, they just keep on pushing, posting a league-best 108 wins coming into Friday. All three years Betts has been there, they have made the postseason.
But there’s some nuance to that, Verdugo explained.
“It’s the Dodgers, bro,” Verdugo said. “They already have a really good team. They already solidified most of their pieces. And you know, adding Mookie Betts just increases it. It only makes that team better. But when Mookie Betts is on the injured list they’re still winning ball games. But when he’s obviously healthy and back, it just takes them up, just takes them that step better.”
When it comes to that World Series ring in 2020, Verdugo did not say the Dodgers’ championship was tainted. Despite playing a 60 game season, the Sox outfielder said the Dodgers earned it.
But, there is a difference between winning a World Series in a 60-game season versus 162.
“A 60-game season, it’s still hard to judge to this day,” Verdugo said. “Like yeah, it’s a World Series, right? Yeah, they got a ring. But they didn’t play any games at their home field. They didn’t. There weren’t any fans there. It was 60 games. Anybody could ball out for 60 games. That extra 102 is a big difference. They won it, it’s a true one, for what we call it. But I still call it as I see it, it’s still a 60-gamer.”
Verdugo’s grinded his way through this year. He’s played through injury and has totaled 148 games in just his second season as an everyday player over a 162-game season.
The Betts comparisons were never fair. Verdugo’s not Betts, an all-timer likely headed to the Hall of Fame.
But the relative organizational direction of the Dodgers and Red Sox is indeed a fair comparison.
“We were still missing that one or two pieces that would have maybe locked us down,” Verdugo said. “We lost a couple too many one-run ball games. But to sum it all up, we’re very close. We’ll be back in playoff contention.”
Another forgettable AL East loss
When the Red Sox look back at what went wrong in their forgettable 2022 season, their lack of success against American League East opponents will be a great place to start.
Following Friday’s 9-0 beatdown at the hands of the Blue Jays, the Red Sox are 23-48 against divisional opponents. Against every other opponent? 52-34.
The Red Sox are 3-14 against the Blue Jays, their most losses against one opponent this year.
A huge part of the Sox’ root issues in their division is Nick Pivetta.
Pivetta, who eats innings but is a mediocre starter, has been putrid against the AL East. He surrendered four runs Friday, three of which were earned, including a two-run no-doubt home run by Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Pivetta’s ERA against the AL East is a whopping 6.72, compared to 2.86 against every other team. Pivetta’s divisional ERA is the 14th highest among the 1,256 instances of a pitcher making 13+ starts in a season against the AL East since the introduction of division play in 1969.
The Sox have Brayan Bello going Saturday against Ross Stripling.
Duran replaces Ort
The Red Sox placed righthander Kaleb Ort on the restricted list ahead of Friday’s series opener with the Blue Jays. Ort, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19, was unable to travel with the club due to Canada’s vaccination restrictions. Canada is set to lift those restrictions Saturday, when Ort will rejoin the team.
Jarren Duran took Ort’s spot on the active roster. Duran, who was optioned to Triple A Worcester in late August, got the start in center and batted leadoff. When the team optioned Duran, he was hitting just .220/.283/.365 in 219 plate appearances. Duran said a lot of his struggles at the big-league level had to do with putting too much pressure on himself.
“I just take things too seriously,” Duran said. “I was trying to make everybody happy when at the end of the day you have to make yourself happy and everybody else will support you.”
With Ort returning Saturday, a move will have to be made. Duran was unsure if that move would be him or not. For now, perhaps just a day, he wants to make the most of his opportunity.
“I’m still learning to compete with these guys,” Duran said. “I’m gonna go out there and have some fun.”
Cora and staff to visit with players
At the end of the 2019 season, manager Alex Cora or member of his staff visited with players, zeroing in on goals for the following year. Hitting coach Tim Hyers met with Andrew Benintendi, for example, in an effort to help the former Red Sox find his swing after a mediocre 2019 season.
Cora’s one year-ban due to his involvement in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, plus COVID-19, stalled those plans the following year. When Cora returned to his gig in 2021, the pandemic, once again, put a rest to those offseason plans.
But the Sox will go back to their usual program at season’s end and visit with players in an effort to improve parts of their game heading into 2023.
“We’ll be traveling as a group,” Cora said. “We have a plan this year and we might be flying a lot to talk to players. There’s a few that we haven’t identified that. We have to make sure they’re ready to go early in spring training.”
The Red Sox will have some players participating in the World Baseball Classic, including Verdugo, Rafael Devers, and Trevor Story. Those players will likely get a visit from the Sox.
Venable, Fatse craft lineup
Cora took a bit of a break Friday, allowing bench coach Will Venable and hitting coach Pete Fatse, a Minnechaug graduate, to make the Sox lineup. Cora said he sees it as a learning opportunity for the pair, particularly Venable, who has been linked to managerial gigs even before he joined the Red Sox prior to the 2021 season. “Will, he’s one of those guys that I read every article now and it seems like his name is in all of them,” Cora said. “His name is gonna be up there [at the season’s end]. He prepares and he helps me out, but just to give him the freedom to quote-unquote do whatever he wants to do, I think it’s cool” . . . Michael Wacha will make his final start of the season Sunday. In 22 starts (123⅓ innings), Wacha has a 3.21 ERA, striking out 100 batters.