Jackie Bradley Jr. isn’t hot so much as he is amidst a fiery volcanic eruption that threatens to melt everything in its path.
Bradley extended his hitting streak to 25 games in his first at-bat of the Red Sox’ 4-2 loss to the Indians on Friday night. He jumped on a 1-0 slider down in the strike zone against Indians righthander Corey Kluber and sent a liner screaming just over the fence in centerfield for a solo homer in the second inning. It was the eighth homer Bradley has hit this year, all of which have come during the streak.
With a 1-for-2 night — including a pair of walks that underscored just how cautious opponents are becoming with Bradley — the outfielder elevated his line during the streak to a mind-boggling .409 average with a .471 OBP, .806 slugging mark, and 1.278 OPS.
“The most impressive thing is the authority with which he’s swinging the bat. He’s driving the baseball very [well],” said manager John Farrell. “He’s not completely abandoning the strike zone with the aggressive nature that he’s got. He’s in a dangerous position at the plate — seeing the ball well, putting good swings on multiple types of pitches. His hitting streak and the ability to go against the best pitchers in our league — [Royals reliever Wade Davis for a single in the ninth inning] the other day to extend the streak, [Friday] against a very good starter in Kluber — very good job by Jackie.”
As Farrell suggested, Bradley’s success has come without regard for the profile of his opponents. His hits have come against players like former Cy Young winners Kluber and Dallas Keuchel, A’s righthander Sonny Gray, Royals late-inning buzzsaw Davis, and White Sox righty Matt Albers, who’d been amidst a run of more than 30 straight scoreless innings.
A case can be made for Bradley’s streak as the most impressive of 25 or more games in at least the last 100 years of Red Sox history.
His run has come from the bottom of the order, meaning fewer opportunities to hit. Bradley’s 4.2 plate appearances per game over the last 25 contests are the fewest of any 25-game hitting streak by a Red Sox since at least 1913.
Yet he’s doing arguably more damage than any other Red Sox hitter who’s managed hits in at least 25 straight contests, with his 1.278 OPS representing the highest mark of any of the 14 25-game hitting streaks the Red Sox have witnessed over the past 100 years. Since 2000, only Blue Jays slugger Edwin Encarnacion (26 games, 1.350 OPS) had a 25-game run with a higher OPS.
In terms of pure production, this run still falls short of the 25-game stretch Bradley produced last year, in which he hit .446 with a .489 OBP, .952 slugging mark, and 1.441 OPS. For most players, a run such as the one Bradley is on would be a once-in-a-career event. Bradley has now had two such runs in the span of less than 100 career games.
Across the field, one man could appreciate Bradley’s run perhaps more than anyone else in the park. Indians first base coach Sandy Alomar Jr. reeled off hits in 30 straight games as Cleveland’s catcher in 1997.
“I didn’t realize I was in a hitting streak past 10 days. I knew I was hitting good, but didn’t put it in perspective. But when people bring it to your attention, then you start thinking about it,” recalled Alomar. “You just try to put together good at-bats. It’s very hard to control the amount of games you’re going to hit. You can go a couple of walks and 0-for-2, and there goes your streak. You can’t just think about getting hits. You have to put up good at-bats.”
Like Bradley, most of Alomar’s hits during the run came from the bottom of the order, steadily moving up in the order to a fairly even distribution of starts in the eighth, seventh, sixth, and fifth spots in the order. (He also got a hit as a pinch-hitter.) Over time, he noticed opponents doing more to change their pitch sequences against him from at-bat to at-bat in deference to what he was doing at the plate.
“They started paying attention. I was hitting in the bottom of the lineup, but they started paying more attention, ‘Hey, this guy’s hitting good,’ ” said Alomar. “You start seeing different patterns and more concern about who they’re facing.”
That fact plays into why sustained streaks such as Bradley’s are so impressive. Opponents have changed patterns against him regularly to little effect.
Opponents are trying to change their plans of attack — as when Kluber and the Indians steered clear of working down in the zone against Bradley after yielding the homer, focusing extensively on the top of the strike zone.
“After my first at-bat, I got two pitches down in the zone. For the rest of the night, they were staying up in the zone,” said Bradley, who worked two walks in the at-bats where the Indians did just that while also grounding out to first on a pitch down in his third plate appearance. “I just wanted to stick to my approach. Didn’t want to give in. I was able to work some counts and get some walks.”
Of course, as teams try to adapt to Bradley, they’ve found few available options. It’s not as if Bradley’s been particularly susceptible to pitches at the top of the zone. According to this strike zone map from BrooksBaseball.net, he’s 10-for-15 (.667) against pitches in the upper third of the zone, including a startling 8-for-8 against pitches up and away.
That sort of plate coverage, along with the fact that Bradley is capable of using the entire field, suggests a player who is showing the skill to keep hitting.
“Obviously, that many days, you’re not a fluke anymore. That’s a streak,” said Alomar. “He can go a long ways.”
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