TORONTO — Are we finally noticing Xander Bogaerts’s 23-game hitting streak and the idea that he may be the best hitter in baseball?
With all the hoopla surrounding Jackie Bradley Jr.’s 29-gamer, Bogaerts was quietly amassing his own streak. He was happy to let Bradley bask in the glory while going under the radar. There was no pressure, after all, because everyone was looking for Bradley’s next hit.
But now Bogaerts is The Man. He has become a pure hitter worthy of our attention. On Saturday in Toronto, he hit a towering home run in the fourth inning, then singled his next two times up. He extended the streak to 22 on Sunday with a single in a three-run sixth inning.
On Memorial Day, he reached base three times in Baltimore, twice on hits. A third-inning RBI double extended the streak to 23. He also made a key play in the first inning when a squibber in front of the plate hit him on the foot. Bogaerts took off, and though he was out at first, Mookie Betts scored from second on the play.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter tried to get the umpires to review the play — it’s not subject to a manager’s challenge — but the umpires decided against it. The Red Sox got away with one, thanks to heads-up play by Bogaerts and Betts.
“I remember it happened to me against the Orioles last year,” said Bogaerts. “Kevin Gausman was pitching and I swung at a ball and it hit me off my foot and I just stood there. Manny Machado threw to first and got me out.
“The only reason I ran was because of what happened before. We were able to get the call our way and we got a big run out of it, so I was happy that happened.”
Showalter said, “Usually the hitter gives you a reaction that shows you what’s going on, but he didn’t. He smelled a hit and took off. Made good use of the play.”
After hitting .320 and finishing second in the American League batting race last season, Bogaerts leads the AL with a .354 average and has six homers (only one off last season’s total) and 30 RBIs.
It wasn’t crazy of A’s catcher Steven Vogt to say to David Ortiz recently, “He’s the best hitter in baseball.”
Bogaerts, who ended the game leading the majors in hits (75), has become the Red Sox hitter you most want to see come up other than Ortiz.
If his idol is Derek Jeter — that’s why he wears No. 2 — Bogaerts is well on his way to becoming the same kind of offensive player, or an even better one. In Jeter’s third full season, he hit .324 with 19 homers, 84 RBIs, and an .864 OPS. Bogaerts appears to be having a similar season.
Whether he’ll win five championships like Jeter remains to be seen; much of that is out his control. But seeing a guy who was somewhat lost in his rookie season do this is impressive.
He’s gone from a kid unsure of himself to a completely confident major leaguer.
He exudes a love for the game; he wants to play every day and hates taking a day off.
Bogaerts, 23, was innocent in his rookie season. He once was in awe that a pitcher would throw him three straight sliders. He had never seen that before.
He soon learned that adjustments are a huge part of the game, even from at-bat to at-bat. Now he has turned the tables. It’s very difficult to exploit his offensive weaknesses, because frankly he doesn’t have many.
His sixth-inning at-bat Sunday against Toronto’s R.A. Dickey was truly impressive. In an 11-pitch at-bat, he fouled off five straight two-strike pitches (six in all) and eventually singled. In the seventh, he put together a 10-pitch at-bat against Jesse Chavez that resulted in an infield hit.
Before his third-inning double Monday, he had conferred with Ortiz, who told him, “I think you’re going to hit a curveball.”
“I said, ‘No way,’ ” Bogaerts said. “He threw me a curveball, and I was able to stay on it.”
Since the start of 2015, Bogaerts leads the majors with 271 hits.
He’s crushing lefthanded pitching to the tune of a .462 average (12 for 26) while hitting .335 vs. righties.
The numbers keep accumulating, especially during the streak, which started May 6.
When talking about the best young shortstops in the game, Bogaerts is now at the top of the conversation with Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, and Corey Seager.
He also isn’t ducking talk of his streak, during which he’s hit .402 (41 for 102).
Asked if he thinks about it, he said: “Yeah. But not off the field. Once I come into the park, I probably do. Of course you’re aware of it, but I don’t change anything I do because of it. You have to be true yourself and not be somebody that you’re not.”
He says every player is different, so he didn’t take much from Bradley’s streak.
“Jackie is really swinging it well,” said Bogaerts. “He hit a lot of home runs and had extra-base hits. He has that kind of power. He’s a different hitter than I am.”
And he has no deep secrets.
“I’m just trying to swing at as many strikes as possible and get on base,” he said. “Just get on base. Have those guys behind me drive me in.”
Bogaerts may be as humble as any member of these Red Sox. He’d have every reason to be cocky and tell a few people who gave up on him to take a hike. But if he did that, he wouldn’t be able to completely enjoy what he’s going through right now.
The best hitter in baseball? His peers are beginning to think so.