Xander Bogaerts reported Thursday the Red Sox’ confidence is higher than it has ever been after eliminating the rival Yankees in the ALDS.
“We know how to win baseball games,” he said in the understatement of 2018. Boston set a franchise record by winning 108 games in the regular season, then tacked on three more in a four-game clash with the Yankees.
Major League Baseball’s coalition of MVP voters will debate who was more integral to Boston’s dominant campaign: Mookie Betts or J.D. Martinez.
Just don’t forget about Bogaerts, the shortstop from Aruba who arrived in Boston before both of them and has developed into a more-than-worthy counterpart.
Bogaerts had just turned 21 when he entered the national spotlight as a starter in the 2013 World Series, a precocious talent with an eager plate approach befitting his youthfulness. He struck out eight times in 21 at-bats against St. Louis that postseason, but the Red Sox claimed the trophy anyway. Breaking balls dipping away and out of the zone were his kryptonite.
Contrast that with what Bogaerts accomplished this year and you’re left with a lesson in patience and perseverance. Though he still struggles at times against changeups and curveballs, Bogaerts has drastically improved against sliders and cutters, two pitches that gave him fits earlier. In 2018, Bogaerts hit .313 against the cutter and .317 (with a .561 slugging percentage) against the slider.
The quality of contact Bogaerts made in the ALDS captures his pattern of ascension, one that culminated in a career-best 2018. In Game 3 alone, Bogaerts belted four balls at an exit velocity of over 100 m.p.h. Meanwhile he struck out just once in 19 plate appearances.
Most aspects of Bogaerts’s success are intertwined. He improved against sliders because he doesn’t chase bad ones like he used to, evident in his career-high walk-to-strikeout ratio. A more consistent bill of health allowed him to drive the ball, resulting in career highs with 23 home runs and 103 RBIs.
All this will be put to the test when Bogaerts stares down Astros ace and Game 1 starter Justin Verlander on Saturday at Fenway Park in the ALCS opener.
“He’s a great pitcher,” Bogaerts said. “He’s been good from whenever he started in the big leagues up til today. He’s had MVPs, Cy Youngs . . . he’s had it all. But on any given day . . . the ball is round, anything can happen. A little bad hop, ball off the base. Any given thing can happen on any given night and we hope it’s in our advantage.”
Roster status quo
Manager Alex Cora said the Red Sox are unlikely to make any roster changes for the ALCS, though if they did it likely would be to add a pitcher.
Boston’s main injury concern is first baseman Mitch Moreland, who left Game 2 against the Yankees with a sore hamstring and hasn’t played since. Thursday, Moreland took batting practice on the field, and Cora is optimistic he will make it onto the ALCS roster.
“Mitch is feeling better,” Cora said. “We still have time to see where we’re at with him. Hopefully he keeps getting better and he’ll be ready to go on Saturday.”
Elsewhere, Cora said infielder Eduardo Nunez is fine after slipping on the infield grass at Yankee Stadium seconds after Boston clinched.
“He’s OK,” Cora said. “I think he slipped on that play. I think he was jumping up and down, celebrating. I saw him today and I’m like, ‘Are you good to go?’ He said, ‘I’m good, Papi.’ He’s fine.”
The Red Sox held a casual workout at Fenway. Some players kicked a soccer ball around on the outfield grass, testing the goalie skills of infielder Brock Holt. The team then briefly took batting practice before rain forced them inside . . . The umpiring crew for the ALCS was announced, with the controversial Joe West named crew chief. West will be joined by James Hoye, Vic Carapazza, Mark Carlson, Chris Guccione, and Mark Wegner . . . Pitcher Steven Wright likely will undergo arthroscopic surgery to clean up his left knee after receiving a recommendation from doctors. It is unlikely he will see the field again in 2018 . . . Boston was an MLB-best 57-24 at home this season. The Astros, meanwhile, were an MLB-best 57-24 on the road.
Owen Pence can be reached at email@example.com.