On Dustin Pedroia’s drive, Mike Trout’s Boston moment, and where the Red Sox are headed

Boston's late-inning woes cost them an off day, and the rest of us an hour on Wednesday.

After failing to finish off the Royals in the late innings on Wednesday, the weather ensured the game didn't finish, period.
After failing to finish off the Royals in the late innings on Wednesday, the weather ensured the game didn't finish, period. –The Associated Press

COMMENTARY

They had already split a pair of games, at home, to 41-74 Kansas City. Xander Bogaerts delivered a 4-2 lead in the fifth, where Eduardo Rodriguez had managed to get despite becoming just the latest Red Sox starter to need 70-odd pitches for three-odd innings of work.

The Red Sox needed 12 outs to win 2 of 3, the absolute minimum to keep up the charade of wild-card contention. They could keep Kansas City from scoring, they could score more themselves. They did neither.

Darwinzon Hernandez gave up back-to-back hits in the sixth to make it 4-3; Nathan Eovaldi gave up two hits and a wild pitch in the seventh for 4-4 and 21 blown saves; and despite sending Mookie Betts, Rafael Devers, Bogaerts, and J.D. Martinez up in a tied ninth inning against a man named Jake Newberry (who was pitching for Triple A Omaha when this series began), the Red Sox did not add on.

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And so, instead of having an off day in San Diego on Aug. 22 before their final West Coast trip of the season, the Red Sox receive a fitting punishment. They will meet a team cruising toward 104 losses for the 10th inning of Wednesday’s game. It could take minutes, like the 33rd inning at McCoy Stadium did 38 years ago, or it could take hours. Anything’s possible in 2019.

Even the game possibly meaning something, though that potential feels dimmer by the day. We seem squarely in the palace intrigue portion of the season, after both the Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy and NBC Sports Boston’s John Tomase penned pieces intimating Dave Dombrowski’s tenure as teambuilder might be near an end. (Shaughnessy’s had the meatier reporting.) Given this will be the last winter that the Sox control Mookie Betts, to say nothing of rebuilding after this season’s mess, a regime change hardly seems like the offseason ideal, but Shaughnessy at least put it on the radar with a little substance.

A few bigger-picture thoughts after a frustrating, abbreviated set.

Chasing 2020

Wednesday’s news that Dustin Pedroia underwent another surgical procedure on his left knee, one that Alex Cora described as “just another step to see where it takes us,” offered a reminder at how hard it often is to leave a career behind.

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The joint preservation surgery, which included removing bone spurs and scar cleanup according to that link, appears to have plenty of quality of life benefits. Even without Pedroia directly commenting on it, that was surely a motivation for the soon-to-be 36 year old. Just as undoubtedly, though, the former Rookie of the Year and AL MVP would love to go out on his terms.

“He’s going to keep trying to find ways to make this happen,” Cora told reporters. “We’ll see where it goes.”

The silence from Pedroia since late May, when he shut down his rehab and went home to Arizona to reassess whether he’d try again to play for the Red Sox, at least offered the possibility of a retirement and possible recouping of some of the $25 million owed him the next two seasons. A retirement/buyout is still probably the way Pedroia’s playing career ends, but perhaps not this year.

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Goodbyes to all the privileges of playing professional sports are hard, even for those who go out at or near the top like David Ortiz did. Pedroia — whose career batting average dropped to .292 with this season’s 2 for 20 — spoke regretfully this spring about his cartilage restoration surgery, and in May talked about refusing another procedure suggested to him as a possible way to play again.

Wednesday’s was a different one, and even if Pedroia doesn’t have the right to change his mind, he’s earned to right to exhaust every avenue he sees fit.

Money can’t buy me love

How often does the top payroll team in baseball not make the postseason? Once in two decades.

That’s perhaps not the most surprising thing. In the last two decades, only three franchises — the Yankees (1999-2012), Dodgers (2013-17), and Red Sox (2018-19) — have been baseball’s top spender for a season. Last season was Boston’s first in the spot, and its third straight atop the AL East. The Dodgers’ five years in the lead came during their soon-to-be seven straight wins in the NL West. And the Yankees made 17 playoff appearances from 1995 to 2012.

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That leaves one year they were out: 2008, when New York replaced the departed Joe Torre with Joe Girardi and went 89-73, formally missing the playoffs two days after the final game at old Yankee Stadium. Alex Rodriguez hit .302 with 35 homers and 108 RBIs as their highest-paid player at $28 million, but Jason Giambi’s final New York season underwhelmed — 32 homers and 96 RBIs, but just a .247 average — and the pitching staff led by Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte had only the eighth-best ERA in the American League.

The ’90s, however, were rife with big-spending teams whose October successes in prior years couldn’t be matched. The 1998 Orioles were actually below .500 after a pair of ALCS trips. The Blue Jays led baseball in spending the first three years of their post-World Series playoff drought, and the A’s were tops in payroll in 1991, following their three straight AL pennants.

A unique fish

The Angels (56-59) are making their annual visit to Fenway Park this weekend, which means it’s time for all of us to talk about how good Mike Trout is. I choose to do so thusly.

This is Trout’s eighth full season, a run in which he has two AL MVP awards (2014, 2016), has come second for four more (2012, when he won Rookie of the Year; 2013, 2015, and 2018), and finished fourth in 2017, when he missed 50 games to a thumb injury. This year figures to be his third, but we’ll get there.

Across nearly eight full seasons, Trout has a .309/.422/.588 slash line. That’s a 1.010 OPS and and a 179 OPS+ — roughly 80 percent the production the average major leaguer has produced in that time, presuming one player would produce across that long a stretch.

To that end, Trout produced 63.8 bWAR from 2012–18, a stretch including two MVP awards and absolutely could have included a third had Trout not gotten hurt two years ago.

Compare that to this collective:

2012 Miguel Cabrera (beat Trout for MVP): 7.1 bWAR
2013 Miguel Cabrera (beat Trout for MVP): 7.3 bWAR
2014 Josh Donaldson (No. 2 to Trout in bWAR): 7.5 bWAR
2015 Josh Donaldson (beat Trout for MVP): 8.5 bWAR
2016 Mookie Betts (No. 2 to Trout in bWAR): 9.7 bWAR
2017 Jose Altuve (MVP, led MLB in bWAR): 8.1 bWAR
2018 Mookie Betts (beat Trout for MVP): 10.9 bWAR

Pretty good group of players, right? That’s the five non-Trout AL MVP winners the prior seven seasons, plus the best AL bWAR player other than him in the years that he won. Those seven seasons add up to 59.1 bWAR. Not just less than Trout, but significantly less.

Let’s give them a boost. Make it Robinson Cano’s 2012 with the Yankees (8.4 bWAR), Andrew McCutchen’s MVP-winning 2013 in Pittsburgh (7.9), and Bryce Harper’s MVP-winning 2015 in Washington (10.0). The absolute best in each individual year gets us to … 62.5 bWAR. We’re still not there.

We still haven’t matched, using a half-dozen genuine superstars, what Mike Trout alone has done the prior seven seasons. A span in which, again, he missed 50 games with a thumb injury.

The seven players I’ve mentioned? Cabrera’s seven best years aren’t close (44.7) and he’s been a league-average played since the start of 2017. Donaldson’s 7.0-plus bWAR peak lasted just four years (2013–16). McCutchen’s was top five in NL MVP voting annually from 2012–15, but a step below Donaldson. Betts has been otherworldly twice, but barely had an .800 OPS in 2017 and probably doesn’t make the top-10 hitters in 2019. Altuve’s battled injuries the last two seasons.

Cano’s seven best years clear 50 bWAR, but he had a .779 OPS in 2015 and will finish with a .710 in his first year as a Met. Harper’s 2015 is borderline Brady Anderson stuff — he’s barely been half that good any other year, and doesn’t have even a .900 OPS in the three-plus years since.

Mike Trout is otherworldly, and he’s again in a class by himself this season: 38 homers, 1.112 OPS, and 7.5 bWAR entering Wednesday. He’s that good and then some. Even if he isn’t brash or boastful, or all that interested in publicizing himself, he is worth going out of your way to watch.

NESN should be thankful, because the home team certainly isn’t doing that for most anyone of late.