Playing nine innings while marveling that the baseball season is already a quarter complete …
1. Mitch Moreland’s most similar players statistically read like a Who’s Who of interchangeable league-average lefthanded-hitting first basemen, semi-memorable guys like Paul Sorrento, Pat Putnam, and Lee Stevens, one of whom inevitably was found in every pack of baseball cards you ever bought.
Moreland has had a nice career, hitting 172 home runs so far, banking more than $30 million, and making an All-Star team, but it’s also a pretty familiar type of career in the annals of baseball. His time with the Red Sox, however, should be remembered fondly by fans. He is one of those players who always seems replaceable, right up until he’s gone and you realize time and again how much he is missed.
2. Moreland, who hit two home runs Sunday, including a walkoff, has been the quintessential pro in his four seasons with the franchise, playing smooth defense at first base and delivering in more than a few big spots. His three-run home run in the seventh inning of Game 4 of the 2018 World Series might be the most unheralded clutch home run in franchise history.
Moreland has a team-best six homers this year at a time when many of the bigger names are struggling. I’m all for dealing veterans before the Aug. 31 trade deadline, but the Red Sox would be a lesser team in a lot of ways if Moreland were among them.
3. I used to think Andrew Benintendi was the second coming of Mike Greenwell, and before you snicker, remember that Greenie hit .328 with 19 homers at age 23 as a rookie in 1987, then finished second in the American League Most Valuable Player balloting in 1988 after hitting .325 with 22 homers and 119 RBIs. Early-career Greenie was a heck of a hitter.
Now, though, after a mediocre 2018 season and an absolutely brutal start this year, I’m wondering whether Benintendi is the second coming of Todd Benzinger, a contemporary of Greenwell and Ellis Burks as a prized homegrown prospect who had a picturesque swing but never produced the way it looked like he should.
4. Benintendi has had better seasons already than Benzinger ever did, and he probably will be better in the long run … but his struggles to even hit the ball hard right now are just so bewildering.
Benintendi is hitting .056 with a .344 OPS, and his slugging percentage of .083 (he has one measly double) would look miserable for even a poor-hitting pitcher. The situation is desperate enough that Ron Roenicke lifted him for pinch hitter Kevin Pillar in the fourth inning Saturday against the Blue Jays, a decision that made sense but would have been unfathomable even a year ago.
I trust he’ll snap out of it, because that Fred Lynn swing inspires belief, but blind faith is about all we have to go on right now.
5. Was it just last season that we were comparing the Red Sox’ outfield (Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Mookie Betts) to the best in franchise history — and sometimes favorably? Why, I do recall writing such a piece for the 2019 Globe baseball preview section, and I regret nothing.
But it’s amazing how fast things have changed. Benintendi has 13 homers in 662 plate appearances since the start of last season, Bradley, a free agent-to-be, is probably in his last enigmatic season in Boston, and Betts is tied for fourth in the National League in Wins Above Replacement while revealing to Dodgers fans what a joy it is to watch him play every day. Life sure comes at you fast.
6. Roenicke tried to handle it with discretion, but it sure sounded like J.D. Martinez opted out of the chance to pinch hit as the potential tying run in the Red Sox’ 5-2 loss to the Yankees Aug. 1. Benintendi struck out on four pitches with two runners on to end the game.
It would have been an ideal situation to use Martinez, but according to Roenicke’s jumbled explanation, he needed more time to get loose or something.
Martinez is a perfectionist regarding preparation, but this is a terrible look. This story would be a much bigger deal in normal circumstances when reporters have in-person access to the team.
7. All right, here’s one fun thing about following the team this year: the animated banter between Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers while they’re holding down their defensive positions at shortstop and third base. Bogaerts alternates between exaggerated expressions of amusement and exasperation at Devers, who seems to have a good laugh at everything Bogaerts says to him.
It’s not quite the second coming of the Adrian Beltre/Elvis Andrus comedy duo, but the good-natured ribbing between teammates is fun to watch.
8. It’s clear that one of the purposes of this weird, abbreviated season for Chaim Bloom is to try to find a couple of keepers among the players he is cycling from Boston to the Alternate Site in Pawtucket. It’s similar to what Dan Duquette did in the mid ‘90s, when he found Tim Wakefield, Troy O’Leary, and Rich Garces (among others) among the discards.
There hasn’t been much to get intrigued about so far, though if you told me Phillips Valdez and Austin Brice will be useful parts of the bullpen two seasons from now, I might believe you.
9. Nate Eovaldi has been decent (4.09 ERA, 24 strikeouts, one win, league-high 25 hits allowed in 22 innings) and not much more than that. But his turn in the rotation amid this group of openers, castoffs, who’s-hes? and never-weres feels like watching vintage Nolan Ryan by comparison.
My goodness, how are they ever going to repair this pitching staff over the next couple of years?