What a difference a good Mookie Betts makes

Rob Bradford
April 20, 2019 - 8:08 am

It's not as simple as one player single-handedly turning things around -- even when it's one of the best players in Major League Baseball.

But watching Mookie Betts run around the bases Friday night at Tropicana Field certainly offered a reminder as to how things could be for these Red Sox.

After going hitless in his first two at-bats, making him 0 for his last 12, Betts came through with a double in the sixth inning, eventually scoring his team's fourth run. But it was the eighth inning when the right fielder's usual presence was truly felt, with Betts launching the eventual game-winning homer over the center field fence. He was immediately followed by another home run from Mitch Moreland and the Red Sox found themselves on their way to beating the best team in baseball, Tampa Bay, 6-4. (For a complete recap, click here.)

Suddenly the .200 batting average Betts came into the night with had found its way up to .216. And instead of heading into Saturday nine games back, the Red Sox edged one game closer to the first-place Rays with a seven-game deficit.

Baby steps.

"When you look around in big league stadiums and there’s a lot of -- look everywhere, there’s the average," Red Sox manager Alex Cora told reporters. "Back in the day, you didn’t have that. You only learned because of the newspaper. Now it’s all over the place. Although you don’t want to look, it’s there for you. It’s not cool when you’re struggling. It’s hard to smile when you’re struggling. But he prepares, gives 100 percent regardless of the results. Sometimes yeah he gets down because he knows what he can do. But just like the team, it’s a long season. Still got plenty of games. Good to see him doing that."

When Betts is rolling along the lines of what was presented in his 2018 American League MVP the whole equation for the Red Sox feels different.

In games the outfielder homered last season the Red Sox went 22-5. They were 33-13 when he drove in a run. And in games he crossed the plate the Sox' record was 68-18.

The top of the Red Sox' batting order -- which now has Betts hitting second -- simply hasn't been the same kind of threat it was a year ago. The No. 1 spot has the 18th-best OPS in baseball (.699), with next position in the batting order 20th overall (.742). This wasn't how it worked while making that World Series run.

Heading into the 20th day of April a year ago Betts was hitting .391 with six homers. The Red Sox, in fact, had six players totaling a .300 batting average or better at that time. Now? There's one, J.D. Martinez.

"We’re about to see," said Cora when asked if it felt like Betts was about to break out. "I’ve been saying, we’re getting close. It’s great for him that he contributes offensively. We put good at-bats all over the place today. That was good to see. We can’t rely on one guy here. Everybody has to do their part. Raffy (Devers), Christian (Vazquez), Xander (Bogaerts), Mitch (Moreland), top to bottom it was solid. It was good to see. Seems like offensively, for how bad it looked three days ago, today it felt better, against a great pitching staff. Those guys have great stuff so we battled today."