Touching All the Bases

For Those Who Have Quit On Red Sox, Here Are 3 Developments You May Have Missed

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What the hell, I'll admit it. I've probably watched more DVR'd episodes of "Naked and Afraid" over the last week or so than I have live Red Sox games.

Yes, that's a real show, not a euphemism for Allen Webster's comportment on the pitching mound, a reference to Justin Verlander's general state of being, or a nod to the unspoken theme of your high school prom.

Further confession: Even when the TATB household has chosen bats over, um, butts, the Red Sox haven't always been the choice.

Last night, I mostly watched the Tigers-Royals on the MLB Network (Max Scherzer pitched, Verlander was clothed for once and apparently unafraid), switching over to NESN only when Twitter clued me in that Matt Barnes was making a swell first impression.

I usually still watch, though. My attendance hasn't been perfect, and I've been tardy well past 7:05 p.m. on most nights. Sometimes Don and Jerry are just background noise. But I watch.

Part of it is because the air has grown chilly, a reminder that baseball season is winding to its autumn end. Even in a lousy season, it's always a bummer when the last out is recorded and winter beckons.

Besides, despite a title defense that long ago turned into a title surrender, this is not repeat of 2012. There's a ton of young talent to watch and gauge and project, and there's that glimpse-at-a-brighter-future kind of fun in that.

And you do learn things by sticking with it. Hunches and expectations give way to reality over the long season. What you believed in May or June may not be what you believe now, after gathering games' worth of further examples and evidence.

Beyond the fact that no one looks good after three weeks in the jungle, here are three things I've learned in recent weeks.

Brock Holt is not the next Ben Zobrist after all ... ... but he has assured himself of a major league role for 2015.

The 26-year-old Holt's emergence as a jack of all trades and owner of many gloves has been one of the few satisfying stories of this season.

That was particularly true during his scorching June (.322/.370/.449), a performance so impressive that some of us began wondering whether he could be to the Red Sox what Zobrist has long been for the Rays: an extremely valuable offensive player who can play multiple positions without a second thought.

Let's just say that the second half has tempered those high hopes. Holt has slashed a Jurakian .219/.278/.271 in 213 plate appearances since the All-Star break. His .711 OPS is now .006 higher than that of 2012 flash Pedro Ciriaco.

Now, Holt is a much better player than Ciriaco was -- he is a good defender and has legitimate on-base skills, and he should be the chief utility player next season.

But he's a small shadow of Zobrist at best, and he should not be in the mix to be the everyday third baseman. He's what the Red Sox had him pegged as all along -- a bench player with a better bat than the majority who hold the role.

bogaertsxanderfinn910.JPGXander Bogaerts reached a milestone ... ... and it illustrated just how lousy the Red Sox offense has been this season.

To say Bogaerts spent the summer in a slump is like saying Courtney Love misses a note here and there. It's a severe underestimation of the magnitude of the mess.

The 21-year-old would-be shortstop and reluctant third baseman's slump was more like ... I don't know, a crater?

After going 2 for 4 with a homer and a double in the Red Sox' 5-3 loss to the Indians June 3, Bogaerts left the ballpark that night with a .304/.395/.464 slash line and an outside chance at making the American League All-Star team.

We never figured then that we'd be wondering by the end of the summer whether he had been rushed to the big leagues. But that's how brutal and prolonged his slump -- his cratering -- was.

From June 4 through August 30, a span of 63 games and 250 plate appearances, Bogaerts was almost unfathomably inept, posting a .147/.193/.212 slash line with 3 homers, 14 RBIs, 12 walks and 64 strikeouts. His OPS during that stretch: .405.

Bogaerts's effort never wavered in trying to climb his way out, and the results are finally starting to match his determination.

Over the last two weeks, he's hitting .357/.372/.595 in 44 plate appearances. It's a puny sample, sure, but so was the sample from his stirring performance last October that convinced us he was ready to fulfill every great expectation.

Oh, about that milestone, and how it tells you all you need to know about this feeble Red Sox offense this season. Bogaerts hit his 10th home run of the season last night, accounting for the Red Sox' lone run against the Dan Duquette-redeeming Orioles. Per the ProJo's Brian MacPherson, that made him the third Red Sox rookie since 2000 to reach double-figures in homers, and yes, let this be the last time we speak of Bogaerts in the same breath as Shea Hillenbrand and Will Middlebrooks.

But the truly remarkable detail is that Bogaerts, for all of his issues this summer, is third on the Red Sox in home runs. Third. With 10. Trailing David Ortiz (32, and why does anyone ever pitch to him?) and Mike Napoli (17). Bogaerts also has 36 RBI this season -- four more than the White Sox' Jose Abreu had in April -- and yet he's fourth on the Red Sox, trailing only Ortiz, Napoli and Dustin Pedroia.

Betcha Bogaerts doubles that total -- at least -- next season. Might help if a couple of his teammates did as well.

Mookie Betts's trade value is rising ... ... and so is the temptation to put his name on the very short list of untouchables.

Look at this extraordinary season Betts, a 21-year-old who was nearly six years younger than the average Triple A player, has put together on three levels:

Then consider: He's an absolute blast to watch, with a quick swing and quicker feet. He's rapidly improving as an outfielder, a position unfamiliar to him until this season. He has charisma that makes you believe stardom is inevitable. And he's been raking for a month now at the MLB level, putting up a .313/.402./513 line over his last 92 plate-appearances.

Now, ask yourself two questions: What could he bring in a blockbuster trade? And how could they ever trade him.

Maybe Ben Cherington doesn't look at it as a quandary -- it's certainly a pleasant quandary if anything -- but it's sure perplexing from this perspective. Betts has played his way into potentially being a centerpiece player in a megatrade or one of the core players on -- say it all together now -- the next great Red Sox team.

And honestly, I'm not sure what they should do. I'm enjoying watching Mookie Betts now. I suspect I'll enjoy watching him for the next dozen years or so -- whether it's in Boston, Philadelphia, Miami, or some other unforeseen destination.

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