BETTS IS YET TO COME
Sox keep winning sans best of their MVP
The Red Sox have made it this far without getting much of anything out of Mookie Betts’ bat.
In 2016, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series while Javier Baez was 5-for-30 (.167) with one homer and 13 strikeouts, though Baez had yet to become the superstar he is now.
One year earlier, the Kansas City Royals won it all while their franchise player, Eric Hosmer, was 4-for-21 without a homer.
It all depends on what the other guys do.
The ’16 Cubs had Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jake Arrieta lead them from the mound. The ’15 Royals had the dominant bullpen of Wade Davis, Greg Holland and Kelvin Herrera.
And if Chris Sale, David Price and Nathan Eovaldi or Rick Porcello can lead the Red Sox, maybe Betts won’t have to carry the team.
But the Red Sox have relied heavily on Betts and J.D. Martinez to carry them all year. Betts ought to win the American League MVP when results are announced after the World Series. And he doesn’t want to sit in the back seat while somebody else drives the Sox past the Houston Astros in the AL Championship Series, which begins tonight (8:09).
“I think it’s just one of those things where I have to kind of embrace it,” Betts said yesterday. “If I have to go out and be one of the producers, then I have to go do it, no matter if you try to push (the pressure) to the side or not.”
Since the start of 2016, the Red Sox have two players who rank in the bottom 25 of postseason performers ranked by OPS (mininum 40 at-bats): Xander Bogaerts (.551 OPS) and Betts (.667 OPS).
Betts’ 14 total bases in that span are fewer than all but six players.
Overall, he’s 10-for-42 with four doubles, no homers, six runs and just two RBI in the last three AL Division Series.
He was 3-for-16 with a double in this year’s ALDS vs. the Yankees.
“It’s just one of those things where I know I have to go in and do something and help the team win in some way,” he said. “And if it’s getting three hits, then cool. If it’s making a nice play in the outfield, that’s fine, too.
“So I’m just going to do whatever I can to help the team win. And I think we have a bunch of guys here that can do something to help the team win, so it’s just one of those things where I don’t feel so pressured to do everything. But I know I have to do something.”
Why hasn’t Betts’ performed up to his capabilities in the postseason?
One theory is that he’s putting too much pressure on himself again.
Two years ago, David Ortiz had to pull him aside and tell him that his talent would take him far if he would “think less.” Betts took it to heart and later credited Ortiz for helping him find his groove.
But earlier this year, the Red Sox again saw a player who was trying to do too much, to carry the team on his shoulders.
When Betts went 17 games without a homer in the middle of August, hitting coach Tim Hyers reminded him that simplicity was Betts’ friend. He needed to trust his hands, not use his entire body to try to smash balls out of the park.
Manager Alex Cora echoed a similar sentiment when discussing Betts’ performance against the Yankees in the Division Series.
“Game 3 was outstanding, Game 4 I think he caught up in trying to do a lot, which is understandable,” Cora said. “But I think it’s good that we won and he didn’t take charge offensively like he’s been doing the whole season, so that’s a plus for our team.
“And I know he’s prepared. He’s in here in the scouting report, and hearing how bad he was last year against Houston from his manager. He’ll be ready. He had a great series against them here during the year. ... He’s looking forward to it. I know that, like I am. And he’s going to be fine.”
Betts admitted he’s been feeling some pressure in the postseason.
“I think just the sense is that, you know, we have a limited amount of games, I think, so if you don’t get it done now then it’s never,” he said. “And during the season you have 162 games to get it done. So I guess there is some sense of pressure there, but I have to understand that I can only do what I can do.”
If Martinez can come up with a few more big hits and the Red Sox can continue to get production out of the bottom of their lineup, they can win without Betts doing a whole lot.
It’d be a lot easier if the MVP shows up this October.
“It’s been a long season,” Betts said. “We were successful this year and there would be no reason for us to change and do something different now. I know I have to do whatever I do — that’s how I scored 120 runs or whatever it is, just getting on base for (Martinez). And we just continue to win games.
“I’m very excited about it. Obviously we got that monkey off our back as far as getting past the first round. So we can be excited about that.”
A LOT TO HANDLE: Mookie Betts carries a bunch of baseballs during yesterday’s workout at Fenway. The Sox right fielder hopes to be able to start putting bat to ball with some consistency as the Sox open play against the Houston Astros in the AL Championship Series tonight.