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Mookie Betts and the Red Sox historic start

Mookie Betts hot start

In Shohei Ohtani’s first home start, Los Angeles fans sold out Angel Stadium in anticipation of seeing more dominance from the Japanese right-hander. This was the first sellout in four years, the last one being Mike Trout bobblehead day. Against the red-hot Boston lineup, Ohtani lasted just two innings, exiting early due to a blister on a finger on his pitching hand.

While throwing 66 pitches in his two innings of work, Ohtani allowed three runs, on four hits and two walks. Ohtani appeared extremely vulnerable as the Sox swung and missed only three times. This is what happens when you don’t get to face the Oakland Athletics every time you pitch.

Mookie Betts hot start
Ohtani watching as Betts’ lead-off HR clears the fence (San Bernardino Sun)

To lead off the game, Red Sox star Mookie Betts crushed a home run to left field. He wound up finishing the game with three home runs, three runs scored and a pair of walks. This was Betts’ third three-homer game, which ties him with Ted Williams for the most three-homer games in Red Sox history. This was the second time this season that a player in the MLB went 3-for-3 with a trio of home runs, as San Diego’s Christian Villanueva did this two weeks ago against the Colorado Rockies.

Betts is now first in the league in runs (19), doubles (7), batting average (.389), OPS (1.289) and OPS+ (246). In 2016, Betts finished runner-up to Mike Trout in AL MVP voting and became the youngest player in MLB history with a season of 40 doubles, 30 home runs, 25 steals and 350 total bases. The Sox slugger was just 23 years old at the time, passing Alfonso Soriano, who was 26, and previously the youngest player to accomplish this feat.

Last season, Betts’ finished third in doubles, fourth in defensive WAR and ninth in overall WAR for position players. Coming off back-to-back All-Star Game appearances, Betts has solidified himself as one of the top players in the game, offensively and defensively. He is currently on pace for 54 home runs and 75 doubles.

Was Betts always this good? If yes, did he always have a tremendous amount of power despite being listed at just 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds?

YA BETTS BELIEVE

Coming out of high school, scouts, according to Baseball America, claimed Markus “Mookie” Betts “could be a difference-maker for his hitting ability, speed and solid athleticism.” He committed to the University of Tennessee, but decided to sign with the Red Sox after they selected him in the fifth round in the 2011 MLB Draft. His signing bonus was a lofty $750,000.

Betts played in just one Rookie Level Gulf Coast League game in 2011, and boy was it memorable. While he did hit a pair of singles, Betts committed three errors. In 2012, Betts got his first real taste of pro ball, playing in 71 games for the Lowell Spinners in Short-Season A Ball. In 251 at-bats, Betts hit a whopping zero home runs, and just nine extra-base hits. He was drawing plenty of walks and still getting on base, but it was not until mid-April of 2013 in which Betts cleared the fence for his first professional home run.

Mookie Betts hot start
Mookie Betts as a member of the Greenville Drive. (Photo from VAVEL.com)

During that 2013 season, now a member of the Single A Greenville team, Betts started the year ice-cold. In early-May, Betts had a batting average of .145. However, Carlos Febles, then coach of Greenville, saw serious potential in Betts, noting that Betts was hitting the ball extremely hard, and just getting really unlucky.

“At one point, he was hitting the ball at least three times hard during the game and not getting hits. I remember giving him an extra day off just to give him a mental break,” Febles said according to the Boston Globe.

Greenville’s hitting coach, U.L. Washington, saw a star in Betts, even though the numbers said otherwise. Former Red Sox hitting coordinator, Tim Hyers, was quoted saying “U.L. thought he (Betts) would drive the ball one day because his hands are so quick and he’s got such great body control…It was, like, ‘It’s just a matter of time. This guy is going to figure it out.’” Washington believed Betts was a bit too passive, trying to draw walks instead of being aggressive.

The talks with coaches and the time out of the lineup led to a difference in Betts’ approach. He finished that 2013 season slashing .314/.417/.506 with 15 home runs in 127 games. The following year, Betts, between Double and Triple-A, hit 11 home runs in 99 games and was called-up to the show.

Now, in 2018, the 25-year-old has had quite the start to his MLB career. Below is a table which exemplifies his numbers, based off players younger than 25.

NO. OF SEASONS WITH 18 HR, 20 SB, 40 2B, 160 H (BEFORE TURNING 25)

PLAYER NO. OF SEASONS
MOOKIE BETTS 3
DAVID WRIGHT 2
HANLEY RAMIREZ 1
GRADY SIZEMORE 1
ALEX RODRIGUEZ 1
NOMAR GARCIAPARRA 1
ROBIN YOUNT 1
VADA PINSON 1

Red Sox hot start

For the first time in franchise history, Boston has won 14 of their first 16 games. Previously, they had won 13 of 15 to start the season in 1946, and began the year 12-4 on seven separate occasions. They lead the AL in batting average, OBP, SLG, OPS and doubles. They rank second in the MLB in ERA and have allowed the fewest home runs in the AL.

Mookie Betts hot start
Does this look like the face of a coach who can lead his team to a title in his first year? YES. (Photo from The Boston Globe)

Clearly clicking on all cylinders, you have to wonder if the coaching change was exactly what the Red Sox needed. In 1912, Jake Stahl, first-year manager of Boston, coached the team to a 105-47-2 record and capped off the season by winning the 1912 World Series. In 1918, Ed Barrow’s first year as manager of the Sox, Boston again, won the World Series. After Grady Little’s inability to pull Pedro Martinez from Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, Boston brought in Terry Francona for the 2004 season, the same year that Boston ended its 86-year World Series drought.

After a miserable 2012 season, Boston fired then coach Bobby Valentine and welcomed in John Farrell. In Ferrell’s first year, Boston won the 2013 World Series. Do you see a trend here? In 2018, Alex Cora’s first year as manager of the Red Sox, Boston is one of the best teams in the league. Are they destined for a World Series title because of the “first year as manager with the Red Sox” success in the past?

 

Featured image by NESN.com

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