Red Sox

How Giancarlo Stanton's swing may have helped Mookie Betts

How Giancarlo Stanton's swing may have helped Mookie Betts

BOSTON — There seems to be a tinge of Giancarlo Stanton in Mookie Betts these days, a tiny but nonetheless notable connection as Betts built toward two home runs on Tuesday night in an 11-1 win over the A's.

Earlier this year, Sox hitting coach Chili Davis looked at video of Stanton with Betts. Stanton, who has 54 home runs and could crack 60, has a dramatically closed batting stance. 

Betts starts open and still does, but the finishing point has changed lately.

“We did talk about that and he has done that, he feels a lot more balanced that way,” Davis said. “He feels like he’s taller at the plate.”

Taller, but not closed. This wasn’t a project to turn Betts’ swing or approach into Stanton’s, not by a long shot. It was an attempt to point out something Stanton does in pronounced fashion that Betts could perhaps integrate, in his own way.

“He’s not closed,” Davis said of Betts. “He starts where he starts. But he gets back to square. He wasn’t getting back to square before. To him, it feels closed off. It’s not going to be Giancarlo Stanton, He’s not that guy.”

Certainly not. But Betts did something he rarely does Tuesday, going the other way with success, for the triple — which may be more notable than both the home runs, which were pulled. Per Baseball-Reference.com, Betts entered Tuesday night hitting just .169 when going to the opposite field. Last year, he hit .266, so he was better, but going oppo is definitely not his strong suit.

At the least, looking at video of Stanton — who mashes to all fields, and has a .333 average to right in 2017 — could not have hurt.

“I don’t know if that helped,” Davis said. “I’m not going to take credit for that, kids are swinging good, man.”

Betts is a feel hitter, which is to say that he himself doesn’t always know how to explain what is missing when something is missing. Even behind the scenes, never mind to the media. But he’s definitely not the type to break down his mechanics in a post-game media scrum.

Take his initial explanation Tuesday when asked what’s changed.

“That’s the weird part,” Betts said. “I think it could be just the game of baseball. I’m not exactly sure what it is.”

When it was noted to Betts that manager John Farrell said he’s been standing taller, Betts did note the same.

“I’ve been standing up a little taller and just trying to stay above the ball and that way I’m swinging down instead of up,” Betts said.

Farrell noted Betts is letting the ball travel further. 

“He looks loose in the batter’s box. The bat speed has always been there,” Farrell said. “A little bit more upright, a little bit more relaxed, not charging out to get some pitches.”

Drellich: Every move Red Sox, Yankees make has new meaning

Drellich: Every move Red Sox, Yankees make has new meaning

The Red Sox-Yankees rivalry has a newfound sense of urgency. A feeling that every move counts and will count, be it at the trade deadline in a month and a half, or when Alex Cora determines his second baseman on a nightly basis.

It's not because these franchises hate each other, because of their steep history. It's because they actually have to best the other, or suffer an unwelcome consequence.

Unlike the early 2000s, both teams cannot enter the playoffs on equal footing. A second-place finish in the American League East will sting. Participating in the Wild Card game for the right to move on to the five-game Division Series will be a stomach-turning experience for one of these two teams.

The upshot presently: even as the Sox and Yanks play teams that are uninspiring, and there are plenty such clubs, there is reason for fans and players alike to stay intently focused. (In the midst of a 162-game season, there will be lapses for everyone.) There is reason to care, in fact, if the ideal lineup or pinch-hit decision is made by Alex Cora, at every juncture. There is reason to care about whether Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has sufficiently helped rebuild the farm system, because it’s a matter of depth options now and via trade.

The Sox can have the best record in the majors in June, or be one win off the pace-setters, and the smallest of details will still matter. “They’re great,” doesn’t cut it. “Is this move optimal to beat the Yankees, the team that can relegate the Sox to a one-game playoff scenario?” is the question to be answered

As trade season arrives, the concept of the marginal win is out the window for both clubs. Or it should be. In divisions where one team is clearly superior, the need to add by trade isn’t always so clear. What’s the difference between 93 wins and 95 wins if you’re heading to the Division Series either way? Is the slight upgrade worth whatever you’re giving up?

The playoffs are always a crapshoot. But the Sox and Yanks are playing to avoid the biggest crapshoot of all in the Wild Card.

Passion between fan bases in the regular season wasn’t lacking 15 years ago. It was greater, obviously. But for different reasons. Second place in the division was usually a matter of bragging rights, rather than actual reward or worthiness. 

We’ve returned to a world where the Sox and Yanks are clearly better than virtually everyone. Were the rest of the AL stronger this year, the Wild Card could be a blessing for the Sox or the Yanks — a chance to make a postseason run that did not previously exist when there were four playoff teams instead of five. 

But the present landscape shows three powerhouses, and two of them happen to be classic rivals in the East. What they do before October means more now than it used to.

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Red Sox bullpen runs into trouble with Twins in 6-2 loss

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USA TODAY Sports photo

Red Sox bullpen runs into trouble with Twins in 6-2 loss

MINNEAPOLIS -- Eduardo Escobar, yet again, gave the Minnesota Twins the go-ahead hit.

Two of them, of course. He's become a doubles machine.

With a two-base hit that drove in two runs off Chris Sale in the sixth inning and another that launched a four-run eighth, Escobar led for the Twins to a 6-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday night.

"I don't know if he can keep up that kind of torrid pace, but we're seeing a guy who is supremely confident," Twins manager Paul Molitor said.

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Robby Scott (0-1), just recalled from Triple-A, relieved Sale to start the eighth and walked the first two batters. Joe Kellyentered, and Escobar's one-out line drive bounced in front of Jackie Bradley Jr. and skipped past the center fielder as two runs scored. The official scorer later changed his ruling from a single to a double, giving Escobar a majors-leading 32 for the season. Robbie Grossman broke the game open with a two-run triple.

Escobar is on a season-long pace for 75 doubles, which would blow by Earl Webb's record of 67 doubles in 1931 for the Red Sox.

"Let me tell you: If they don't catch the ball I'm going to run to second base, 100 percent," Escobar said. "My mentality when I make contact with the ball is to run all the way to second base."

Escobar, who will be a free agent in the fall, has for the fourth straight season been slated for a utility role only to hit his way into regular duty after a setback in the infield. This year, injury and ineffectiveness for third baseman Miguel Sano paved Escobar's way into the everyday lineup.

"If he doesn't have a double a day, it's like a disappointment right now. He's unbelievable. He always finds a barrel," said teammate Trevor Hildenberger, who struck out American League RBI leader J.D. Martinez with runners at second and third to end the seventh after relieving Jose Berrios.

The Red Sox went 2 for 13 with runners in scoring position and left 11 men on base.

"Whenever you have a chance, you have to catch him," Boston manager Alex Cora said.

EVAN DRELLICH

MOUND MASTERY

The late surge masked a classic pitching duel between Sale and Berrios, the six-time All-Star against the budding ace. Sale retired the first 14 batters he faced before Ehire Adrianza's soft roller to Rafael Devers at third base went for an infield single.

With a two-out home run by Devers in the sixth off Berrios, the Red Sox were in control. All it took was a single by Ryan LaMarre and a hit by pitch for Joe Mauer, though, to start a rally in the bottom of the inning. With one out, Escobar drove a 1-1 slider near the dirt from Sale down the left-field line for a 2-1 lead. Escobar pumped his arms back and forth before clapping and pointing at his teammates in the dugout.

"You know this guy. Every pitch is nasty," said Escobar, once a minor league teammate of Sale's in the Chicago White Sox system. "I guess I made good contact."

Sale finished seven innings, the 12th time in 16 starts this season he has logged at least six. This was the 11th turn in which he's yielded two runs or fewer and his fifth double-digit strikeout performance. In his last three starts, he has allowed only 11 hits in 21 innings. Yet the Red Sox are only 8-8 with him on the mound.

"I'm not going to hang my head about it. I know these guys in here want to win. I know they're not doing anything different on my day," Sale said. "Maybe I'll bring popsicles or something for the boys."

REED RELIEF

Struggling Twins right-hander Addison Reed, who has appeared in only one of the previous six games, has been at least temporarily removed from his setup role. Zach Duke (3-2) took the eighth inning instead and, with two outs, surrendered Sandy Leon's tying single that drove in Devers.

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TRAINER'S ROOM

Red Sox: 2B Dustin Pedroia, who has played in only three games this season because of inflammation in his left knee, has still not been cleared for baseball activities since returning to the DL three weeks ago. The lack of progress has been concerning, Cora acknowledged. "It was major surgery. We didn't know what to expect. So we are where we are now, hoping that, yeah, he'll be back. When? We don't know," Cora said.

Twins: RHP Ervin Santana, yet to appear this season because of a slow recovery from surgery on his middle finger, threw a 35-pitch bullpen session before the game. He'll face live hitters on Friday, another step forward after his setback last month.

UP NEXT

Red Sox: LHP David Price (8-4, 3.76 ERA) pitches Wednesday night. He is 6-0 in his last seven starts, with two runs or fewer allowed in all but one of those, when he gave up three runs. Price is 10-3 with a 2.52 ERA in his career against the Twins.

Twins: RHP Lance Lynn (4-5, 4.98 ERA) takes the mound in the middle game of the series. He's 3-1 with a 2.01 ERA over his last five turns, with a .195 batting average against him and 30 strikeouts in 31 1/3 innings.

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