Red Sox

Defending the Red Sox farm system, which has produced Michael Chavis and Marcus Walden

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Defending the Red Sox farm system, which has produced Michael Chavis and Marcus Walden

The Red Sox once boasted the most prized collection of minor leaguers in baseball. They were so good, someone just finished writing a book about it.

Many of those players helped the Red Sox win a World Series last year, from MVP Mookie Betts to left fielder Andrew Benintendi to third baseman Rafael Devers.

But trades and promotions have decimated the farm under president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, who cashed in on the system that former GM Ben Cherington used to jokingly note his successor would enjoy. Turns out he was right.

After dealing away everyone from Yoan Moncada to Michael Kopech to Travis Shaw to even Ty Buttrey, Dombrowski found himself with a barren system, at least according to the industry leaders in prospect evaluation.

Baseball America rated the Red Sox system 30th out of 30 entering the season. "We're dead last," left-hander David Price told the Boston Globe in New York last month while bemoaning the team's slow start.

Bleacher Report followed suit with another last-place ranking. Fangraphs placed the Red Sox 29th. ESPN's Keith Law was comparatively bullish, rating them 24th.

A funny thing happened on the way to a barren pipeline, however, as colleague Lou Merloni of WEEI noted the other night during a break in Early Edition. When the Red Sox needed an arm to round out the bullpen a week into the season, they tabbed veteran Marcus Walden, who spent most of last year at Triple-A Pawtucket. It has taken him only six weeks to emerge as one of Alex Cora's most trusted arms, and his six wins are tied for third in the American League. The 30-year-old career minor-leaguer might not be a traditional prospect — he was drafted in the ninth round of the same 2007 draft that saw teammate David Price go first overall — but he and his wipeout slider are a product of the system.

On the offensive side, the impact has been even more evident. It was only a little over a month ago that the Red Sox needed a body in Tampa, so they summoned slugging infielder Michael Chavis. There was no guarantee he'd even see any action, but he debuted in the ninth inning of a tie game on April 20 against flame-throwing closer Jose Alvarado and ripped a 99-mph fastball 401 feet to center for a double that spurred a 6-5 comeback.

Since then, all Chavis has done is hit .279 while smashing nine mostly tape-measure home runs with a .959 OPS. He has provided adequate defense at second base, brightened the clubhouse with some youthful enthusiasm, and helped transform a middling Red Sox offense into what is once again one of baseball's best.

Add a solid emergency relief appearance from Double-A left-hander Darwinzon Hernandez during a doubleheader vs. the Tigers (2.1 IP, 0 R, 4 Ks), and the miserable Red Sox farm system has actually provided a decent lift.

There could even be more help on the way. Third baseman Bobby Dalbec has caught fire at Double-A Portland while getting some reps at first base. He's hitting .304 with six homers and a 1.089 OPS in May, and could be an option for right-handed thump down the line if the Red Sox continue to get nothing from Steve Pearce.

So to recap: an increasingly valuable reliever, a Rookie of the Year favorite with an outside shot at making the All-Star team, a promising left-hander, and an intriguing power prospect, to name four.

The Red Sox farm system may lack name recognition, but it surely hasn't been short on results so far in 2019.

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Mookie Betts is smoking hot and could reach a milestone only two others have seen in 70 years

Mookie Betts is smoking hot and could reach a milestone only two others have seen in 70 years

BOSTON -- We all agree that Mookie Betts is having a so-so year. He didn't deserve to make the All-Star Game, he hasn't carried the Red Sox like he did a year ago, and his production is down across the board.

And yet, if he continues on his current pace, he will score more runs this season than all but five players in the last 70 years.

If that's a down year, then sign the Red Sox the bleep up.

With so much attention on Rafael Devers maturing into a destroyer of men, we've managed to overlook one of the most significant developments of the last month -- Mookie is very quietly getting hot again.

He blasted his first homer of the month as part of a torrid July that has seen him hit .431 with 18 runs in 11 games. Those runs are important, because they're the one part of Betts' game that has not suffered a whit.

He leads the majors with 86 runs in 95 games, and at his current pace would finish with 145. With a little bit of luck, he could join Jeff Bagwell with the 2000 Astros and Ted Williams with the 1949 Red Sox as the only two to reach 150.

The way Devers is going out of the No. 2 hole, there's an outside shot the leadoff man will become only the 20th player ever to reach that 150 mark. As it is, he just joined Teddy Ballgame in the franchise record books for most consecutive games with a run at 13.

"I mean, yeah. I think when anybody scores, good things happen," Betts said. "But I think you need somebody to kind of get on base in front of Devers and (Xander Bogaerts), I think it's a good chance I'm going to score."

Betts is now hitting .284 with 14 homers and 44 RBIs. That's a far cry from last year's batting title, but as manager Alex Cora noted, Betts has taken his walks all year, which suggests a solid approach. His on-base percentage stands at .399, and nowadays every baserunner in front of the scorching Devers represents an RBI opportunity.

"Aw, man. It's been a lot of fun," Betts said. "I have one job and it's just to get on base and let him kind of take care of the rest. So it makes my job a little easier. Obviously I may get a couple more pitches to hit because nobody wants to face him and that's part of the game."

Since moving to the No. 2 hole on June 25 and pairing with Betts atop the order, Devers has been playing on another level. The 22-year-old is hitting .397 with seven homers and 25 RBIs in 17 games, his OPS pushing 1.300.

Betts has been of the primary beneficiaries.

"It's been a long season, but things are kind of coming around," Betts said. "It seems I've learned what not to do."

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Chris Sale finally wins at Fenway Park and leaves Red Sox with reasons for optimism

Chris Sale finally wins at Fenway Park and leaves Red Sox with reasons for optimism

BOSTON -- Over the last year, Chris Sale has made all manner of starts at Fenway Park. He has allowed five runs and he has allowed zero runs. He has struck out 17 and he has struck out one. He has pitched with playoff seeding on the line and nothing at all at stake. He has dazzled and he has disappointed.

The one thing he hadn't done, until Thursday afternoon vs. the Blue Jays, was earn a win.

It's hard to believe that one of the best pitchers in Red Sox history could own such an ignominious record, but here it was — no one had made more consecutive starts at Fenway Park (13) without a victory than Sale.

The Red Sox had won five of them anyway, including two when Sale went at least six innings without allowing an earned run, so it's not like he had pitched terribly. Wins are context-dependent and not necessarily an accurate reflection of a pitcher's performance. But come on — we're talking about Chris Sale! For him to go more than a year between Fenway victories (his last coming on July 11, 2018 vs. the Rangers) is practically unfathomable.

The Sale who ended that streak on Thursday may not have looked exactly like his vintage self, particularly as he searched to find his fastball velocity and command in the early innings. But he produced vintage results over six shutout frames, striking out 12, hitting 96 mph late, and putting an end to a run of futility that was beginning to make him wonder when the madness that is his underachieving 2019 season would end.

"I think this year has just kind of been all over the place," Sale said. "I've been as bad as I've ever been in my career and I've also had some of the best games I've ever had in my career this year. So it's one of those things, it's more confusing than anything. Kind of all over the map. You go out there, and 17 strikeouts, complete-game shutout and then games when I'm not even getting out of the fourth inning. It's just more confusing. I feel like there are times when I'm racking up strikeouts but I'm also sitting there in a five-run hole. It's like one thing but not the other, or two things, but not the third one. It's just about doing it all at the same time and getting the results you need."

Facing a Blue Jays team that had pounded him in three previous starts this season, including the home opener, to the tune of a 7.98 ERA, Sale varied his pitch mix with electric results. His fastball sat at 91-92 mph in the early innings while he relied extensively on a sweeping slider and darting changeup. He struck out the side in the first and had 12 Ks through five.

As the game wore on, his velocity increased, too, nearing 97 mph on his final strikeout of the game to end the fifth. With the Red Sox comfortably leading 4-0, he was lifted after 101 pitches and the bullpen brought it home without incident for once.

And just like that, Sale finally could call himself a winner in Fenway Park.

"Long overdue," he said. "Nobody else to blame but myself, but obviously glad to get this one out of the way and now we can just focus on what's ahead and keep the ball rolling and have a happy flight, get on the plane and get down to Baltimore and start off on the right foot down there."

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