Red Sox

Red Sox

It's hardly fair to pick on a player based on two games, but in a 60-game season, two off performances basically equal a bad week.

And that brings us to Andrew Benintendi.

The Red Sox leadoff man has consistently underperformed expectations since the 2018 All-Star break. He hit the midway point batting .297 with 14 homers and 17 steals. Had he stayed on that trajectory, the third 30-30 season in Red Sox history would've been a possibility, albeit a remote one.

Instead, he went the other way, homering just twice and stealing four bases in the second half, his OPS plummeting from .897 to .727. The meh numbers continued last year, when he hit .266 with 13 homers and a .774 OPS, forcing us to reconsider his ceiling. Maybe he wasn't a future All-Star and batting champ, after all.

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This year was supposed to be different. Benintendi just turned 26 and is entering his fifth season. He was one of the breakout performers of spring training 2.0, hitting the ball with authority and earning rave reviews from manager Ron Roenicke, who left him in the leadoff spot despite Benintendi's struggles there last year.

Roenicke even gave Benintendi the start vs. left-hander Tommy Milone on opening day, choosing instead to bench left-handed-hitting right fielder Alex Verdugo in favor of veteran Kevin Pillar. The Red Sox pounded 17 hits in their 13-2 victory. None of them belonged to Benintendi, though he did walk and score twice.

On Saturday vs. the Orioles, Benintendi earned the start vs. right-hander Alex Cobb, and the results were worse. He went 0 for 5 and struck out twice, including leading off the first inning. He hit the ball hard once, lining out to third in a 7-2 loss.

 

He's now 0 for 9 with four strikeouts, two groundouts, and two harmless fly balls. With every three games in this truncated season worth eight games in a regular one, Benintendi will not be allowed to struggle in the leadoff spot for very long, especially with second baseman Jose Peraza delivering four hits on Friday and Verdugo debuting with three hits and a couple of aggressive baserunning plays on Saturday.

Baseball is not a game that's meant to be judged on two days -- the season has been called a marathon practically since Abner Doubleday laid out his first diamond -- but 2020 is obviously different. With eight clubs qualifying for the playoffs in each league, the final spots are almost certain to be determined by no more than a couple of games.

Struggling players will find themselves under the spotlight quickly, and Benintendi isn't alone. Rafael Devers is also hitless after striking out four times on Saturday. But unlike Devers, who already has a monster season under his belt, Benintendi remains in prove-it mode.

"I think you always press, especially at the beginning of the season," Roenicke said. "These guys were both swinging the bat well in preseason, Benny especially, but Devers was, too. And so you start the season and think you're just going to come right out and continue to get a lot of hits and then all of the sudden you get through the first game with no hits and start pressing a little trying to get that first hit.

"Once they get them, I think they'll relax and be the hitters that we know. But when you press, you chase balls out of the zone."

Roenicke added that, "Benny will be fine," citing his lineout as a good sign. While it feels ridiculous to call out a player this early, it's also the reality of the 60-game sprint, especially on a team that boasts four starting-caliber outfielders.

Produce right away, or risk giving someone else that chance in your place.