Red Sox

Mookie Betts was supposed to be next Andrew McCutchen, who now calls comparison 'laughable'

Mookie Betts was supposed to be next Andrew McCutchen, who now calls comparison 'laughable'

BOSTON -- Just 40 games into his major league career, Mookie Betts found himself in Pittsburgh, staring at the player many considered his doppelganger.

Pirates superstar Andrew McCutchen had to be honest. Was he supposed to know the 21-year-old? He barely recognized the name.

That was 2014. Five years later, McCutchen holds a very different view of the defending MVP.

"I've never done what he's done," said McCutchen. "For them to compare him to me, that's pretty laughable."

McCutchen is being too modest. Five years before Betts claimed the 2018 MVP award, McCutchen turned the trick for the Pirates with a very Mookie-like season: .317 average, 21 homers, 84 RBI, 27 steals. It came as part of a four-year run of top-five MVP finishes that also included a Gold Glove and four consecutive Silver Slugger awards.

In town with the Phillies while rehabbing a season-ending ACL tear, McCutchen reflected on all the ways Betts has surpassed him since becoming a household name and World Series champion in Boston.

"I've done all right. I've done all right for myself," McCutchen said. "But I think if anyone did what I did my MVP year, they probably wouldn't be winning an MVP nowadays. Mookie's doing exceptionally well. He's a guy who's not of tremendously big stature but generates a lot of power. He plays great defense. Plays great right field. He can do it all. He's fun to watch."

The McCutchen comparisons made sense as a Betts' best-case scenario because both five-tool players overcame a relative lack of size to post legitimate power numbers derived from lightning-quick hands while playing Gold Glove defense in the outfield.

That said, the 5-foot-11, 195-pound McCutchen is clearly bigger, stronger, and thicker than the 5-9, 180-pound Betts. Picture the difference between former Patriots running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Dion Lewis.

"He's gotten to the point now in his career where if he's not hitting .330 with 40, driving in 100 and scoring 100 runs, it's a down year," McCutchen said. "You look back at that, and you know you're doing something good. I'm sure people are saying he's having a subpar season this year. Ultimately, he isn't. He's actually having a really good season, but just maybe not like his MVP year. He's gotten to that point where people expect him to do well and do better than well. That means he's doing something really good and something really special."

McCutchen reached the majors in 2009 at 22 and was an All-Star two years later. Betts followed a similar progression, except he debuted at 21 before becoming an All-Star in 2016 at 23.

"He's only what, 26?" McCutchen asked. "He's only 26 years old and he's doing the things he's done and still has a lot of years left to play. It's safe to say he's going to have a pretty good payday when the time comes.

"You can't help but see and hear about him, just because of what he has done, because of the World Series last year and winning the MVP. You're going to hear his name, you're going to see him. The guy's bowling 300s. He's out there and he's done a lot in his career thus far. Like I said, a special talent."

One area where the two diverge is earnings. McCutchen's teammate, Bryce Harper, is already on record that he hopes Betts tops his $330 million contract when he reaches free agency next year. McCutchen signed a $51 million extension with the Pirates in 2012 and is currently playing on a three-year, $50 million deal with the Phillies. Betts could end up tripling his career earnings, especially since McCutchen hasn't held up as well since making his most recent All-Star team at age 28 in 2015.

"He deserves it, to say the least," McCutchen said. "There's not many people doing what he's done, putting up the numbers he's put up. So the contract should reflect that. I'll be happy for him when he does get that deal, and hopefully, it's not too hard for him. Hopefully, someone gives him what he deserves and go from there. He's just going to keep getting better."

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Yankees officially clinch AL East title, end Red Sox' three-year streak

Yankees officially clinch AL East title, end Red Sox' three-year streak

The Yankees have had the American League East crown in the bag for a while now, but they officially got the job done on Thursday.

With a 9-1 victory over the Angels, the Yanks clinched the division to end the Red Sox' three-year streak of AL East titles. It's the Bronx Bombers' first time finishing atop the division since 2012.

The win also marked the Yankees' 100th of the season, making them the second team to reach that mark this year behind the Astros.

As New York looks ahead to the playoffs, the defending champion Red Sox find themselves on the brink of elimination with two weeks remaining in the season.

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Eduardo Rodriguez quest for 20 wins might be only reason left to watch Red Sox

Eduardo Rodriguez quest for 20 wins might be only reason left to watch Red Sox

BOSTON -- The quest for 20 continues.

The Red Sox have nothing left to play for except pride and individual achievements, and they've crossed a few off the list recently with 50 doubles each for Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers, 30 homers for Devers, and 130 runs for Mookie Betts.

The biggest item on the to-do list, however, might be getting left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez to 20 wins, a plateau last reached by a Red Sox starter during Rick Porcello's Cy Young-winning 2016 season, when he went 22-4.

E-Rod improved to 18-6 on Thursday with six innings of one-run ball in a 5-4 win over the Giants, and the run was unearned. The victory didn't come without some palpitations, however, as the visitors loaded the bases with nobody out in the ninth and the Red Sox leading 5-3.

Closer Brandon Workman escaped the mess largely of his own making by walking in one but eventually striking out the side to keep Rodriguez on track for what would be one of the more improbable 20-win seasons in team annals.

"He's had a hell of a season," Workman said. "He's thrown the ball really well. I think he's knocking on the door of 200 innings as well. So if he can be 20 wins, 200 innings, that's benchmarks in two different areas for starters. So that would be incredible."

It hasn't been a fluke, especially not recently. Rodriguez struggled early in the season to command his fastball up in the zone, but once he recognized the damage he could do above the letters at 95 mph, especially when paired with a vicious changeup below the knees, he took off.

He struck out 10 on Thursday and walked only two, lowering his ERA to 3.53, which is good for seventh in the American League. He has two starts remaining to win two games and throw the final 8.2 innings he needs to reach 200 for the first time.

"He's been outstanding," said manager Alex Cora. "What else can we say? It's been going on for a while. Now you see the strikeouts way up there and the walks staying low. He's put in a great season."

Rodriguez is slated to start Tuesday in Texas and then at home against Baltimore in the season finale a week from Sunday. If he wins the first start, he'll be given every opportunity to claim the second, which would come against the team that signed him as an amateur free agent in 2010 before trading him to the Red Sox for reliever Andrew Miller in 2010.

Rodriguez is also virtually guaranteed to surpass the 200-strikeout threshold for the first time, because he sits at 199.

"I mean, I have two more starts and just go out there and try to do the best I can and give us a chance to win those games," Rodriguez said. "Just go out there and perform and try to be good again. At the beginning of the season, I was really thinking, go 200 innings. That was all my goal this year, go 200 innings, 30-plus starts and I made the 30-plus already so now I'm looking for the 200 innings. 200 strikeouts, that's something you can't control. You go out there and execute the pitches and if they swing and miss, they strike out, so if it happens, it happens."

Rodriguez returned to that phrase when it comes to 20 wins, but Cora said the rest of the team is intent on helping him get there.

"Twenty wins is something the guys are pushing for me right now and if it happens, it happens," Rodriguez said. "You know how baseball is. You can have a game of one run or no runs and still get a no-decision. It all depends on how the games are going to go."

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