Red Sox

Rafael Devers is being used wrong by Red Sox, but they can get it right by leaving him at this spot in order

Rafael Devers is being used wrong by Red Sox, but they can get it right by leaving him at this spot in order

Mookie Betts or Andrew Benintendi? Andrew Benintendi or Mookie Betts? It turns out the answer might actually be, "None of the above."

How about Rafael Devers?

The question is who bats second for the Red Sox. Betts opened the season there and hit very well (.318-8-24-.943), but with Benintendi scuffling atop the order, manager Alex Cora opted to flip them. Since then, they haven't excelled as a pair, with the Red Sox struggling to score in the first inning, in particular.

Enter Devers. There's been a sabermetrically inspired trend over the last five years to bat your best hitter second, which informed the reasoning for putting Betts there. The Brewers utilize reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich there, as do the Angels with God among men Mike Trout. The Yankees bat Aaron Judge second when he's healthy, and the Marlins did the same with Giancarlo Stanton when he blasted 59 home runs in 2017.

Fully half of baseball's top 10 home run hitters bat second, including the top two -- Yelich (29) and Pete Alonso (26) of the Mets.

From Joey Votto to Alex Bregman, Kris Bryant to Paul Goldschmidt, Alonso to Jorge Polanco, some of baseball's best pure hitters and biggest sluggers now inhabit the two-hole, which used to be the domain of bat-control contact hitters like Marty Barrett and Scott Fletcher, or slap-hitting speedsters such as Ozzie Smith, Alan Wiggins, and Willie McGee.

Those days are gone. Recognizing the value of the extra 15 to 20 plate appearances a season that accompany each successive rung up the batting order, teams are constructing lineups with the two-hitter now occupying the role we used to associate with the third spot in the order -- the proverbial Best Hitter in the Lineup.

For the 2019 Red Sox, a case can be made that that hitter is Devers. He continued wearing out White Sox pitching on Wednesday by going 3 for 5 with a double and three runs. He went 8 for 13 in the series, raising his average to .322, good for second in the American League. Batting second in place of Benintendi for the last two games, Devers went 7 for 9 with four doubles.

After an April that saw him hit the ball with authority but directly into the ground, Devers has redeployed his cannons to aim for the horizon. Since his first homer on May 3, he's hitting .337 with 12 homers, 39 RBIs, and a .977 OPS. He hits virtually everything hard, which makes him the ideal candidate for this current iteration of the two-hole. Forget about moving runners, seeing pitches, and making contact. Devers is an impact hitter, and he's just the bat to pair with Betts atop the order and put maximum pressure on opposing pitching staffs.

"I like the at-bats," noted manager Alex Cora after Wednesday's demoralizing 8-7 loss. "Thank you for making me smile. Yeah. Good at-bats. Under control, too, and it seems there for a while he was swinging at everything when his average went down and now he’s back to controlling the zone, good swings, going the other way, running the bases. We might go that route."

That's in marked contrast to Benintendi, who's posting OK numbers out of the two-hole (.303-1-12-.809), but hasn't really flourished offensively, perhaps because he's playing through injury. The Betts-Benintendi partnership has produced some sleepy first innings -- the Red Sox rank 25th with just 36 runs, vs. eighth last year (98) -- and with the red-hot Devers batting second, he'd be guaranteed at least one at-bat a game with fewer than two outs.

Quick starts mean something because the Red Sox have had to fight tooth and nail for everything they've gotten this year, and putting an opponent in an immediate hole would mitigate that struggle.

Of course, the real problem atop the lineup at the moment is Betts, who's hitting only .185 out of the leadoff spot. But perhaps a more dynamic partnership could ignite him, and there are few more authoritative hitters in baseball at the moment than Devers.

The Red Sox open a two-game series in London against the Yankees this weekend. Might we see Devers batting second, with Benintendi lower in the order?

"We'll see on Saturday," Cora said with a smile.

Red Sox midseason report card >>

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Lou Merloni destroys MLB, players for bickering over 2020 return plan

Lou Merloni destroys MLB, players for bickering over 2020 return plan

As the NBA, NHL, NFL and MLS prepare to resume play in the near future, Major League Baseball still can't get out of its own way.

MLB reportedly rejected the Players Association's proposal Wednesday for a 114-game season in 2020 and apparently doesn't plan to make a counter-offer.

The league and the players have refused to budge on the issues dividing them: Players don't want to take an additional pay cut after agreeing to prorated salaries in March, while the owners are wary of extending the season too long due to the coronavirus pandemic and want players to agree to further reduced salaries to mitigate lost revenue.

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That stalemate has cost MLB valuable time, however, as the league doesn't appear close to beginning its 2020 regular season as the calendar turns to June.

So, who's to blame here? Lou Merloni believes it's everyone involved.

The former Boston Red Sox infielder ripped into both the league and the union Wednesday night during an appearance on NBC Sports Boston.

"Both sides suck, OK? That's the bottom line," Merloni said. "The Players Association comes back and says, 'Not 82 (games), we want 114' when they know that's the non-starter. The owners don't want to sit there and play until November. They're worried about the pandemic; they've got to get the playoffs in. And then the owners come back and say we're not even going to counter?

"Jesus, we're like a month into this thing. Can you string this thing out (any longer)? How about go in one room together and try to figure this out in a day or two?"

Compounding MLB's issue is that the NBA is expected to announce a return-to-play plan Thursday that would resume the 2019-20 season in late July. The MLS and NHL also have made headwinds toward resuming their seasons this summer -- which means baseball is wasting a much-needed opportunity to showcase itself as the only active pro sports league.

"I mean, you're running out of time and you're only screwing yourself. Even if baseball does come back, people have already said, 'I've had enough of you.' It's been like a month, a year, and you guys talk and bitch about this thing publicly. I don't give a crap anymore. I've got hockey, basketball, football is around the corner, hell, soccer is around the corner. I'm good.

"They don't even realize it! It's like they're in this bubble and they don't even realize what's going on around them right now. Figure this thing out: 70 games, 65, prorated (salaries), start playing some baseball, because your ass better be first coming back. If not, people are going to be done."

There's reportedly some optimism that the players and the union will resolve their differences and put a return plan in place. But with nearly one-third of the season already lost, the clock is ticking.

Check out Merloni's full comments in the video player above.

Who are the best designated hitters in Red Sox history? Ranking the Top 5

Who are the best designated hitters in Red Sox history? Ranking the Top 5

There's only one choice for best designated hitter in Red Sox history, but just in case there's any doubt, we'll quote broadcaster Dave O'Brien with the signature call from his WEEI days: "DAVID ORTIZ! DAVID ORTIZ! DAVID ORTIZ!"

No sense in even pretending there's any suspense on this one.

What's fascinating about ranking the Red Sox DHs, however, is just how few of them have actually held down the position for any length of time over the years.

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Only nine players have made at least 200 appearances there with the Red Sox since the DH was introduced in 1973, and four of them — Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Dwight Evans, and Manny Ramirez — have already appeared elsewhere in our outfield rankings.

That leaves five men to fill out the list, and about the only difficult omission is slugger Jose Canseco, who made 184 appearances between 1995 and 1996.

Click here for the Top 5 DHs in Red Sox history.