There may be no more encouraging words to Alex Cora's ears than these: Rafael Devers is about to get hot.
Devers was hardly the story after a 12-2 bludgeoning of the Twins on Thursday, not with Chris Sale hitting 98 mph and throwing an immaculate inning, or Bobby Dalbec launching two home runs and driving in seven, or Kyle Schwarber continuing his mastery of the strike zone with a double and four walks while sneaking in his debut at first base, or even Matt Barnes escaping the ninth inning unscathed in his first low-leverage appearance.
But as it relates to the short- and long-term success of this season, no player can more directly decide Boston's fate than the young All-Star third baseman.
Devers certainly did his part on Thursday, going 2 for 5 and socking his 30th home run while driving in three and pushing his RBI total to 94, just three behind AL leader Jose Abreu of the White Sox.
It's not as if the performance continued a recent streak of statistical dominance. Devers hadn't homered in nearly two weeks, and he entered the contest batting just .133 in his previous eight games.
But there's little question the quality of his at-bats has noticeably improved in recent days, from three walks in his previous two games, to a clutch game-tying double vs. the Rangers on Monday with the Red Sox down to their last out, to Thursday's blast.
And that's the kind of momentum that gets Cora excited.
"I bet he's about to get hot," Cora said. "(Thirty) is a big number, obviously. I think he'll be able to breathe. I don't know if he was trying to hit it, but he got it out of the way."
|Rafael Devers stats||AVG||RBI||BB||OPS|
|Last four games||.294||5||3||.988|
|Previous four games||.000||0||0||.000|
Because he's not a surprising newcomer like Kiké Hernández or Hunter Renfroe, and because he's not an established veteran like Xander Bogaerts or J.D. Martinez, Devers often slips through the cracks when evaluating the Red Sox. But make no mistake, he's the most feared hitter in the lineup, a man capable of hammering pitches both inside and barely within hailing distance of the strike zone.
He consistently produces the loudest contact on the roster, and it's easy to forget that he's only 24 years old and still figuring out exactly how dangerous he can be.
"For all his struggles the last three weeks, I see a guy that is actually maturing as a hitter, controlling the strike zone, understanding what's going on around him on the field and the scoreboard," Cora said. "Yeah, he'll go through stretches where he's very aggressive, gets upset, slaps his helmet, but that's the beauty of Raffy. He cares. He's just a special player."
Cora doesn't believe Devers remotely gets his due, at least not to the level of young stars commanding headlines like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Blue Jays, Fernando Tatis Jr. of the Padres, or Juan Soto of the Nationals.
"Not too many people put him in the conversation of Vladdy and Fernando and Soto," Cora said. "He's still 24, man. He led the league in extra-base hits in '19. Now he has 30 home runs, 90-something RBIs, and he keeps getting better. It's a pleasure watching him every night and managing him."
If Devers is indeed about to get hot, then he can carry a lineup. With the Red Sox in a dogfight for the final wild card spot, Devers is capable of delivering the kind of production that forges a path straight to October.