BOSTON — Some of the Red Sox’ dominance can be seen in what is unseen, in how well hidden excellent seasons have been.
Were he on another team and in another city, Xander Bogaerts might be gaining traction as the face of a franchise. But in Boston’s greater public eye, the shortstop is playing fourth fiddle, living in the welcome shadow of the J.D. Martinez and Mookie Betts, and even Andrew Benintendi. (Never mind any of the pitchers.)
The Killer B’s are back in full force, if that nickname still has any resonance. And Bogaerts is on his way to his most productive season as a major leaguer. Better than the shortstop’s 2016 All-Star year, which featured a second-half downturn. Healthier than his down 2017, which featured the same.
Bogaerts this series against the Indians is sharing the same field with MVP candidate Francisco Lindor. Lindor is a greater home run and steal threat, and therefore a better overall producer. But Bogaerts has nonetheless been a top-20 position player in the majors this season, as measured by FanGraphs’ wins above replacement, no small achievement.
After homering twice on Wednesday night as part of a 10-4 win that halted a three-game losing streak, Bogaerts said Lindor is not his motivation. But the MVP candidates around him are.
“I think my motivation is the team that we have and trying to be as good as all the other guys on the team,” Bogaerts said. “You don't want to stay back. I mean, we've got a couple guys, MVP [possibilities] on our team hopefully. That’s in the conversation, and I mean, you don't want to be too far behind them. You want to be somewhere close to them, and I think that's been really helpful for a lot of the guys in our lineup, to have those type of hitters on our team."
Bogaerts’ average sits at .282, his on-base percentage .357 and his slugging percentage .530. If the season ended Wednesday, the latter two numbers would be career-highs. His home run tally, 19, is two away from 2016’s high-water mark. And he’s one long ball away from doubling last year’s output.
Bogaerts looked visibly stronger in spring training. He said then that bulking up was part of his plan to maintain strength throughout the season. He hasn’t shed a ton of that weight, which, in his mind as well as his manager's, has been important to staying strong in the second half.
“I think the eating has helped with that,” Bogaerts said. “I’ve been eating pretty good. Not healthy, but a lot. And just trying to, as the season gets longer, don’t try to lose weight and lose some of that strength, as opposed to other years.”
On the menu: chicken and rice, Bogaerts said. He doesn’t look chubby, not by any stretch.
“It’s a good thing I’m bigger,” Bogaerts said. “I hope it’s the gym and not the food.”
Yet, he does feel a little weird with the extra pounds.
“No, I feel like I’m getting fat. I do,” he said. “So I got to hopefully go on a diet some time. Because I don’t feel like me.”
See, great shortstops, they’re just like you and me: under-appreciated and getting fat.