It's clear the Red Sox’ lineup will carry the team this season if they're in playoff contention, as demonstrated in Monday’s 8-0 win over the Phillies. But, when it comes to the lineup, the player that is most important may not be who everyone thinks.
Nope, it’s not David Ortiz. Not Mike Napoli. Or even newcomers Hanley Ramirez or Pablo Sandoval. It’s Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia.
The lead off and two-hole hitters need to get on base in order to maximize the potential of the heart of the Red Sox order. This is something they didn’t go so well in 2014.
Last season the Red Sox’ first and second hitters in the lineup batted .265 for the season, which was 15th in baseball. In terms of on-base percentage it was worse as they had an OBP of .318, which was 19th in baseball. It clearly had an impact on Napoli as he went from having 92 RBIs in 2013, to only 55 in 2014.
By comparison, in 2013 the Red Sox’ No. 1 and No. 2 hitters combined for an .295 batting average and a .355 on-base percentage, both second in all of baseball. The top of the order’s success certainly played a major part in the Red Sox winning the World Series that season.
There’s little doubt that if Betts and Pedroia can get on base they will be driven in. Ortiz is a career .299 hitter with runners in scoring position, and he isn’t the only player in the lineup who has a good success rate. Sandoval is .294 for his career, including .291 last year, while Ramirez is .298 for his career and that includes a .321 mark in 2014.
On Monday, the Red Sox finished with nine hits. Betts and Pedroia had five of them, including three home runs. Granted, the power isn’t likely to continue, the hits and getting on base are what count.
"I'm back to who I am," Pedroia, who had wrist surgery last year, told reporters. "I could tell in the offseason I was healthy and back to normal."
Pedroia isn’t the only one feeling good as the season kicks into full gear.
“It feels kind of normal now,” Betts said to reporters before the game Monday. “That I got to play last year, then had the offseason to think about it, and coming to big league spring training, it’s kind of normal now. I got used to it.”
Scoring eight runs and winning 8-0 is certainly a great way to open the season, but it was how the Red Sox did it that gives even more promise going into the year. Betts and Pedroia set the table, and led by Ramirez (5 RBIs), they were driven in.
Judging by a home run derby breaking out in Game 1 of 162, it will be a fun year with Betts and Pedroia leading the way.