Boston Red Sox

By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub

Way back when, before the season even began, we identified the most important members of the 2018 Red Sox. They needed at least two of the three to perform to expectations if they expected to make the jump from playoff participants to bona fide championship threats.

Well now here we are, 70 games into the season, and a night like Thursday in Seattle illustrates the difference between a good team and a potentially great one.

Yes, Xander Bogaerts and David Price, we’re talking about you.

Jun 14, 2018; Seattle, WA, USA; Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts (2) hits a solo-home run against the Seattle Mariners during the sixth inning at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s start with Price. The Seattle Mariners aren’t a great offensive team and they play in a big ballpark, but the end result is the end result. With Thursday night’s 2-1 victory, Price improved to 8-4 this season with a 3.76 ERA. In his last seven starts – since he was scratched from a schedule start in New York in what should heretofore be known as the “Fortnite Fiasco” – Price is 6-0 with a 2.64 ERA and the Red Sox have won all seven of his starts. The Red Sox are 22-10 during that stretch, which essentially means that Price has been the difference.

If the Red Sox had gone 3-4 in those starts – as they did in Price’s first seven starts of the season – the Red Sox would have been 18-14 in those games instead of 22-10. Big difference.

Take a look at Price’s highlights from last night, paying particular attention to the life on his pitches and his willingness to throw hard and inside on right-handed batters – as well as Price’s reaction after his final strikeout of the night. What we see here now is a pitcher who’s engaged and aggressive, more like the guy who pitched out of the bullpen late last year.

Will Price pitch this way the rest of the year? Only heaven knows. But this was a tight game on the road against a team that had been as hot (or hotter) as any team in the game.

Now to Bogaerts, who has generally failed to live up to his potential during his time in Boston. Has Bogaerts been a bad player? Of course not. But he has always had the potential to be a star at his position, and he’s ended up well short of that.

Again, nights like Thursday illustrated what he’s capable of.

First – the power. Aside from being one of the bigger ballparks in baseball, Safeco Field is notorious for possessing canyon-esque alleys to which the ball doesn’t carry as well. (Last season, when Rafael Devers hit his first career home run to dead center there, it caught everyone’s attention.) Thursday night, in a 1-1 game, Bogaerts blasted a solo home run against Felix Hernandez that proved to be the difference in the game. He then made a pair of nice defensive plays – the first is way better than the second – which you can see here:

Don’t look now, but Bogaerts has 10 home runs now – as many as he hit all of last year. (He has played in just 53 of the Red Sox’ 70 games.) His .845 OPS ranks fourth in the American League at his position, ahead of, among others, Houston’s Carlos Correa and New York’s Didi Gregorious. Only Baltimore’s Manny Machado and Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor have a higher slugging percentage than Bogaerts at his position. The Red Sox are 9-1 when Bogaerts homers.

Here’s the point: the Red Sox have their true superstars – Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, Chris Sale. Assuming health, those players are generally consistent. (We can all agree now that Martinez is legit.) But the players who ultimately may decide the success of the 2018 Red Sox are guys like Price and Bogaerts, talented but more inconsistent sorts who are capable of being difference-makers when the rotation or lineup starts to scuffle.

And Thursday night, lest we have forgotten, was concrete proof.

You can hear Tony Massarotti weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.

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