McCarthy: The Sox Shouldn’t Be Afraid of Playing Betts at 2B

By Matt McCarthy, 985TheSportsHub.com

Mookie Betts can do it all.

He can run, he can hit for power and average, he can throw, and he can field. And I’m certain he can play the infield.

I’m pretty much convinced he can do anything at this point. He’s that good.

But perhaps the Red Sox aren’t as sold on Betts' versatility as I am, or at least they weren’t ready to test it out on baseball’s biggest stage.

As the World Series shifts to Los Angeles, the Red Sox are faced with a dilemma: how to approach their crowded outfield with the loss of the designated hitter. If J.D. Martinez’s ankle is healthy enough to play the field, one of the starting outfielders is going to sit.

The only other option was to play Betts at second base. The Red Sox should have done it for Game 3.

There had been plenty of discussion in recent days about the Red Sox possibly trying Betts out at second at Dodger Stadium, returning him to his “natural” position. But Alex Cora squashed that discussion Thursday, saying he wouldn’t start Betts there.

Betts was drafted as an infielder and came up through the minor league system as a second baseman before moving to center field in 2014 while playing at Double-A Portland. That decision was made because he was blocked by Dustin Pedroia at the Major League level and the Red Sox felt he could play the outfield well.

It’s safe to say they got that one right.

Oct 17, 2018; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve (27, not pictured) is called out after a fan interfered with Boston Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts (50) catch during the first inning in game four of the 2018 ALCS playoff baseball series at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Friday night’s Game 3 presented an opportunity for Cora to get his best eight position players on the field by making a bold move, but he decided to play it safe.

With right-hander Walker Buehler scheduled to start for the Dodgers, Cora could have gotten a favorable matchup for the left-handed hitting Jackie Bradley Jr. Instead, Cora will likely sit Bradley, the ALCS MVP, for all three games in L.A. and play Betts in center with either Ian Kinsler or Brock Holt playing second base.

I don’t need to see Kinsler against a righty again, and Holt’s versatility and aptitude as a pinch-hitter makes him more valuable coming off the bench in the National League park than Bradley.

Betts wouldn't have spent long on the infield dirt. He could've stayed there until the flurry of substitutions and double switches in the middle-innings before moving back to the outfield.

But Betts could have handled the assignment, whether it was for five innings or nine innings. He played 14 games at second in 2014 after his call-up and saw action there in an August game against the Yankees. He looked smooth, perhaps because he still regularly takes ground balls before games to stay fresh.

But it looks like he won't be taking any real grounders in this World Series.

After Game 3, there will be little need to consider Betts for a start at second. The Dodgers are expected to go with left-handers in the final two games in Los Angeles, meaning the obvious choice for Cora is to sit Bradley, play Kinsler, and keep Betts in the outfield.

Perhaps the Red Sox were concerned about Mookie turning a key double play with a contact pitcher on the mound in Rick Porcello. Maybe they thought it wouldn’t be fair to ask a player who hasn’t seen regular action at the position in four years to handle the high-volume of defensive shifts in the game today. It’s not far-fetched to suggest that a normal player couldn’t handle some of those concerns.

But Mookie Betts isn’t a normal player. He’s the best player in baseball at the moment.

He can do it all. He could’ve done this, too.

You can hear Matt McCarthy on 98.5 The Sports Hub's own Hardcore Baseball podcast and on various 98.5 The Sports Hub programs. Follow him on Twitter @MattMcCarthy985.