Thank the gods for (Don Orsillo-as-James Earl Jones-voice) NESN, and its reliably fantastic question of the day, especially for those who need column material. On Tuesday, NESN asked if Red Sox fans liked the way that All-Stars were selected, and 86 percent of them said no. It came the day after the Sox had only Brock Holt named to the All-Star team, with Xander Bogaerts added to the final player vote that was sure to be won by ballot-stuffing Kansas City’s Mike Moustakas.
It would be an understatement to call it a loaded question, but the results were still pretty staggering. The strong implication was that the last-place Red Sox were being shortchanged, and with the exception of Bogaerts and Clay Buchholz, it’s hard to see where there would be a strong case. It never occurred to me that Holt might be chosen; I preferred Koji Uehara for my own reasons, and others thought Junichi Tazawa was having a nice year.
Here’s the thing, though: You ought to know All-Stars when you see them. The beautiful thing about Holt’s selection, to me, was that it came out of completely nowhere, even as I was hyperaware of the value of his play and versatility. That Ned Yost chose him is perfect; I would expect Holt to hit the game-winning home run next week, especially given when he’d likely enter the game, given Yost’s good fortune in the face of his boiled-leather Ned Yost-ism.
Should Holt and the AL All-Stars pull off the win, the benefit would almost certainly redound to a team that is not the Red Sox. Almost certainly. Almost. There is still hope. And if Brock Holt can be an All-Star, why can’t the Sox make the playoffs?
The Red Sox are only five games behind the Yankees, who seem as determined as every other non-Red Sox team in the division not to pull away. The AL East is about to become the NFC East -- the divisional games are going to matter more than they have in years, and they are going to be ugly as hell. If there’s any good sign in the Sox’ mediocre first half, it’s that we know they are capable of winning ugly.
This season is just weird. Orsillo and Jerry Remy talked about it on Tuesday: what is it with the mental mistakes by and against the Red Sox this year? It’s possible that there are as many as ever, but I don’t know if that’s true. I also see no reason for it to continue, provided Hanley Ramirez mostly stays clear of the outfield. Dustin Pedroia has been as sure-handed as they come until this season, and he seems confused by it more than anything.
Photo credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
The only places defense has not been an issue are at shortstop and in center, where Bogaerts and Betts have been as good this year as I thought they'd ever be, and both have years and years ahead of him. It would seem possible that, no matter what either of them does in 2015, the Xander/Mookie debate just cannot be settled yet… though it’s certainly not for a lack of trying. Betts has been on fire recently, posting a 157 wRC+ in June, and actually outpaces Bogaerts on the season at 115 to 108 wRC+. Bogaerts is making it happen at shortstop, though, so it's not an apples to apples comparison.
Holt’s beating out both of them with a 125 wRC+, because he’s great.
"Great" is not a word you’d use to describe this year’s team, and I hesitate to apply it to Buchholz, despite his lofty place in the pitching WAR hierarchy. I don’t think it’s wrong, I’m just afraid to say much. As I wrote elsewhere Tuesday, the problem with this team is always going to be pitching, but the Sox have begun frantically tossing deadweight even as it has continued to pile up. Of the four pitchers I called basically interchangeable in April, only Wade Miley has really even survived to this point.
That’s not good, but it’s also in the past. More importantly, it could be in another team’s future, or more than one team’s future, and the cosmic scales could balance for the Sox to squeak into the playoffs. The beauty in this heretofore garbage campaign is that it only needs to tilt a tiny bit for the Sox to find themselves on top by the end of September.
It seems pretty likely that Holt is in the starting lineup to stay, or in the rotation of 10 or 11 players of whom the starting lineup is going to be comprised. He will be an active reminder of how inexplicable this sport can be, and why there’s no hope in moping before August if you can count the games back on one hand. Anyone who has watched the team recently knows how well they’re capable of hitting and how close they seem to breaking through.
Right now, their playoff percentage sits at 14 percent. I would argue that said 14 percent is considerably higher than anyone other than Brock Holt -- but likely including him -- thought were the chances of him making the All-Star team this year, but the little things just piled up and boom: there he was. You’ve got to be in it to win it, and Holt got himself in the big game. If the Sox can just follow his lead, and slowly pile up some wins, they may yet get to raise their arms in triumph.