The Red Sox are playing good baseball this October. Clearly, this isn’t all that much of a surprise since they are the most successful regular-season Red Sox team in history and they rolled through all sorts of competition all year. Still, the playoffs are a different beast and so far, so good. They’ve won five of their first seven games in October, and they’ve done so with a well-rounded performance. The starting pitching has given them some great games, specifically from Nathan Eovaldi and Rick Porcello. The offense has given them some strong efforts, highlighted by the cycle game from Brock Holt in Yankee Stadium and Tuesday night’s outburst in Houston that included Jackie Bradley Jr.’s grand slam as an exclamation point. The bullpen has also been outstanding, outside of Craig Kimbrel, and has held on to close leads in crucial moments. For the most part, wherever they’ve looked to for help, they’ve gotten it.
The one strange part of this run has been how the offense is coming to be. Boston had the best lineup in baseball this year by the numbers, but it wasn’t exactly a balanced attack for most of the year. They were incredibly top-heavy, and if the stars weren’t performing then offense likely wasn’t coming. That hasn’t really been the case this October, as some of the bottom-half-of-the-lineup hitters have stepped up in different moments. Guys like Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi have certainly had their moments, but it hasn’t been all star-power early on. Specifically, J.D. Martinez still hasn’t really put his stamp on this postseason, for lack of a better term.
Now, that’s not to say Martinez hasn’t had any big moments. In fact, his very first appearance in October was a big one. In the first inning of the first game of the ALDS agains the Yankees, the Red Sox slugger helped Boston get on the board early with a huge three-run home run to jump out to the early lead. That was a big play in that game, as Boston went on to win 5-4. Since that game, however, Martinez hasn’t been great. That was his only multi-hit game of the postseason, and in the six games following that Game One he has a .560 OPS. The slugger’s double on Tuesday was also his first extra-base hit since the homer, and even that one was more about placement than being hard hit. Of course, they all count the same.
None of this is to say we should be worried about Martinez or anything, but rather that it’s just....weird. Perhaps the most impressive quality of Martinez’ game this season was his consistency, as he avoided stretches like this pretty much all year. In fact, over the entire regular season he had just one six-game stretch with an OPS of .560 or lower, with that one coming in early September. He also never had an OPS below .898 in any single month of the year. To put it more concisely, he’s too good not to snap out of this mini-funk soon.
I realize, of course, that none of this is super controversial. I mean, even conservatively Martinez is one of the five best hitters in all of baseball, and he’d probably rank in the top two or three if you really dig into it. (I’d only put Trout above him for sure, and I’d listen to arguments on guys like Judge and Votto, not that you asked.) Guys like that just don’t stay down very long. It doesn’t hurt that, if you look at the upcoming schedule, Martinez is slated to play against some fastball-heavy pitching. This is very good news for the righty in particular, as in 2018 he was the second-best hitter in baseball against fastballs, trailing only Mookie Betts. That’s according to Fangraphs’ pitch value metrics.
Of course, we have to mention that we aren’t talking about any fastball pitchers here. These are the cream of the crop, and those kind of numbers don’t necessarily translate when we talk about the elite. Charlie Morton is set to pitch Game Four for Houston, and he pitched to a 3.13 ERA in 2018. Then, Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole pitch the next two games. These are two legitimate Cy Young candidates who have already had success against Martinez twice in this series. Still, all three of these pitchers throw fastballs at least half the time, and that is the type of pitcher against whom Martinez can thrive.
The Red Sox have shown thus far that they don’t need Martinez to slug like a mad man to win games. They’ve done it already this October. That said, it would be a lot easier if he did. It just feels like a breakout has to come soon after watching how consistent he was through the regular season. He’s not the type of hitter that stays down for much longer, and the pitchers coming up are the kind of fastball-heavy arms against whom Martinez can thrive, even when you consider their immense talent. So, I’m calling it. Martinez ends Game Four with at least six total bases and at least three RBI. Let’s do it.