After taking the first two games in Boston, the Red Sox and Dodgers took Thursday to travel out west before picking things back up in Los Angeles. I’m sure players will appreciate the nicer weather on the left coast, but the weather isn’t the only change with the travel. These games will also, unfortunately, be played under National League Rules. This obviously means pitchers will be hitting — which, with Rick Porcello starting Game Three may not be that bad of a thing — and it also means the Red Sox lose their DH spot. Their typical nine-man depth chart has to be adjusted and someone has to take a seat. This isn’t the first time they’ve had to deal with this, of course, but during the course of the regular season it was an excuse to get some rest as Alex Cora was wont to do. That’s not an issue this time of year, and the decision is magnified.
The Red Sox manager made some waves before the series started when he intimated that a somewhat drastic measure could be made. With the implication that Mookie Betts could see some starts at second base, the Red Sox fan base was abuzz. This has been suggested for a couple years now, but it never seemed likely to happen. The superstar did see a bit of time there on an emergency basis earlier this year, but that was a perfect storm. That he could actually get a start there in a World Series Game? How could you not be excited?
This is, to me, one of the most fascinating Red Sox-related debates we’ve had in years, and that it’s even under consideration is a testament to the creativity of Cora and his unwillingness to close any doors. He’s going to consider every possible route and give each possibility its due time. The possibility of Betts playing second base has been discussed basically since the possibility of the Red Sox could play in the World Series became real, and it makes total sense.
My first reaction was slam dunk, no-doubt yes. It’s really not too complicated of an argument, either. Four of Boston’s best five position players are outfielders, which is fine with a DH but becomes a problem in NL parks. The only feasible way to get them all on the field for an entire game is to put Betts back at second base, where he spent his entire minor-league career. There is certainly some risk to put him back at this position, both with injury and defense, but he does take grounders there every day and it wasn’t that long ago that he was seen as a potential plus glove-man at the keystone position. Really, though, it’s all about getting the most possible talent on the field, and this is the easiest way to do it.
The excitement is starting to come down on this possibility, however, and Cora has said that it’s not going to happen on Friday at least. I’m still in the camp that the Red Sox should go this route, but I’m more understanding of the other side than I was before. For one thing, does the offense get that much better with Betts at second base? Boston was never going to lose his bat or J.D. Martinez’ bat unless an injury came into play — more on that in a second — and the playing time really came down to either Jackie Bradley Jr. or the second baseman of the day. With Walker Buehler scheduled to start for L.A. on Friday, that means Brock Holt. On the whole I think Bradley might have a slight edge at the plate right now, but I’m not sure it’s any sort of huge advantage. With a lefty on the mound and Ian Kinsler in for Holt, I’m still not sure there’s any huge edge either way. Ultimately, the offense probably isn’t affected too much by this.
So, then we look at how the defense is affected. There are only two positions affected by this decision, as Martinez is almost certainly going to be in right field no matter what happens. There’s a chance they move Andrew Benintendi to center with Martinez in left and either Bradley or Betts in right, but that would surprise me. It seems everyone is most comfortable with Martinez in right and Bradley or Betts in center. So, it comes down to either A) Bradley in center and Betts at second, or B) Betts in center and Holt at second. In Games Four and Five (if necessary) with L.A. likely starting lefties, you could potentially swap Holt out for Kinsler in scenario B. With Holt in, I would venture a guess that the A-grouping is better defensively, but it’s hard to say for sure. It’s total speculation with Betts at second base at this point. Plus, the downgrade from Bradley to Betts in center field isn’t all that large if it exists at all. With Kinsler in, I’d guess that the B-grouping is better.
Then there’s the injury risk question. This had always been John Farrell’s biggest concern in playing Betts at second base, and it’s understandable. Betts can take all the ground balls at second base he wants to, and I’m sure he’s technically sound in that regard. However, turning double plays from that position with a runner bearing down on you is a different story. It takes good technique, and without it an injury could very well occur. There is a bit of managing scared with that logic, and generally that’s something I try to avoid — another example of this is never using your third catcher because you don’t want to end up in a situation with no backup catcher. That being said, as laid out above the advantage probably isn’t that big and Betts is too important a player to put in that situation.
We also have to talk about how Martinez fits into all of this, and he actually may make this all moot anyway. In Game One, Martinez rolled his ankle rounding second base on an RBI double, and he was still a little rough moving around on Wednesday. There is no guarantee he is going to start on Friday, as they don’t want him roaming right field if he can’t move. Having him stuck as a pinch hitter certainly isn’t ideal, but it’s a real possibility. Some will call for him to start at first base, and while that sounds great it isn’t going to happen. He has very little experience there and all of it in the low minors. Playing first base isn’t as easy as just picking up a glove. Tell ‘em Wash. It’s outfield or nothing for Martinez.
So, after all this, what would I do? I still think I lean towards going for the upside play and putting Betts at second base, but I also think I’m talking myself out of this. It’s starting to make more and more sense to start things off more traditionally, and if you need offense later in the game you can then transition to the alignment with Betts at second base. Really, though, I think the takeaway is to just trust Cora. Whatever he decides to do will probably work, just like all of his other decisions.