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Strong second half from Betts will hopefully key Red Sox surge

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Reigning MVP has been hot for the last month

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Boston Red Sox Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

As Mookie Betts goes, the Red Sox go. Yes, Boston has its share of stars — like J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, David Price and Chris Sale — who are all absolutely critical to the team’s success, but I will argue that there is no one more important to this team than Betts. And as he keeps heating up, don’t be surprised if his teammates continue to follow suit and it leads to a second-half surge that triggers a postseason berth. We can at least be optimistic, right?! What else do we have if not for a little optimism?

Betts has certainly had better seasons statistically speaking, but it’s unfair to compare anything to his 2018 MVP campaign when he posted a slash line of .346/.438/.640 with 32 home runs, 30 stolen bases (all career highs) and 80 RBI. But when things haven’t been going well for the four-time All-Star this year, they are usually going even worse for his team, which has posted an 11-16 record when Betts goes hitless. For perspective, the Angels are 13-15 when Mike Trout goes without a hit, the Padres are 11-13 when they don’t get a hit from Manny Machado and the Brewers are 8-14 when Christian Yelich goes hitless. I’m not saying that Betts is more important to the Red Sox than any of those other guys are to their teams, I just think it’s interesting how much they struggle when he does.

Now, I’ll admit that I have always been very much against Betts batting leadoff and was ecstatic when Alex Cora announced over the offseason that Andrew Benintendi would be taking over the top spot in the lineup and Betts would drop down to No. 2. Obviously, Cora’s experiment with Benny at leadoff (which I fully supported) did not go well and I wasn’t surprised to see it come to an end June 1. Mookie definitely seems to be a little more comfortable in the leadoff spot than Benintendi was, but I have always hated Betts hitting leadoff because it feels unwise to take RBI opportunities away from someone who is more than capable of collecting them at a rapid pace. However, it’s hard to disagree with the move when Betts is producing the way he is from the top spot, while Benintendi has proven that he may not be the world’s greatest leadoff hitter. At least not the way he’s swinging the bat right now.

Betts is currently in the midst of an nine-game hit streak and has a slashline of .279/.399/.468 since June 1. Those aren’t exactly the MVP-caliber numbers he has put up in years past, but an improvement over what Benintendi was doing from the leadoff spot (.267/.362/.438 with a 24.5 K% and 12.1 BB%). What’s more important is that Betts is helping the Sox get back to one of the things that made them so successful last season: scoring early. Boston has scored in the first inning in 12 of its last 16 games and Betts produced five singles, two doubles and a triple in the first inning of those 12 games.

Since that stretch started on June 25, the Red Sox lead the league in batting average (.318, Pirates are second at .293), OBP (.374), slugging percentage (.533) and wRC+ (133), but only have an 9-7 record to show for it. Yes, the pitching staff absolutely has to be better in order for Boston to make the playoffs and not even my good man Mookie Betts can fix those complex and diverse issues. That said, it’s comforting to know that the offense is at least what we thought it would be to this point. If the pitching staff can put together anything close to a consistently good stretch here, the offense can power this team into the postseason. If Betts can stay hot, I feel even better about Boston’s chances, but he can’t do it alone.