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Plenty of good things happening in what some may consider ‘lost’ season

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Cleveland Indians Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Sox probably aren’t going to make the playoffs. As we get closer to the end of the season, that’s something we should accept as reality. Is it what we expected? No, not really. Is it the end of the world? No … it just feels like it is. Remember, we will do this all again next season, regardless of if the Red Sox manage to pilfer an AL Wild Card spot this year or not (which looks less likely every day). It’s been a tough season and pretty much the polar opposite of the run we enjoyed in 2018. The rotation has been disappointing, the bullpen has been whatever’s worse than disappointing and some of the major stalwarts in the lineup have underperformed at times.

If it does end up being a “lost” season, it’s okay to admit that good things still happened. We aren’t talking about the Baltimore Orioles here. If you didn’t get excited about Rafael Devers absolutely lighting the league on fire at the plate this season, I don’t know what to tell you. If Xander Bogaerts emerging as a cornerstone of the franchise doesn’t get you going, that’s on you. If Christian Vázquez hitting more home runs this year than he has the last four years combined didn’t make you happy, it’s probably in your best interest to stop reading here.

When it comes to Devers, I’m not sure how it’s possible to avoid getting excited about what he has done to this point. At 22 years old, he is ranked in the top 10 in just about every major offensive category this year, including hits (168, 1st); extra base hits (77, 1st); RBI (102, T-1st); runs scored (103, T-3rd); batting average (.329, 6th) and slugging percentage (.591, 7th). According to the Red Sox, Devers is the first player under 23 with more than 100 RBI and 100 runs in the same season since Miguel Cabrera in 2005. Ted Williams (1939 & 1940) is the only other Red Sox player to accomplish that before turning 23. That’s Hall of Fame company and crazy talk for a kid who won’t turn 23 until October 24.

Devers is so young and so good, it almost takes the sting out of how tough this season has been. Almost. It is possible that this year could be a flash in the pan, as opposed to a benchmark of what we can expect in the future, but that’s getting harder and harder to believe. Devers’ natural progression from 2018 to 2019 also makes that “flash in the pan” theory hard to believe. After posting a strikeout percentage of 24.6% in 2018, he has dropped that drastically down to 16.1% this year. As Connor Bryne of MLB Trade Rumors pointed out recently, the lower strikeout numbers are even more surprising when you consider that Devers has had a more aggressive approach this season. He made contact with pitches outside the zone about 63% of the time between 2017 and 2018 and has made contact with over 70% of pitches he has seen outside the zone in 2019, per Bryne.

Devers has also seen a major jump in exit velocity as he’s currently ranked 9th in Major League Baseball with an average exit velocity of 94.3 mph and fourth in batted ball events with 425, per Baseball Savant. In 2018, he ranked 55th in average exit velocity (90.7 mph) and 157th in batted ball events with 331. It’s hard not to love everything Devers has done at the plate this season and it’s exciting to know that he will likely be in Boston for the foreseeable future. Even if 2019 does end up being a lost year for the Red Sox, it was anything but for Rafael Devers and that might be enough to get me through the offseason.

The same can be said for Bogaerts, who is headed toward career highs in doubles, home runs, RBI and slugging percentage after signing a six-year contract extension in Spring Training that will keep him in Boston through 2026, barring any trades. For me, Bogey emerging as a true leader was just as important to this team than his offensive success was. Earlier this year, Alex Cora went as far as to say that Bogaerts’ leadership has a lot to do with Devers’ success too, according to the Boston Herald, which is always good to hear. With Devers being under team control until 2024, the left side of the infield will look like this for a long time. Fine by me, as I wouldn’t trade it for any other shortstop-third base combo in the league right now.

When we talk about the good things we have seen from the Red Sox so far this season, we absolutely have to talk about Christian Vázquez. Years from now, the numbers likely won’t jump off the page at you, but anyone who has watched Vázquez since his debut in 2014 knows that this has been a special year for the 29-year-old, who has always been known solely for his defensive prowess. Vázquez has already surpassed his previous career highs in hits, doubles, home runs, and RBI with more than a month left in the season. Vázquez’s success was even more welcome considering the mess that was his position this year — with the Red Sox trading away Blake Swihart in April, while Sandy León produced next to nothing at the plate. It will be interesting to see if Vázquez can build on this success going into next season, but I am going to enjoy this one while it lasts.

The season as a whole hasn’t been easy or fun to watch and at this point, I am kind of looking forward to it being over. However, I am also choosing to enjoy the parts that have been enjoyable as much as I can, knowing the next baseball season is a long way away.