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At least they haven't quit

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It's a little early to be issuing final report cards on position players, but it's not too early to make progress reports on a position by position basis, so here goes.


I'll say this for the 2019 Red Sox: they haven't quit.

Things have not gone well this season, not by a long shot. But the team has hung in through all the disappointments and kept plugging away. There is something to be said for that. The Sox stumbled coming out of the gate and it was apparent early on that this was not going to be a replay of the magic carpet ride of 2018.

If someone had told you back in March that Eduardo Rodriguez would fulfill his potential of becoming one of the American League's elite pitchers and a genuine threat to win 20 games -- something that is not accomplished very often in this day of five man rotations, pitch counts, and manager's quick hooks -- and that Rafael Devers would emerge as a bonafide star at the age of 22, you'd have started saving up for World Series tickets right on the spot. But if that same someone also said the ace of your staff, Chis Sale, would compile a less than mediocre record of six wins and 11 losses before being shut down for the season; that David Price would be injury-prone and win only seven games as of the second week in September; that Rick Porcello's evil twin would show up for half of his starts; and that Nathan Eovaldi would go down early in the season with a bad elbow, never hit his stride upon returning, and have but a single win going into the home stretch, you'd have put a hold on that World Series ticket order and gone into a deep depression. And who could blame you?

Give the Red Sox credit, though, despite the fact that the starting pitching (with the notable exception, of course, of Rodriguez) has been in total disarray all year, they have hung in there and have managed to stay in the conversation all season long, if not for the Eastern Division championship, at least for the wild card. It would have been easy to just pack it in and do the old "wait'll next year" routine, especially after that late July and early August eight game losing skid. But they didn't. To borrow from an old Dorothy Fields lyric, they picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and started all over again. That takes character. It also take leadership, for which Alex Cora deserves real credit. The Sox have never split into factions, never bickered among themselves and never just mailed it in. They've fought every step of the way.

On the other hand, neither have they been able to put together an extended period of winning baseball. Every time they have seemed on the brink of going on a winning binge they've stumbled, again. There is a reason for that: you can't win without good pitching. When four-fifths of your starting rotation is performing at a below-average -- in some cases way below average -- rate, you're not going to win enough in the long run -- no matter how good your offense might be. And, make no mistake about it, the Red Sox offense is very, very good.

It's a little early to be issuing final report cards on position players, but it's not too early to make progress reports on a position by position basis, so here goes.

First base has been handled pretty much by committee this year. Mitch Moreland, Michael Chavis, and Sam Travis have been the most prominent committee members, and they've been pretty good, but is that good enough? Then there is also Steve Pearce -- anyone remember Steve Pearce? Last year's World Series MVP has been this year's MIA. He's been hurt all year and unable to contribute much when healthy.

At second base Brock Holt, always a fan-favorite, has been a wonder. He's hitting more than .300, been terrific in the field, and seems -- for this year, anyhow -- like the second coming of Dustin Pedroia.

Rafael Devers is at third base, hopefully, for years to come. He does not look to me like a flash-in-the-pan; he seems to be the real deal, a consistent .300 hitter with power and a superstar in the making.

Shortstop -- Xander Bogaerts is rock-solid. He's a Bobby Doerr kind of player, totally dependable in all situations, offense as well as defense, and a real leader by example. The Red Sox were wise to sign him to a long term deal this past off-season.

In left field Andrew Benintendi is a good, really good player, but I've always felt like he could be even better. Maybe because his swing is so pretty that he looks like he should be hitting .300 plus every year instead of in the .280-.290 range.

Jackie Bradley, Jr. is one of the best center fielders in baseball, but at the plate he's below average although capable of going on streaks that make you forget about all those weak ground balls to second base.

Mookie Betts owns right field, not just in Fenway Park but also throughout the American League. He is the gold standard for that position. He got off to a painfully slow start this year and was still hitting in the .260s at the all-star break, but his average and power numbers have steadily climbed since then and show no signs of letting up.

Catcher Christian Vazquez has been terrific, hitting around .280 all year before dropping off lately, as happens often to catchers as the wear and tear of the long season grinds on. Sandy Leon is Vazquez's capable substitute; he's an elite catcher but he can't hit.

J.D. Martinez is the designated hitter, now and, we should fervently hope, in the future. Anyone who hits .300 and in the 40 home run range every year is a prize worth keeping. We should all say a prayer every night that that's what the Red Sox will do -- find a way to keep him.

There is no need to revisit the car wreck that is the starting pitching; besides, I'd just as soon not get depressed all over again. It should be noted, though, that in the bullpen Brandon Workman and Darwinzon Hernandez have been great.

So, while this season has not been a great one by any means, the team as a whole has given it its best shot. The results don't look like they're going to be what we were hoping for, but they never bailed out on us.

- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox “Poet Laureate” and The Pilot’s recently minted Sports’ columnist.

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