By the end of the 2nd inning, Fenway Park was buzzing. The home team’s 9-hitter had just rocked a three-run homer to the rising outfield seats, and the Boston Red Sox were on their way to a rout. By the end of the cool mid-May night, the Sox had dismantled the Oakland Athletics 13-3, showering the miserable road team with 17 hits. The Boston offense was an army -- and at its helm, three fiery commanders: Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley, Jr., and Mookie Betts.
The road to Boston’s youthful success has been bumpy; after winning the 2013 World Series, their next two seasons were ruinous. The front office handed out a few massive contracts, most notably to Hanley Ramirez (4 year/$80 million) and Pablo Sandoval (5 year/$100 million) in 2015. But even with an influx of new talent and two accomplished infielders, last season was disappointing; the Red Sox finished in 5th place for the second straight year, and Ramirez and Sandoval’s stats dwindled far below replacement level -- they both finished 2015 with a negative WAR.
Who steps up now?
Plagued with offensive struggles and a thin pitching staff, Boston entered this season skeptical and incomplete, even with the mega-signing of LHP David Price (7 year/$217 million) and the splashy trade for closer Craig Kimbrel. With big names and talents across the board and David Ortiz entering the final season of his career, the Sox -- or "Sawx,” rather – were eagerly, yet cautiously, squinting at a bright season ahead. But in a talented, unpredictable division home to teams hungry and hardened -- the Toronto Blue Jays -- and lurking in Darkhorse County -- the Baltimore Orioles -- the Red Sox would need contributions from elsewhere. From the smaller contracts on the team.
So, enter the new Big Three of Boston.
In an era of sabermetrics and attentive focus on player efficiency, the Red Sox own three of the most valuable offensive pieces in the Majors today; Bradley, Bogaerts, and Betts all sit in the Top 10 WAR rankings for A.L. position players. With their bats, they’ve added energy, clutch hitting, and speed to a now imposingly dynamic offense – one that leads the A.L. in hits, runs, batting average, and slugging.
A small big three
What might drive the fascination of this new big three -- or for the history nuts, “Boston Three Party” -- is the comparability between Bogaerts, Bradley, and Betts. While Mookie – in tradition of contact hitting leadoff men – stands at 5’9’’, neither Xander nor Jackie stand above 6’1’’. All three appear small and speedy, and they each have sneaky swings that can loop RBI singles in front of Pesky’s Pole and smack home runs over the Green Monster. Not to mention the 29 and 26 game hit streaks by Bradley and Bogaerts. The Boston Three Party are also three of MLB's best hitters at simply driving in runs -- they all rank in the Top 10 for RBIs with runners in scoring position.
Bogaerts, Betts, and Bradley aren’t a big three for the simple sake of being good hitters. You could couple together any three hitters from any team and declare them a “big three,” or the hard iron core of their club, or even “the three amigos.” Chances are they don’t also have the baserunning, hustle, or fielding prowess of the Boston Three Party. Though fielding is notoriously difficult to judge through current stats, Betts and Bradley have sparkled in the outfield so far -- they each have five outfield assists, and Mookie has a 1.000% fielding percentage.
Kids of the future
It’s clear that Bogaerts, Bradley, and Betts (oh my) collectively own more of the complete packages in Major League Baseball’s current climate. They each hone multiple tools, and have especially augmented the Boston offense with splendid hitting. Bogaerts leads the majors with a .355 average and 94 hits, while Bradley and Betts have flourished with the mix of .300-ish hitting and home run paces from the high 20s to low 30s. However, the true reasoning behind this gang’s big three metamorphosis lies in the future -- the next five years of historic Boston baseball. Betts and Bradley won’t be entering the fray of free agency until after the 2020 season, and Bogaerts won’t hit the market until after 2019. All three members of Boston’s future core are young, flourishing in their mid-20s -- and they’re only going to get better.
As a sports city, Boston can be relatively ruthless. Expectations are always high, and with the retirement of David Ortiz -- who's having a monster year, by the way -- and the duds of 2014 and 2015, the Red Sox are hoping to make a strong step into a new era. The old gods of Big Papi, the 86-year curse, and three titles in ten years are beginning to dwindle. But a new light is about to shine on the chapel of Fenway Park in the form of youth, talent, and speed. Bogaerts, Bradley, and Betts won’t just bring a new energy to the Sawx, but rather a new hope for dynastically championship caliber baseball. If all goes well, the Red Sox could zoom into their new chapter with more talent than anyone. And if the Boston front office can avoid the craving of exorbitant contracts for aging stars -- and instead build around the likes of their new big three -- they can create a contact hitting, base stealing, web gem snagging juggernaut.
Oh my, indeed.