BOSTON Daniel Nava is back in the leadoff spot for the Red Sox tonight against the Tigers for the third straight game.And why not?He has hit in the first spot the last two games, and four times overall in his career. The Sox have won all four games. The last time the Sox won as many of a players first games in the lead-off spot was Steve Lyons first six starts leading off from May 27 through June 9, 1985.Nava had the big hit in the Sox 6-3 win over the Tigers Tuesday night, a two-out, bases-loaded double in the third off Justin Verlander to score all three runners.Thats what you try to teach a player, manager Bobby Valentine said. When the moment is intense, to slow it down. You keep hearing that, that you want to breath and not have things spin too quickly. It seemed like he was all of his at-bats. That at-bat didnt look any different than any of his other at-bats, which is pretty damned phenomenal I think.In 19 games this season, Nava has a .429 on-base percentage. He has reached base safely in 17 of those games.Hes had a pretty good on-base percentage all his life, Valentine said. So he has an ability to see the ball, to not get out of himself.Nava did not even receive an invitation to spring training after spending all of 2011 in the minor leagues despite making his major league debut and playing 60 games the previous season. Valentine has said the switch-hitting outfielder was not even on his radar this spring.Since being called up on May 10, he has started each game in left field.Daniel, his defense has been so good, Valentine said. Hes playing the wall so well. His throws are so accurate. His jumps are so precise. He wouldnt even have to be hitting if you wanted to put him out there because at the beginning of the season that wasnt the case in left field, as some of us might recall. He filled a big hole.Valentine pointed to Nava, along with shortstop Mike Aviles and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, as providing some much needed, and perhaps unexpected stability to the team.Mike Aviles and Salty and Daniel could have created a real different situation if they werent playing as well as theyre playing, Valentine said. We had stability with Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz and Adrian Gonzalez. But if there wasnt stability at those starts, this would be more challenging than it is. Theyve been great.
Despite still being owed more than $42 million after this year, Pablo Sandoval's days with the Red Sox appear numbered. So, it's no surprise that landing a third baseman at the trade deadline is a priority.
That's among the "major upgrades" the Sox are seeking by the July 31 deadline, MLB.com columnist Mark Feinsand reports.
Column: Red Sox seeking help at the hot corner; plus trade deadline items on Blue Jays, Angels, Braves and more. https://t.co/koIl74F762— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) June 22, 2017
With Sandoval now on his second disabled list stint of the season - this time with an ear infection - after turning into what Feinsand calls "a horror tale for the Red Sox," and with fill-ins Josh Rutledge and Deven Marrero holding down third, it's apparent that the position is a glaring need.
"Sandoval is basically a non-entity at this point," a source told Feinsand. "They need to make a move there."
Feinsand mentions the usual suspects - Mike Moustakas of the Royals and Todd Frazier of the White Sox - as possibilities. Also, he wonders if former MVP Josh Donaldson could be pried away from the Blue Jays (if "Dave Dombrowski knocks their socks off") with an offer and if Toronto is still sputtering at the deadline?
Those other upgrades? "Boston is also looking for pitching, both in the rotation and bullpen," Feinsand writes. Again, no surprise there.
A look under the hood is not encouraging. A look at the performance is.
The sideshows for the Red Sox have been numerous. What the team’s success to this point has reinforced is how much talent and performance can outweigh everything else. Hitting and pitching can drown out a word that rhymes with pitching — as long as the wins keep coming.
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At 40-32, the Sox have the seventh-best win percentage (.556) in the majors. What they lack, by their own admission, is an intangible. Manager John Farrell told reporters Wednesday in Kansas City his club was still searching for its identity.
“A team needs to forge their own identity every year,” Farrell said. “That’s going to be dependent upon the changes on your roster, the personalities that exist, and certainly the style of game that you play. So, with [David Ortiz’s] departure, his retirement, yeah, that was going to happen naturally with him not being here. And I think, honestly, we’re still kind of forming it.”
To this observer, the vibe in the Red Sox clubhouse is not the merriest.
Perhaps, in the mess hall, the players are a unified group of 25 (or so), living for one another with every pitch. What the media sees is only a small slice of the day.
But it does not feel like Farrell has bred an easygoing, cohesive environment.
Farrell and big boss Dave Dombrowski appeared unaligned in their view of Pablo Sandoval’s place on the roster, at least until Sandoval landed on the disabled list.
Hanley Ramirez and first base may go together like Craig Kimbrel and the eighth inning. Which is to say, selfless enthusiasm for the ultimate goal of winning does not appear constant with either.
Dustin Pedroia looked like the spokesperson of a fractured group when he told Manny Machado, in front of all the cameras, “It’s not me, it’s them,” as the Orioles and Red Sox carried forth a prolonged drama of drillings.
Yet, when you note the Sox are just a half-game behind the Yankees for the American League East lead; when you consider the Sox have won 19 of their past 30 games, you need to make sure everything is kept in proportion.
How much are the Sox really hurt by a lack of identity? By any other issue off the field?
Undoubtedly, the Sox would be better positioned if there were no sideshows. But it’s hard to say they’d have ‘X’ more wins.
The Sox would have had a better chance of winning Wednesday’s game if Kimbrel pitched at any point in the eighth inning, that’s for sure.
Kimbrel is available for one inning at this point, the ninth, Farrell has said.
A determination to keep Kimbrel out of the eighth because that’s not what a closer traditionally does seems like a stance bent on keeping Kimbrel happy rather than doing what is best for the team. The achievement of a save has been prioritized over the achievement of a team win, a state of affairs that exists elsewhere, but is nonetheless far from ideal — a state of affairs that does not reflect an identity of all for one and one for all.
Maybe the Sox will find that identity uniformly. Maybe they’re so good, they can win the division without it.