It was the same story in the American League: The Yankees (Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson), the Boston Red Sox (Addison Reed), the Tampa Bay Rays (Steve Cishek, Dan Jennings), the Cleveland Indians (Joe Smith), the Kansas City Royals (Ryan Buchter, Brandon Maurer), the Houston Astros (Francisco Liriano) and the Seattle Mariners (David Phelps) all added to their bullpens.
“We liked a lot of guys — I’d say we inquired on almost all of them,” said Boston’s president for baseball operations, Dave Dombrowski, who reached into his jacket pocket for a handwritten list of relievers. He counted them up (without divulging names), one by one. “Twenty right-handed relievers were on our list at one time or another, and a lot of lefties, too.”
Dombrowski ended up with Reed in a deal with the Mets, who traded first baseman Lucas Duda to the Rays but found no takers for outfielders Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson, despite their power. The Mets are out of the race, but even they shopped for relief help, acquiring closer A. J. Ramos from Miami and targeting bullpen prospects from Tampa Bay and Boston.
“Looking at 2018, we felt the bullpen was an area we needed to address,” General Manager Sandy Alderson said. “And with all of these deals, we’ve taken steps to do that.”
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Relievers, especially setup men, are easier for teams to acquire because their contracts tend to be more affordable. They can also make a big difference in the postseason, as the Indians showed last fall in the way they deployed Andrew Miller after acquiring him from the Yankees.
Miller worked in 10 of the Indians’ 15 postseason games, with a 1.40 E.R.A., 30 strikeouts in 19 ⅓ innings and the Most Valuable Player Award in the American League Championship Series. Miller said the Indians were only following an undeniable trend — the Red Sox of 2013 and the Royals of the next two seasons also marched through October with shutdown bullpens.
“That’s baseball,” Miller said. “It’s pretty consistent. The starters, every year, go less than they did the year before. It’s just kind of the way it is.”
Miller and Aroldis Chapman — the Cubs’ bullpen prize last summer, also via the Yankees — finally sputtered at the end, both allowing homers in Game 7 of the World Series. It was left to another reliever, Mike Montgomery, to close out the game and clinch the title for the Cubs.
And how did the Cubs acquire Montgomery? They got him in a trade from Seattle last July, proving again the value of grabbing as many good relievers as possible when pushing for a championship.
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Moustakas Chases Royals History
Ever since he was drafted by the Kansas City Royals with the second overall pick in 2007, Mike Moustakas has heard the name Steve Balboni. This is no surprise, because Moustakas hits for power, a skill the Royals struggle to cultivate at spacious Kauffman Stadium. Balboni set the franchise record for homers in a season with 36 in 1985. Every other team has had a 40-homer man.
Moustakas reached the magic number, with 36 homers in 2010, his last full year in the minors. But he never topped 22 in the majors until this season, when he slammed 30 before the end of July.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to get some good pitches to hit, and they’re carrying out of the yard,” Moustakas said. “I’ve always been a power hitter. In the minor leagues, I hit a bunch of home runs, but obviously, that’s a little different than up in the big leagues. I had to learn how to hit here first. I did a good job of that a couple of years ago, figuring out how to hit. Now I’m just getting further along in the process.”
Moustakas will be a free agent after this season, so this may be his final chance to break Balboni’s record. He is not planning a celebration.
“It’ll be cool, it’ll be fun, but I’m not focused on that, man,” Moustakas said. “The cool thing about hitting those home runs is it’s helping us win ballgames. And as long as I keep doing that, as long as I can find a way to contribute to winning games, I’ll be in good shape.”
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Red Sox Rookie Makes Quick Impact
On Oct. 24, 1996, the day the Yankees beat the Atlanta Braves, 1-0, to take a three-games-to-two lead in the World Series, a future rival was born in the Dominican Republic: Rafael Devers. At age 16, Devers signed with the Boston Red Sox, who promoted him to the majors last month. He is the youngest player in the American League, but he has not been overmatched.
Through Friday, Devers was hitting .389, with a .463 on-base percentage and a .694 slugging percentage. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he is the first player younger than 21 to have at least 13 hits and three home runs in his first eight games.
“Everything’s been very surprising,” Devers said through an interpreter after a four-hit game against the Indians on Monday. “I knew it was going to be different, but I didn’t think it was going to be this different. You see all of these superstars on TV, and you hope to one day be able to meet them. To be able to meet them and say that I’m their teammate is pretty cool.”
The Red Sox, who will visit Yankee Stadium for a three-game series starting Friday, had been desperate for production at third base. They traded Travis Shaw to Milwaukee last winter and hoped for improvement from Pablo Sandoval, who flopped and was released.
Devers and another July addition — the veteran infielder Eduardo Nunez, who was acquired in a trade with the San Francisco Giants — have helped ignite the offense. The Red Sox averaged 5.89 runs per game in Devers’s first nine games.
“We just kind of sit and admire his work,” said right fielder Mookie Betts, whose locker is next to Devers’s at Fenway Park. “Even though he’s young, he’s still kind of showing us guys that have been around how to do it. I thoroughly enjoy watching him.”
Betts said Devers’s most impressive trait is how he hits to all fields, which makes him tough to defend. Devers, a left-handed hitter, smashed his first career homer to center field in Seattle, and took his next two the opposite way, over the Green Monster at Fenway.
“He’s very relaxed, he trusts his hands in the batter’s box, he’s got great bat-to-ball skills and a lot of bat speed,” Manager John Farrell said. “When you look at the body language in the box, he’s not in a hurry, he’s not in a rush, you don’t see him lunging out to try to manufacture bat speed to combat velocity. At this level, we didn’t know when it was going to happen.”
It has happened immediately — with better defense than the Red Sox expected — and Boston may now have a cornerstone for years to come.
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Astro’s Discipline Pays Dividends
Three years ago, Marwin Gonzalez had 310 plate appearances for the Houston Astros and walked only 17 times. Through Friday, Gonzalez had 337 plate appearances — and 34 walks.
“He’s doubled his walks, but the walk isn’t the key,” Dave Hudgens, the Astros’ hitting coach, said recently. “Getting a good pitch is the key.”
That is an important point to remember when considering the effects of plate discipline. Walks are valuable, of course, but a better eye also means better pitches to hit. It is not so much an aggressive mind-set as an opportunistic one.
By fouling off tough pitches and laying off balls, Gonzalez said, he has seen more pitches in the zone to drive. As a result, he had 20 home runs and a .578 slugging percentage through Friday’s games and ranked among the best in the league.
“I knew that I wasn’t a disciplined hitter in the past, but it’s not that easy,” Gonzalez said. “Even when you know something, you can’t fix it whenever you want. So I changed the way I prepare before at-bats, watching videos. I have the same swing, same mechanics, same everything. But the preparation helps.”
One thing about Gonzalez has not changed: his versatility in the field. He has started at first, second, short, third and left field, and he also played a few innings in right. He said he keeps four gloves broken in: a first baseman’s mitt, a 12-inch glove for the outfield, an 11 ½-inch version for third base and an 11-inch model for the middle infield.
“Any way I can make it possible for my manager to have me in there and have a chance to play and help the team, that’s great for me,” he said.