BOSTON — In the first two games of the World Series, the Dodgers, who usually have to make their pitcher hit, received a gift courtesy of disparate rules in the American and National leagues: a DH. Dave Roberts picked Matt Kemp, an All-Star and owner of a .290/.338/.481 slash line this year, and he homered in Game 1, earning another start in Game 2.
As the series shifts to Los Angeles starting Friday, the Red Sox face the opposite. Built around a DH — usually the marquee offseason addition J.D. Martinez — the Red Sox and manager Alex Cora have a series of difficult decisions to make for Games 3-5.
How best to keep Martinez in the lineup? Who should sit in his stead?
Between the ALCS and World Series, Cora floated the possibility of Mookie Betts, a Gold Glove rightfielder, playing second base, though Cora has since assigned the concept a “very slim” chance of becoming reality. Betts played second in the minors — moving to the outfield only when he started to climb the ladder quickly and the Red Sox realized he needed a spot not occupied by Dustin Pedroia — and Ian Kinsler and Brock Holt have split time at the position lately.
Betts played six innings at second in emergency duty in August, but prior to that played there in the majors only 14 times as a rookie in 2014.
Count Holt among the teammates who think Betts could figure it out if he needed to.
“I don’t doubt anything anymore of what Mookie can do,” Holt said. “I’m sure if he plays second, he’ll probably be the best second baseman in baseball. He’s just one of those guys who can do everything. It’s a little frustrating at times. He used to play second. So he’s got a little background.”
Shortstop Xander Bogaerts said that in a theoretical return to the infield, the 5-9, 180-pound Betts would benefit from the rule — new in 2016 — banning takeout slides at second base.
“That was one of his toughest plays,” Bogaerts said. “Guys could just kick him into leftfield.”
If the Red Sox don’t consider Betts at second a realistic option, there aren’t any easy answers. Martinez, when he plays defense, is a corner outfielder. That means sitting one-third of arguably the best outfield in baseball.
AL MVP front-runner Betts is, put conservatively, unlikely to be benched. ALCS MVP Jackie Bradley Jr. is a Gold Glove-caliber defender. Andrew Benintendi might be the weak link among the three, but Cora described him Wednesday as “great the whole season, very consistent.”
“[Benintendi is] a big reason why we’re at where we’re at,” Holt said. “He can do everything there is on a baseball field except for maybe throw. Sorry, Beni. I always give him a hard time about his arm.
“I don’t think he’s reached anywhere close to his ceiling. I don’t know what that ceiling is, but I know he’s going to be a good player for a long, long time.”
Betts at second at least would yield the optimal offensive lineup for the Red Sox. Handling himself defensively, though, is the question.
“Watching him take ground balls, he’s a little shaky,” Holt said. “But he wasn’t a rightfielder, and he turned himself into the best rightfielder in baseball. If that’s the case, if he plays second base, I have no doubt that he’ll do a great job.”