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Red Sox 8, Angels 2: This J.D. Martinez guy is pretty good

April 20, 2018 - 2:06 am

The praise has been heaped on various corners of the Red Sox clubhouse for good reason. After their sweep over the Angels in which they never trailed for a single inning, this is a team that stands at 16-2, having now won 16 of its last 17 games.  It is the best start of a season since the 1987 Brewers. That would seemingly be praiseworthy.

The starting pitching should get a huge pat on the back, with Eduardo Rodriguez's six-inning, two-run outing the latest highlight for a group that is now 12-1 with a combined 1.98 ERA.

Mookie Betts keeps entering into MVP conversations thanks to his early-season success, which kept on trucking thanks to his home run to lead off what would end up being a 8-2 win over the Angels. (For a complete recap, click here.)

The bullpen has also managed to ease some fears of late, as well, with Carson Smith coming on to pitch a perfect eighth inning that included Mike Trout, Justin Upton and Albert Pujols. Opponents are now three for their last 46 against the Sox' relievers, who included Heath Hembree, Smith and Joe Kelly this time around.

This time, the Red Sox pitchers also managed to strikeout the man/the myth Shohei Otahni three times.

And the Red Sox' ability to solve that nagging power problem of a year ago certainly doesn't hurt, with homers from Betts and Andrew Benintendi giving the Red Sox' 24 through the first three weeks of the season. This after totaling just 11 in the initial 21 days last season.

But what has gone somewhat under the radar while we've been amazing at the aforementioned items is what J.D. Martinez has represented. It would be fair to say he has lived up to expecations, which is a task that many believed might be unattainable.

Martinez collected three more hits, two of which were doubles. He is now hitting .338 with an OPS of .983. But what truly highlights what he has become was the stretch since hitting that first home run 11 games ago. During that period the cleanup hitter has hit .395 with a 1.172 OPS, hitting the ball on the ground just 31.3 percent of the time. (His ground ball rate in the first seven games? An uncharacteristic 58.8 percent.)

All of this would seem to be far from a fluke. What was advertised is what has been delivered.

"His presence, his at-bats, yesterday the game is out of hand and he doesn’t give away an at-bat or pitch. He’s locked in," Red Sox manager Alex Cora told reporters. "It’s fun to watch the way he works at his craft, the notebook and the iPad and all this work he puts on. The way he drives the ball to right center is impressive. In an era that you have guys hitting 40 home runs they struck out 100 and whatever times and hit .210, .220 this guy hits for average. He can put the ball in play when it matters so that’s why he’s one of the best hitters the big leagues."

He is hitting the ball harder than any player in baseball, leading all of the majors in the number of barreled balls (per BaseballSavant.com), with Betts coming in a close second. Martinez is also fifth in average exit velocity (95.1 mph), which would seem notable.

Maybe the only true surprise when it comes to Martinez's presence is that he has played almost as many games in the outfield as he has at designated hitter, with his OPS standing at an identical .922 when manning each position.

There's a lot going right for the Red Sox these days, but it should be noted what a difference this season's designated difference-maker is truly making.

This is only the third time the Red Sox have hit more than 10 HR in a 3-game series. They also did so in June 1977 against the NY Yankees (16 HR) and in June 1950 against the St. Louis Browns (14 HR), both at Fenway Park.

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