The Red Sox are sure to hear from MLB about their walk-off celebration at Fenway Park on Sunday afternoon, but Mitch Moreland didn’t seem to care.
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure we broke a few rules,” Moreland said after hitting a majestic two-run homer to lead the Sox to a 5-3 win over the Blue Jays. “I felt some guys patting me, some guys, I’m not going to say who, but some guys might have been hugging me.
“I got the ice bath, so maybe that killed all of it, washed the germs off.”
Moreland better stay coronavirus-free, because he and Kevin Pillar, two of the only free agents Chaim Bloom signed this off-season, are looking like the Sox’ most valuable assets ahead of the 2020 trade deadline.
Some might say the Red Sox winning three out of four to end the weekend with their first series win at Fenway Park would be a time to be hopeful about their playoff chances in 2020.
We’re here to tell you that ain’t happening.
FanGraphs gives the Sox a 41% chance to make the postseason after Sunday’s win. The Jays (24%), Orioles (8%) and Rays (86%) linger as threats to steal the American League East’s second playoff spot after the overpowering Yankees, while the Orioles (7-7) are still ahead of the Sox (6-9) in the standings.
But realistically, with just one reliable starting pitcher after Eduardo Rodriguez was ruled out for the season due to heart complications from the coronavirus, the Red Sox aren’t going to be buyers at the Aug. 31 deadline.
Bloom, the chief baseball officer, was brought in from Tampa to build for the future, not trade away young prospects to aid a going-nowhere team in the virus-shortened season this year. And Moreland is starting to look like a guy that teams should seriously consider in this weird format. There are only 60 games, and as Moreland has proven in Boston, that’s about all he can handle before he starts to fade.
His walk-off jack on Sunday was his second homer of the game and the sixth of the year, and he’s hit them in just 31 at-bats, a ridiculous pace of 5.1 at-bats-per-homer, which is too insane to keep up over the long haul.
But Moreland has shown the ability to dominate in short sample sizes. Look at recent 60-game stretches while with the Red Sox.
From April 7 through June 16, 2017, Moreland hit .296 with nine home runs and an .898 OPS.
From April 12 through July 3, 2018, he hit .300 with 11 homers and a .918 OPS.
From March 29 until he got hurt on May 25, 2019, Moreland hit .233 with 13 homers and an .883 OPS.
You get the picture. And with just six homers in 31 at-bats this year, the red-hot Moreland looks like a guy who should have some trade value.
“Last year started off this way also,” manager Ron Roenicke said. “If you remember, we didn’t play well out of the chute last year and the wins that we got were because of Mitch. I think he won four of the first five games that we won last year with big hits. And when he is feeling this way, you want him up there as much as you can.”
It’s why Roenicke decided to leave Moreland in the game against a left-handed pitcher in the seventh inning Sunday, even though Moreland struck out. The idea was to get him around again in the ninth or 10th inning to face a right-hander. It worked perfectly.
Moreland, who doesn’t run well and has dealt with leg issues, said he was more motivated by not wanting to start the 10th inning on second base, per the new extra inning rules.
“I knew I needed to make something happen,” he said.
On a fastball he could handle, Moreland stayed back and launched it high over everything in left field.
“Mitch is the one that’s been carrying us right now,” said third baseman Rafael Devers.
Since the start of last season, Moreland has 25 homers in 329 at-bats, a pace of one homer per 13 at-bats. It’s the 17th-best home run pace of all hitters in baseball (min. 300 at-bats) in that span. Mike Trout leads everybody with a home run every 10.3 at-bats.
It’s the kind of pace that makes you wonder if Moreland, who turns 35 in September, is getting better with age.
“With the experience, I’m able to slow the game down a little bit more and pick up on some things,” he said. “I’ve realized how it can help me along the way, if I can refine my approach a little bit more.”
Bloom signed Moreland to a bargain deal of $2.5 million for 2020 with a $3 million club option for 2021. The option could be valuable, but everybody knows Moreland is the kind of hitter you capitalize on when he’s hot. He’s not built for the 162-game season, with constant injuries plaguing him late in the year.
“Obviously I’ve always had to fight some nagging stuff here and there,” he said. “Would I like it differently? Yes, I would love to feel great every day. At times, the legs are a little heavy and I have to grind it out. But Ron has done a great job communicating with me.”
The Red Sox aren’t looking good enough to compete this year, despite the great ending to the weekend’s series. But Moreland has value to the club whether they’re in the playoff hunt or not.