Editor’s note: All stats are through Tuesday’s games
Knuckleballer Steven Wright isn't alone in keeping the Red Sox in first place in the AL East. A swarm of Killer B's—Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr.—have been doing their part in energizing the majors’ most potent offense. On Tuesday night against the Orioles, Betts clubbed three home runs and Bogaerts extended his hitting streak to 24 games, five shy of Bradley's recent run.
Betts led off Tuesday's game in Camden Yards by homering on Orioles starter Kevin Gausman's second pitch, a 428-footer to centerfield—his longest as measured by Statcast. It's the third time in his brief career that he's started a game in such fashion; the last was June 20, 2015 against the Royals' Edinson Volquez. It clearly wasn't Gausman's night, as Betts’s first homer was followed three pitches later by a solo shot from Dustin Pedroia.
Gausman was still in the game when Betts came up in the second with two outs and two on, got ahead in the count 2–0 and clubbed another homer, this one a 339-footer down the leftfield line. His third shot came in the seventh at the expense of Dylan Bundy, a 381-foot solo homer to rightfield, as if anyone needed to be convinced of his ability to use the whole field. Here's the trio:
The homers—Betts's 10th, 11th and 12th of the year—were enough to power the Sox to a 6–2 win and an expansion of their AL East lead over the Orioles to three games. It was the sixth time this season that a player scored such a hat trick, with Oakland's Khris Davis the most recent on May 17 against the Rangers. Betts is the first Red Sox player to homer three times in a game since Will Middlebrooks on April 7, 2014; Pedroia (June 24, 2010 against the Rockies) is the only other Sox player to do so since the start of '05.
The 23-year-old rightfielder is now hitting .283/.325/.522 for a 121 OPS+ after a slow start. Thanks to his everyday presence atop the lineup of the AL East's highest-scoring team (5.92 runs per game), he leads the league in plate appearances (246), at-bats (230) and runs (49), not to mention triples (four). His 2.4 WAR is tied for third on the team with David Ortiz and Travis Shaw, behind Bradley (2.5) and Bogaerts (2.7). If anyone needed a reminder of his defensive capability, it was on display in the bottom of the seventh after his third homer via this catch of a shallow Paul Janish fly ball:
As for Bogaerts, he needed until his fourth plate appearance of the night to keep his hitting streak alive, via a seventh-inning single off Bundy. He's now doubled the previous longest streak of his career, a 12-gamer from last September, and he owns the season's second-longest streak behind Bradley's 29-gamer, which ended last Thursday. Bradley's streak was the longest by a Red Sox hitter since Nomar Garciaparra's 30-game streak in 1997; the club record is held by Dominic DiMaggio, who compiled a 34-gamer in 1949, eight years after his brother Joe set the still-standing record of 56 games. Tris Speaker is the only other Boston player with a streak of at least 30 games; his hails from 1912, the year before Baseball-Reference.com's Play Index coverage begins.
Bogaerts is hitting .393/.430/.607 with five homers in 107 plate appearances during the streak and .350/.401/.516 for a 143 OPS+ overall, leading the league in batting average and hits (76) and running fifth in on-base percentage and sixth in WAR. If anyone needed further evidence that his rocky 2014 rookie season was well into the rearview mirror, his .328 average since the start of last season is the majors' best. The 23-year-old shortstop is well beyond last year's on-base and slugging percentages (.355 and .421, respectively), and with six homers, he is just one shy of last year's total. As FanGraphs' Jeff Sullivan pointed out last week, Bogaerts has become slightly more selective at the plate and is hitting the ball with more authority both to the opposite field and to his pull side.
As for Bradley, he hit his ninth homer of the year on Monday, then went on paternity leave until Friday, as his wife is expecting the couple's first child. Currently hitting .331/.409/.601, Bradley ranks third in both on-base and slugging percentages, fourth in OPS+ (165), fifth in batting average and eighth in WAR.
At this rate, all three Killer B's may well find their way onto the AL All-Star team, and thanks to the help of David Ortiz (.335/.416/.716, 194 OPS+) and other teammates, the Red Sox are on pace to score 960 runs, more than any team since the 2007 Yankees (965) or at least the '03 Red Sox (961). Boston will have to pick up the pace, however, if it wants to be the first team to score 1,000 runs since the 1999 Indians (1,009).
Oh, and if the Sox—who own the AL's highest winning percentage (.615, via a 32–20 record) and run differential (+80) despite an uneven performance from their rotation—needed another positive to take from Tuesday night, there was Eduardo Rodriguez's six-inning, two-run performance in his 2016 debut in place of the bullpen-exiled Clay Buchholz (6.24 ERA), but we'll save that story for another day. At the rate the Sox are going, there should be no shortage.