The quintet of All-Stars the Red Sox brought to Washington was befitting a team that set a record for wins at the All-Star break. With a 68-30 record, the Sox hold a 4 1/2-game lead over the Yankees in the American League East -- their largest lead at the break
The quintet of All-Stars the Red Sox brought to Washington was befitting a team that set a record for wins at the All-Star break. With a 68-30 record, the Sox hold a 4 1/2-game lead over the Yankees in the American League East -- their largest lead at the break since the World Series-winning season of 2007.
"We probably could have had even more guys here than what we've got," said first baseman Mitch Moreland, who is an All-Star for the first time. "I feel like our whole team is full of All-Stars. We've proved it day in and day out that we're a really good team, and we have had fun doing it."
• TUNE IN: Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX
It was a pretty joyous flight to Washington for the Boston contingent, who took off just hours after the club won for the 17th time in the last 20 games.
"Yeah, traveling here was fun," said closer Craig Kimbrel. "We all came together. I think any time you're around anybody you know or teammates, the comfort level is there. I'm excited that we've been able to put our team in the position we're in now and have so many people representing us here."
And the two hitters who have led the high-powered offense will be in prominent spots in American League manager A.J. Hinch's batting order at Nationals Park.
Mookie Betts will lead off, as he's done in every game he's started for the Red Sox this season. J.D. Martinez, who has been MLB's best run producer since last July, will hit cleanup.
Together, Betts and Martinez have anchored the Red Sox with the most powerful duo Boston has seen since David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez more than a decade ago.
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Is there a better duo in the game right now?
"No," said Moreland. "Whether I'm biased or not, you break the numbers down and there's not too many that compare."
All season long, Betts has set the tone, slashing .359/.448/.691 with 79 runs, 25 doubles, 23 homers, 51 RBIs, 18 stolen bases. Betts is on anyone's short list of MVP candidates, and he leads the Majors in average, slugging and OPS while ranking second in runs with 79. This, while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense in right field.
Perhaps one reason Betts has taken his game to the next level is Martinez, Boston's big free-agent signing over the winter. Betts and Martinez constantly talk hitting before and after games, and during games, they rake.
"He's given us a new outlook on swings for sure," Betts said of Martinez. "He's not just a home run hitter. He's hitting .330, too. He just brings that element to the lineup."
It's hard to fathom that Martinez was released by the Astros in Spring Training of 2014. Now playing for the high-profile Red Sox, Martinez is now getting the recognition he deserves. The torrid run Martinez went on when he was traded from the Tigers to the D-backs last August has carried into his first few months with Boston. Hitting mainly third and sometimes fourth, Martinez has glittering numbers (.328/.393/.644) and is tied with Jose Ramirez for the MLB lead in homers with 29 while leading in RBIs with 80.
If the highlights of Betts and Martinez are there for all to see, Moreland has quietly produced as well, even though he started the season as Hanley Ramirez's backup at first base. Moreland would produce nearly every time manager Alex Cora put him in the lineup, and the Sox eventually decided to part ways with Ramirez on May 25, and give the left-handed hitting veteran the first base job. In 252 at-bats, Moreland has 11 homers, 46 RBIs and a sturdy .850 OPS while playing his usual standout defense.
It said something about Moreland's popularity within the team when he got a standing ovation in the clubhouse when Cora announced him as an All-Star.
"Mitch is a hard-nosed player," said Kimbrel. "He plays through a lot. We've seen what he's played with over the last couple of years. It's not easy to play with hurt feet, ankles and legs and things like that. I think you have an appreciation for guys you see really do that a lot and never complain about it. To, me, that's why we're happier for him than anybody."
This is the 32-year-old Moreland's first All-Star appearance, and he is savoring it.
"Especially being a player selection, I thought that was cool," said Moreland. "It's something I take pride in. I just try to come in every day and do my work and do it the right way and play the game the right way, day in and day out. It's something my dad taught me since I started to play this game. To be recognized for it is special."
From the mound, the Red Sox have been led by their overpowering ace (Chris Sale) and closer (Kimbrel) for the second straight season. Backed by a 10-4 record and 2.23 ERA and 188 strikeouts in 129 innings, Sale is starting the All-Star Game for the third straight year.
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It would be fitting if Kimbrel (1.77 ERA, 62 K's in 40 2/3 innings, .144 opponents' batting average) finished it out for him. Sale and Kimbrel are both seven-time All-Stars.
Once the All-Star festivities are over, the Red Sox will get back in pursuit of the AL East title, and then the deep October run that eluded them the last two years. Martinez is the big addition to the core that lost in the Division Series two years in a row.
"To me, you can always get better," said Martinez. "We have a good team. I think we're a very versatile team. This is a team that can beat you multiple ways. Someone can throw a shutout and we can put up one run, or we can go out there and put up 10 runs and the bullpen comes in and shuts the door. We can steal bases, we can manufacture runs. As a team, we're not dependent on winning in one way."
When the All-Star Game starts Tuesday night, Betts will be ready for that first pitch from National League starter Max Scherzer.
"I think I just want to live in the moment," said Betts.
Over the next two days, there should be many moments to enjoy for the Boston contingent.
While watching the 2018 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard live on FOX on Tuesday, fans can submit their choices for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet with the 2018 All-Star Game MLB.com MVP Vote.
The 89th Midsummer Classic, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., will be televised nationally by FOX Sports; in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS; and worldwide by partners in more than 180 countries. FOX Deportes will provide Spanish-language coverage in the United States, while ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB Network, MLB.com and SiriusXM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage.
For more information about MLB All-Star Week and to purchase tickets, visit AllStarGame.com and follow @MLB and @AllStarGame on social media.
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook. MLB.com reporter Adam McCalvy contributed to this story from Washington.