Richard Justice

Betts just latest to step up as Red Sox's star

Leadoff man's 3-homer game another example of Boston's deep lineup

Betts just latest to step up as Red Sox's star

The Boston Red Sox have had the hottest player in baseball pretty much every single day of this season. If that sounds impressive, it's actually better than that. We're talking about four different players.

Depending on what stretch of games you're watching, it has been either David Ortiz or Xander Bogaerts or Jackie Bradley Jr. carrying a large share of the load. At times, all of them have been on the kind of roll that can carry an entire club.

Oh, and there's Mookie Betts.

Maybe the Red Sox took a vote before Tuesday's 6-2 win over the Orioles and decided this would be his time on center stage. Bradley was away on paternity leave, and Ortiz and Bogaerts were held to a single apiece.

Mookie 1st Red Sox leadoff hitter to hit 3 HRs

All the Red Sox did was remind us that their lineup is the deepest in baseball by a wide margin. That's why they've scored 308 runs, tops in the Majors and 52 more than any other American League team (Mariners). Their plus-80 run differential is the second highest in the Majors behind the Cubs (plus-128).

Cast your Esurance All-Star ballot for Betts and other #ASGWorthy players

Yes, it's looking more and more like a Red Sox summer. Betts homered in the first, second and seventh innings, and he made a diving catch in right field on Tuesday as Boston ran its lead in the AL East to a season-high three games.

Statcast: Betts' diving catch

That Betts hit the three home runs -- his 10th, 11th and 12th of the season -- was plenty impressive on its own. What made it even more jaw-dropping was how he did it. Betts powered three fastballs out to center field, left and right, going with the pitch where it was thrown. He's relaxed and confident at the plate, knowing it's simply a matter of barreling up the ball and letting his strength do the rest.

In doing so, Betts showed off the mechanics that have been on display almost since the Red Sox took him in the fifth round of the 2011 Draft. For a couple of years, Boston had so many big-time prospects that it wasn't clear where he fit in.

Betts got his shot just before the All-Star break in 2014, and he took care of the rest himself. He was 21 years old at the time and began spraying line drives around the field. In three seasons, Betts has batted .291 twice and is hitting .283 this season. His 40 RBIs out of the leadoff spot are the most in the Majors. So are his 12 home runs and 49 runs.

At the beginning of play on Tuesday, the Red Sox had six of the AL's top 15 players in Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball Reference. They have three of the top five in batting average -- Bogaerts (.350), Ortiz (.335) and Bradley (.331).

Boston has outscored opponents, 54-16, in the first inning since April 11 and had at least 10 hits 33 times, tops in the Majors. And this: Bogaerts extended his hitting streak to 24 games on Tuesday after Bradley had a 29-game streak snapped last week. The Red Sox are the first team to have two hitting streaks of at least 20 games before June 1.

Bogaerts extends his hit streak

In terms of the big picture, the really significant story was the return 23-year-old left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez to the rotation after spending the first two months of the season on the disabled list.

Rodriguez holds O's to two runs

Rodriguez's 21 starts and 3.85 ERA were a significant bright spot for Boston in 2015. For a rotation with uncertainty behind David Price, Rick Porcello and Steven Wright, Rodriguez allowing two earned runs in six innings was another signal that the Red Sox are looking more and more like the best team in the AL East.

Red Sox manager John Farrell compared Rodriguez's debut to the impact a big Trade Deadline acquisition would have. At the moment, they look a lot like a team that may not need another. Not when the stars are shining bright. All the stars.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.