Red Sox: Mookie Betts claims team still struggling to find identity

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 07: Mookie Betts
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 07: Mookie Betts /

Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts provides a gloomy analysis of how the team has struggled to move on from the David Ortiz era.

We knew that the Boston Red Sox would face some challenges filling the void left by the retirement of franchise icon David Ortiz. The torch has been passed to the next generation, led by Mookie Betts. While it would be unfair to expect anyone to fill Big Papi’s shoes overnight, the star outfielder’s admission of how much the team is struggling to move on is a troubling sign.

In a recent interview with WEEI’s Rob Bradford, Betts opened up about how difficult this season has been without having Ortiz to lean on. Without that veteran presence to direct them, the task has become a collective effort. While he points out a couple of veteran teammates who have led by example, it’s clear there remains a lack of leadership in the Red Sox clubhouse – a problem which Betts admits he hasn’t done enough to rectify.

"“This year has just been rough. Just a lot of failure. A lot of adversity.” Betts explained. “You come off a good year last year, had David to kind of protect us. Now that’s he not here we don’t have one big person to oversee everything. We just have to kind of collectively as a unit pick up where he left off. I feel like I haven’t done my part. I do what I can. Pedey has been great. He’s been playing great. Other guys. Sale has been pitching great. I can’t even think of everybody right now on the spot. But I think guys have kind of pushed it and I don’t feel like I’ve done my part pushing.”"

Failure? Adversity? These aren’t the words you would typically associate with a team currently leading the AL East.

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Betts went on to explain that this Red Sox team is only recently starting to find its identity. Teams often take on the identity of their best player, the face of the franchise who others turn to when the going gets rough. For years that player was Ortiz. Now that he’s gone the responsibility should fall to Betts, who was the runner-up for the AL MVP award last season. It shouldn’t take long to recognize that, but Betts sounds like he’s not ready for that role yet. That’s a problem.

The notion that the Red Sox lack leadership runs contrary to comments made by Dustin Pedroia, who recently stood up to proclaim he’s the leader. When a veteran player publicly grabs the leadership baton, only for his teammate to turn around and question the team’s identity, what kind of leadership does that show? What about the highest paid player on the team making national headlines for disrespecting a Hall of Fame pitcher? When it takes weeks before the tension is (supposedly) squashed, that’s not a good look either.

More concerning than Betts being reluctant to take control of the clubhouse is his own self-evaluation. He enters the day hitting a modest .273 with 17 home runs and an .809 OPS – good numbers, yet they pale in comparison to last year. He’s also struggling since the All-Star break, tallying only one home run, while his OPS has dipped to .668 over his last 80 at-bats.

"“Last year could be arguably the best year I have in my career. I’m a realist and I know it ain’t getting much better than that,” Betts said. “When am I going to hit 30 home runs again? I don’t know if I ever will. When am I ever going to hit .320 again? I don’t [know] if I ever will. If I can get somewhere near I did last year, it will be a good year.”"

Only 24 years old and Betts apparently believes he’s already peaked. Whether Betts is merely frustrated by his recent slump or honestly has lost faith in his ability to leap to another level, this is a shocking revelation. A leader would be there to help build him back up. Seeing the confidence of Betts crumble before our eyes is another glaring sign that this team is in danger of becoming lost.

We think of Betts flashing that winning smile or dancing in the outfield. We view these charming traits as a sign of a player oozing with confidence, yet his words lead us to believe that it has merely been a mask veiling the inner turmoil he’s battling. These are the words of a player drowning in self pity waiting for someone to save him, only there is no captain on this ship to throw him a lifeline.

The Red Sox are at the top of their division and hold a fairly comfortable lead for a playoff spot. Then again, we thought the same in 2011, when clubhouse issues derailed a promising season. Are we heading for another gut-wrenching September collapse?

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This team lacks direction. If they don’t figure our where they are heading soon then the only place they are going when the postseason rolls around is home to sit on the couch and watch with the rest of us.