The Boston Red Sox have been coy about who will start at third base on Opening Day, but that might be exactly what the team needs right now.
Red Sox manager John Farrell hasn’t directly said Pablo Sandoval and Travis Shaw are competing to man the left corner, but it was pretty telling Monday when the skipper told reporters the team was delaying Shaw’s audition in the outfield so they could see more of him at third. And a little friendly competition seems to be lighting a fire under Sandoval.
As the talk of a third base battle has been getting hotter, so has Sandoval. The 29-year-old started spring training off 1-for-14 over his first six games but has since bounced back, reaching base in six of the following seven games. In Monday’s 4-3 win over the St. Louis Cardinals, Sandoval did his best to keep up with Shaw, going 2-for-3 with a walk, a run and two RBIs. And since March 10, Sandoval has turned his .071 average and .214 OPS into a respectable .290 average and .946 OPS.
Sandoval will have to keep that production up in the regular season if he wants his job — which all signs show he does — too. Shaw has been a monster this spring, posting a .474 average (18-for-38) to go with a 1.237 OPS, nine RBIs, two home runs and four doubles. And what’s more of an issue for Sandoval is that Shaw’s defense has been clean compared to his own four errors so far. Defense was a problem for Sandoval last season, too, as he turned in a .949 fielding percentage, 15 errors, and a minus-16.9 UZR, which attempts to quantify how many runs a defensive player saved or gave up.
But ultimately, this whole saga could end up making Sandoval a better player. You’d be hard-pressed to find a three-time World Series champion, World Series MVP and two-time All-Star who’s perfectly fine with a 25-year-old with just 65 Major League Baseball games under his belt coming in and scooping up his job. Sandoval said he’d respect and understand any decision Farrell makes, but he’s not just going to lie down and let it happen.
What the Red Sox could end up with is two determined players who want to prove themselves every game, and there’s absolutely nothing bad about that.
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