Carl Crawford couldn’t handle bouncing around the Red Sox’ order at the beginning of his stint in Boston. Shane Victorino had no such issues, and it’s now become clear exactly where he belongs.
Victorino bounced back-and-forth between the No. 2 spot and No. 7 spot in Boston’s lineup during the team’s first four games. He’s now firmly implanted in the two-hole, and it’s in large part because of the havoc that he and Jacoby Ellsbury can wreak on opposing pitchers at the top of the order.
Victorino went 2-for-5 on Saturday to up his average to .341. He also recorded his third stolen base of the season, and, of course, drove in the game-winning run in extra innings. Ellsbury, meanwhile, is still settling in at the plate, but he’s already off to a fast start on the bases, notching his fifth theft of the year in Boston’s 2-1 win.
The 10th inning really gave a glimpse as to what the Red Sox could have in the tandem of Ellsbury and Victorino at the top of the lineup.
“Well, after [Ellsbury] gets the base hit, I felt like we had a real good opportunity to steal a base,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said after Saturday’s game. “Not just because of Jake’s basestealing ability, but because the combination there was something we might be able to take advantage of.”
Ellsbury did take off for second, and Rays catcher Jose Lobaton’s throw ricocheted off shortstop Yunel Escobar’s glove and into right field, allowing Ellsbury to advance to third. Rays manager Joe Maddon opted at that point to stack the infield with an extra infielder –- thus leaving just two outfielders. Victorino responded by hitting a sharp ground ball to the right side of second base. Escobar made a diving play, but Ellsbury was off on contact, and he scored easily to give the Red Sox the win.
“That’s the type of game we want to play,” Farrell said. “We want to force the defense to put pressure on them, and when you’ve got a guy with that kind of speed down there, any kind of ball that’s not directly at someone, that’s a pretty difficult play for an infielder to change directions — not only field the ball cleanly, but throw a strike anywhere from 90 to 100 feet away from home plate. A contact play is something we use consistently.”
One could certainly chalk up the Red Sox’ aggressiveness on the base paths as “relentless,” which is the key word that Farrell mentioned upon being introduced as Red Sox manager. Being “relentless” is a lot easier when you have Ellsbury and Victorino at the top of the order, though.
Both players have great speed and handle the bat well, which is a potent combination to have setting the table for the likes of Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli and Will Middlebrooks. Even when the middle of the order isn’t hitting particularly well, Ellsbury and Victorino -– given their speed –- can make an impact by manufacturing a run.
There’s no reason to believe the 1-2 combination of Ellsbury and Victorino can’t became even more dangerous going forward, as the duo fits right in with the aggressive approach Farrell is trying to instill offensively.