Jacoby Ellsbury’s Return All Red Sox Need to Catch Rays, Yankees


Jul 28, 2010

With each day that passes without Jacoby Ellsbury in the Red Sox lineup, his critics simply add ammunition to their arsenal.

They can still question his toughness and his commitment to the team, only with more vigor as time goes on. They look under the games played column, see that he's only played nine games, and then write him off. Many have dropped his name into the trade market as a potential chip if and when the club needs to make a move.

This mindset is dangerous, my friends. Very dangerous.

In the rehabbing Ellsbury the Red Sox have in their pocket one of the more dynamic offensive forces in baseball– a fact that many seem to forget as the club stays afloat without him. If you need a reminder as to the need for a guy such as Ellsbury, simply look at Wednesday’s starting lineup against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Batting second and playing right field is Darnell McDonald, a fantastic fill-in but perhaps not an everyday player. Batting seventh and playing left field is Jeremy Hermida, who committed his fourth error (more than any other Red Sox outfielder) in his 47th game in the outfield Tuesday night and whose average is down to .211. Your center fielder and No. 9 hitter is Eric Patterson, starting in that role for the first time since he dropped a fly ball in Seattle the other night to spoil Jon Lester’s bid for perfection.

No disrespect to that trio, but it speaks to the fact that the club remains incredibly weak in the outfield, a collective unit which entered Tuesday with a combined OPS of .713, 23rd in the majors. The McDonald-Patterson-Hermida triumvirate is one of more than two dozen outfield alignments utilized by manager Terry Francona.

While Mike Cameron continues to need a day off here and there and J.D. Drew battles through a recurring hamstring issue, it remains a daily game of mix and match for the Red Sox skipper. Having a healthy and productive Ellsbury, which could become a reality in a week or so, has the potential to help solve that dilemma.

And despite the nervous energy emitting from those who feel as if all is lost, there’s time to make amends.

"We’ve got two months, we can still get to the playoffs, and that’s what I’m looking at right now: coming back, contributing to the team and doing everything I can to get back as soon as possible," Ellsbury recently told NESN’s Kathryn Tappen.

The speedster’s presence at the top of the lineup could also be just what the doctor (or is it his agent, Scott Boras?) ordered. The Red Sox’ offense survived, even flourished, for two months of the season without Ellsbury’s presence. As of late it has been pedestrian, at best — the club has been limited to four runs or less in 11-of-13 games and is batting just .235 since the All-Star break.

It’s safe to say they could use a shot in the arm, and a .300 hitter with blazing speed has the potential to provide such a boost.

We tend to forget amid Ellsbury’s injury-plagued season, the somewhat controversial rehab trip to Arizona and the awkward meeting with reporters in Toronto that he was once one of the untouchables, a centerpiece moving forward. Heck, how many of you wanted to keep him in center field rather than move him to left for fear that it would stunt his growth as a player?

You can’t wear kid gloves and point fingers at the same time.

With just a slight uptick in production, which is no pipe dream considering Ellsbury is still just 26 and was entering what would’ve been his third full season, we might have been looking at a .310 hitter with 80 stolen bases, 110 runs scored and a little bit of power to boot.

Not so sure you find that kind of production anywhere else on the trade market, on the farm and certainly not on the scrap heap that produced Patterson and others. Getting some semblance of that player back for the final 50 games or so could be crucial.

Sure, the Ellsbury-less Sox are alive, very much so after back-to-back wins to begin their series in Anaheim. But they are a third-place team no matter how you slice it. Whether baseball needs to shuffle its divisions or alter its structure in some way to avoid a power-packed alignment such as the AL East is another story for another day.

The fact remains they are in third place and the last time we looked, teams in third place do not make the playoffs. Teams with a player like Ellsbury starting things off often do, and his imminent return may be the difference between going home early and making this a stretch run to remember.

Until then, be careful what you say about him.

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