Jacoby Ellsbury’s Return to Form, Improving Bullpen Keys to Red Sox’ Playoff Chances

Jacoby Ellsbury's Return to Form, Improving Bullpen Keys to Red Sox' Playoff Chances It has been difficult to ignore the struggles of the 2010 Red Sox.

But now that the team has leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury back in the mix, things are starting to look bright for the third-place club.

Although it took him a few games to get back into form, Ellsbury showed Red Sox Nation what this team has been missing out on as he swiped four bags in Monday’s win,  tying Jerry Remy‘s club record for the most steals in one game.

While much has been made of the team’s bullpen woes, Boston’s relievers seem to be on the rise. Felix Doubront and Manny Delcarmen have looked reliable as of late, and Jonathan Papelbon has been in top form.

What do you think of Jacoby Ellsbury’s return so far?
–Big BK, New Hampshire

of the gate, he appeared to be pressing. The night that he returned, he
led off in his normal spot and went hitless, a streak he continued for a
few more games. It was surprising because he had been so hot at the
plate during his rehab stint. Terry Francona decided to move him
to ninth to take some pressure off of him while he gets back up to
speed, and that strategy has worked well. He should be leading off again
any day now, as he is back to getting on and changing games with his

What do we expect from the bullpen as it is currently constructed?

–Sunny, Wilmington, N.C.

When the starters can give the pen a lead after seven innings, Daniel Bard and Papelbon can be relied upon to shorten games from nine to seven innings. The rest
of the bullpen, though, is a question that will be answered as we move
forward. The roles for the rest are uncertain, and I think a waiver wire
deal for another reliever may arise in the near future. Delcarmen’s return
from the DL has been successful so far and perhaps he has solidified
himself as the seventh inning guy. Tuesday, we also saw that Doubront
could be capable of playing a major role moving forward. He appears
capable of getting both lefties and righties out. Tim Wakefield‘s role
remains a question mark. Is he strictly a long man or will Terry use
him late at times in close games? So far, no answer has emerged.

It has been so long since we have seen the Yankees. After seeing them this weekend, what are your thoughts?

–George, Lower Burrell, Penn.

My thoughts: they’re good — even better than I thought. The schedule has been very odd this year. We face them a lot early, but barely at all in the middle of the season. I thought that with the offseason losses of Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon that the club would not be as successful and would be lacking leadership. While we will see what impact that ends up having in the postseason, it appears they are as strong as ever. To me, Robinson Cano has been the biggest part of New York’s new look, playing at an All-Star level for the entire season.

Last year, Jonathan Papelbon struggled at times and put a lot of men on base. What has worked better for him this year — even with the five blown saves?
–Paul, Bedford, N.H.

He worked hard on his secondary pitches during spring training and having those options definitely keeps hitters off-balance. Last year, he threw fastball after fastball, and that was all that opposing hitters had to concern themselves with. His slider has shown great improvement and his splitter, perhaps his best pitch in 2008, is also back and working incredibly well. It is again a true strikeout pitch, appearing like his fastball before dropping off of the table. He apparently has changed his grip slightly, which has drastically improved his results.

As fans, we are up and down emotionally. Are you the same way?
–Dallas, Springfield, Mass.
No doubt. Just because I have been doing this for 20 years doesn’t mean that I don’t have major highs and lows as a fan. I am just like many fans. When the team loses, I become totally gloom-and-doom, and when they win, I get World Series hopes. Many in the business are on a far more even keel, but not me. I would be a horrible general manager, making snap decisions based on one or two games. So, I will stick to calling games.

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