The Red Sox showcased a very good offense once again in 2010, but it was as one-dimensional as any in recent memory. The club was a veritable beer league softball team, occasionally hammering teams into submission with its power but rarely moving more than station to station on the bases.
Much of this had to do with injuries. Once Jacoby Ellsbury was lost to broken ribs and later Dustin Pedroia to a broken foot, perhaps the best base stealer in the game and a water bug batting second were thrust from the lineup. Boston ranked tied for 12th in the American League in stolen bases. Rookie Ryan Kalish led the charge as the lone player with double figures in the category, but he had six of his 10 steals in the final seven games of the season. Pedroia, Darnell McDonald and Bill Hall each had nine.
Conversely, only Toronto had more home runs than Boston?s 211. Nobody had more than the Sox? 358 doubles. In fact, nobody was close, with the Blue Jays ranking second with 319. In a franchise noted for its slugging ways, the 2010 version was quintessential. It was not, however, complete.
With Ellsbury and Pedroia back, and Carl Crawford bringing his four stolen base crowns to Fenway Park, the speed game figures to return in a big way, with the potential to completely alter games. Fortunately for the Red Sox, it will not come at the expense of anything else. The power is still in play — it might even be more potent — and could combine with the running game to give the Red Sox the most balanced and potent offense in the game.
Speed? Got it. Power? Check. Ability to hurt opponents in more ways than one? Most definitely.
The influx of speed is obvious. What some might fail to remember is that Pedroia was on pace for a career-high 25 homers when he was hurt last June, and Crawford clubbed a career-high 19 dingers with Tampa Bay. That?s 50 home runs or so before the lineup reaches the Adrian Gonzalez-Kevin Youkilis-David Ortiz trio, which could be good for 100-plus on their own, if healthy. Youkilis, Ortiz, Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez, the primary power threats last season, combined for 99.
Essentially, that measly stolen base total has a chance to be doubled while the power numbers should be maintained, or perhaps get a slight boost of their own.
The Sox are noted as a team that usually shuns small ball in favor of big blasts. It?s often tied in with sabermetric philosophies engendered under the current regime, but consider the homer-happy clubs of the Ted Williams days and those in the 1970s, when the makeup was much like 2010. In 1977, Boston hit 213 home runs and stole 66 bases, virtually identical numbers to last year. The ill-fated ?78 squad, like 2010, ranked second in the AL in homers and 12th in steals.
Those were nice offensive attacks filled with Hall of Famers, but not the finest in franchise history. Many of the best Red Sox offenses have had that go-go factor at the top and intense power in the middle, a lethal combination that can demoralize opponents. Those years when Johnny Damon was the sparkplug atop the order and power on par with the Gonzalez-Youkilis-Ortiz trio held down the heart of the order, the Red Sox produced three of their five best offensive units ever. Steals were still few and far between (Jason Varitek ranked second on the 2004 team with 10 thefts!) but the threat was there. Certainly, the same goes for 2009, when the team had Ellsbury?s 70 steals and the offense was the 11th most prolific in club annals, pushing across nearly 60 more runs than 2010. Ellsbury had 50 thefts and Pedroia and Coco Crisp 20 apiece in 2008, when the club produced almost 30 more runs than it did last season.
In 2010, that threat was non-existent and when some of the power players were mired in slumps, the offense had the potential to grind to a halt.
That?s when you need those catalysts, and often more than one. The 2011 Red Sox will have multiple options to kick-start the offense, without sacrificing any of their big-bopping ways.