There's been a lot of debate over the past week as to whether manager Terry Francona should use Adrian Gonzalez in the outfield during road Interleague games to ensure that he and David Ortiz are both in the Red Sox lineup. But what has flown under the radar, and is even more important, is the absence of Carl Crawford.
Surely, no one has forgotten about the speedy left fielder, who is currently on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring. But much of the angst surrounding the Sox' recent mediocre display against the NL has circled around Ortiz's absence from the starting lineup. It seems as though Crawford's name has rarely been mentioned, although it is his presence in the lineup that the Sox have missed most.
Carl Crawford hasn't exactly lived up to the expectations that accompany a seven-year, $142 million contract — it doesn't take a genuis to tell you that. But despite his pedestrian 2011 numbers, Crawford's presence in the lineup completely changes the dynamic of it, and interleague play in NL ballparks would have been an excellent opportunity for him to display that.
But perhaps, in Crawford's absence, we are catching a greater glimpse of what he means to the Sox lineup.
The Red Sox are 3-5 since he's been out of the lineup and have scored four or fewer runs in six of the eight games. During that eight-game span, the Sox have stolen only four bases — one of which was a flukey play involving David Ortiz. Crawford's stolen base numbers aren't exactly where you'd expect them to be at this time of year — mainly due to his slow start at the plate — but he still remains a major threat whenever he's on the basepaths.
During the current stretch of road interleague games, which are generally geared more toward small ball, Crawford's explosiveness on the bases and ability to handle the bat could have exponentially helped a Sox offense that has taken a major step backward since scoring 83 runs over the course of a nine-game winning streak earlier this month.
Since Crawford's been out of the lineup, the Red Sox' Nos. 6-9 spots have combined to hit .276 (32-116). It's not a bad figure when you take into account the three games in Pittsburgh in which the Sox were forced to eliminate the DH. But the Sox are also hitting .205 (17-for-83) top-to-bottom with runners in scoring position during that time.
Even when Crawford's not hitting, his presence in the lineup is bound to change the way pitchers face other hitters. And no matter how much Crawford has struggled at times this season, the thought of facing J.D. Drew or Darnell McDonald or Mike Cameron or Jarrod Saltalamacchia, or whoever else may be inserted into the bottom of the order, on any given day without Crawford somewhere blended into the mix is far less daunting than with him in it.
In fact, Crawford's season hasn't been as bad, statistically, as one might be led to believe based on his overall season numbers. If you throw out the 13 games in which he fell on his face at the top of the Red Sox order — which I understand is difficult to do — and focus on his numbers while batting in the Nos. 6-9 spots in the order, he hasn't been that bad.
He's hitting .278 while hitting toward the bottom of the order, including a .344 clip in the 16 games he's batted sixth.
Crawford has also hit .286 with some key clutch hits from the seventh inning on this season, which could be helping the Sox as they continue to engage in close battles with NL opponents.
While it's difficult to gauge the exact impact that Crawford would be having during the Red Sox' current stretch of games against the National League, there's no doubt they'd be better off with him in the lineup. Even though he's had his share of struggles this season, he's a career .306 hitter in interleague play.
Yes, obviously not having David Ortiz in the lineup every day is hurting the Red Sox offensively. But not having Crawford, who could potentially use five tools throughout the course of a game geared more toward small ball, has been bigger than many might be willing to recognize.
Crawford hopes to be back for the weekend series in Houston to play in his hometown. For the Red Sox' sake, they should hope that he is too. A 3-5 stretch is only a minor hiccup over the course of 162 games, but when you completely obliterate opponents for two months, it's justifiable –albeit greedy — to continue to expect the same.
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