When the Red Sox saw three of their top five hitters get sidelined with injuries in a short period of time, many wondered why Carl Crawford — rather than names like Darnell McDonald, Mike Aviles, Jed Lowrie and Marco Scutaro — was not moved up toward the top of the lineup card.
Terry Francona's response was blunt. He said he thought about it, but didn't want to distract Crawford by moving him around too much.
Seems like an odd explanation, but maybe there's something to it. Those other names can be shuffled a bit more without much detriment to their routine; their roles are less regular than Crawford's. In addition, if Crawford got hot, it would lend balance to a batting order that was stretched thin and.
Finally, maybe Francona saw something the rest of us did not and simply did not want to mess around too much.
Thus far, the strategy has paid off.
While the top of the lineup has been stripped bare and now built back up, Crawford has begun to heat up in the bottom half of the order. On Wednesday night, batting seventh for the sixth straight game, he had a two-run homer, a two-run double and tied a career high with five RBIs, part of Boston's 13-2 rout of the Texas Rangers.
It is hard to tell if Crawford is entering the kind of groove that most of us expected from him. He has shown flashes of that this season, only to dive right back into a slump. What remains clear is how much more potent this lineup can be with Crawford having nights like this, even if it's from the bottom of the order, or, more accurately, because it's from the bottom of the order.
"It's good," said Francona. "When he's doing that … We talk about Ellsbury at the top of the lineup all the time. When Carl's that type of player, it gives us that other speed guy. He left the ballpark with a home run to center. It just makes us that much better."
Crawford would have to go on quite a tear to finish with numbers even close to his career norms. This will be a down year from a statistical perspective. That doesn't mean it can't end on a good note, and perhaps this little run will be the one that finally has some staying power.
The effort Wednesday night gave Crawford a .346 average (9-for-26) during his current seven-game hitting streak. He has eight RBIs in his last five games. His painfully low slugging percentage has received a nice boost with a pair of homers and a pair of doubles.
And on Wednesday, the double and a long sacrifice fly came off of a left-hander. It's been a season-long grind versus southpaws for Crawford, so every little improvement he can show is such situations is more than welcome.
For the speedy left fielder, it's just a matter of finding that elusive comfort zone.
"I've been feeling a little bit better, just trying to get comfortable with every at-bat," he said.
If one factor in that pursuit involves keeping Crawford in the sixth or seventh spot in the lineup, so be it. It's almost September, a time when finding a way to get the most out of your players means so much more than putting them in a spot that justifies their salary.
By staying put, Crawford has taken off.