September 22, 2013

On Baseball: Sox need October heroes, but who will step up?

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BOSTON — Now what?

The Boston Red Sox won their first American League East title in six years.

While winning games remains important – and claiming the best record in the AL to earn home-field advantage in the playoffs – Boston can also look ahead. Here are a few players and topics to keep an eye on.

JACOBY ELLSBURY

In the most publicized Tee-ball event of the season, it was announced Friday that Ellsbury had "resumed baseball activities." That involved throwing a baseball and hitting a few on a tee.

Can Ellsbury go from Tee-ball to leading off for a World Series contender in less than two weeks?

The problem is a slight fracture in a bone atop Ellsbury's right foot. He has not played since Sept. 5.

Red Sox Manager John Farrell hopes to have Ellsbury play before the playoffs, likely in Baltimore next weekend.

Besides being an offensive threat (.299 average, .355 on-base percentage, 52 stolen bases), Ellsbury's center field play is key. His presence allows Boston's best fielder, Shane Victorino, to play in right.

SHANE VICTORINO

Speaking of Victorino, he's been out with a jammed thumb, another in a series of injuries that Victorino is playing through.

Victorino is a tough guy, but he can break down. This would be a terrible time for that.

JACKIE BRADLEY JR.

When projecting the playoff roster, Bradley is on the bubble.

He is batting only .186 in 32 major league games (with a .278 on-base percentage) and Boston already has six outfielders – Ellsbury, Victorino, Daniel Nava, Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp and Quintin Berry.

Those first five guys are a lock, assuming Ellsbury can come back. And Berry is the elite pinch-runner (22 of 22 in stolen base attempts), who may prove the difference in a close game (i.e., a Dave Roberts moment).

Bradley brings tangibles. He can get hot (four hits in his previous two games) and he is a superb outfielder, which is a plus if Ellsbury cannot go.

Bradley's offense is still developing.

"He's still getting his feet on the ground," Farrell said. "Still understanding major league pitching. He's been challenged."

XANDER BOGAERTS

Since being called up in August, Bogaerts is batting .286 with a .779 OPS (combing on-base and slugging averages). He could provide a key role as utility player/pinch hitter.

Bogaerts not only can handle shortstop and third base more than adequately, but he brings an explosive bat, especially against left-handed pitching (hitting 6 for 12).

STEPHEN DREW

In a key moment of Wednesday's game against Baltimore, the left-handed hitting Stephen Drew faced left-handed reliever T.J. McFarland. It was the bottom of the 11th, the score tied 3-3 and Boston had runners on first and second with one out.

Drew grounded into a double play. It was not surprising since Drew is batting .181 against left-handers. In the playoffs, Farrell may do things differently.

"Going forward, when there's more of a sense of urgency with postseason situations, that is something Stephen and I will talk about in advance," Farrell said. "We're well aware of what Stephen is doing against left-handed pitching. There might be a time for (pinch-hitting for him)."

THE BULLPEN

The group of relievers is getting a boost with the addition of Ryan Dempster, who is no longer needed in the rotation. Farrell has made it clear that Dempster is not simply going to become an occasional long reliever.

Dempster, a veteran, can enter in tight spots. And he has the stuff (156 strikeouts in 168 innings) to make a difference. He could be that right-handed set-up man Boston has needed, to go along with Junichi Tazawa and Brandon Workman.

Felix Doubront is scheduled to make his last start Sunday at Fenway. He will also join the bullpen. His status is less clear.

Boston already has two left-handed relievers sure to be on the postseason roster -- Craig Breslow and Franklin Morales.

Matt Thornton is another left-handed option. Lefties are hitting about the same against Thornton (.244) and Doubront (.242). Doubront may be better at getting the strikeout, but Thornton is more experienced as a reliever – a role that Doubront dislikes.

Stay tuned.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

kthomas@pressherald.com

Twitter: @ClearTheBases

 

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