AL East Standing: 1st
Weekly Record: 4-4
Current Record: 71-49
(Every weekend I will attempt to give some brief thoughts on the past week for the Boston Red Sox. It will be filled with hopes, frustrations, exhilaration, pain, and puns.)
The Return of Will
This past week, Will Middlebrooks was finally called back from Pawtucket to man the hot corner for the Boston Red Sox. My colleague Jayson has quite ably written up the call-up, but I just want to say that it was the smartest move possible for the Red Sox. Brock Holt and Brandon Snyder just weren’t cutting it, and I seem to be one of the few Sox fans (Pops is screaming about how wrong I am as I write this) who’s wary of calling up Xander Bogaerts too soon. He’s incredibly young, incredibly talented, and has a bright future ahead of him, without a doubt. But Middlebrooks is far and away the best and, believe it or not, safest option for Boston, entirely because they have nothing to lose. Should Middlebrooks somehow go back to his turgid hitting of earlier in the year, he’ll still be producing at the same level the Holt/Snyder platoon was, except with more power. The upside, of course, is so much higher.
The sneaky good part of this move? Middlebrooks, for better or worse is a player whose success is hugely affected by his confidence. We saw it last year, as he excelled when the Red Sox chose him over Youkilis. We saw his confidence fail him earlier his year, as his struggles only worsened as he continued to press, trying to whack his way out of his slumps. Now that they’ve called him up, over the breathing-down-his-neck Bogaerts, this is a huge vote of confidence for the young third baseman. And rightly so. I believe that the Middlebrooks we saw last year is much more indicative of his raw talent than the Middlebrooks we saw at the beginning of this year (his 3-homer night against the Blue Jays notwithstanding).
And so far so good. Middlebrooks’ first night went exceedingly well: a 2-run single, an infield single (hustle!), a flyout to left, and a groundout to second. His second night (1-3, 2 K, 1 BB) wasn’t as great, but he’s performing well overall, and looks good at the plate. Should he find his power again, the Red Sox’ already dangerous lineup becomes absurdly powerful. And while Ortiz is and always will be the power threat, he would give them another righty home-run threat along with Mike Napoli and Jonny Gomes. Obviously he may fall off a cliff hitting-wise. But at least he can never be the biggest headache of a 3rd baseman in the AL East! (Thanks A-Fraud.)
If Jonny Gomes isn’t my favorite player on the 2013 Red Sox he’s at least very very close. He has a ridiculous amount of energy, and is by all accounts a tremendous clubhouse presence. He celebrates key hits by pretending to be a punter. He has a magnificent beard. He has four pinch-hit home runs, one away from the all-time Boston Red Sox record. Two of those are walk-off home runs. His defense is somehow simultaneously consistent and constantly frightening (only the one error this season), and that’s with the defense of the Green Monster that made Manny look so good all those years. He defines everything that makes this team so fun to watch: gritty, energetic, kinda weird, and with a huge chip on his shoulder.
But one thing remains: a nickname. Gomes is a unique last name, and spitting out a Nicholson-in-Shining “Here’s Jonny!!!” after every big play has its merits, but he needs a fan-bestowed nickname. Desperately. Pedey and Papi are nicknames that both capture their roles/character and the alliterative pairing that will always join them together and to the Red Sox legacy. Victorino is the “Flyin Hawaiian.” Players like Ellsbury and Middlebrooks have appropriately shortened last names as nicknames (Ells and Midd), and in that regard Jarrod Saltalamacchia takes all cakes (Salt). Koji is just Koji. And yes, I still giggle whenever someone calls Mike Napoli “Hacksaw.”
My point being, for a player so emblematic of the team spirit that has swept up a region that ranged between hesitant and completely disinterested at the start of the season, we need to give him a nickname. My sister, Bug, says it should have something to do with his beard, that is, as she put it, “Viking.” Pops shrugged and offered, “Jonny B. Gomes” before muttering that he was at a loss. Other suggestions I’ve gotten are “The Beard”, “Bowzer”, “Knock”, and “The Cinco”. I, for one, am completely at a loss, which makes me really sad. Jonny Gomes is undeniably awesome, and requires a nickname that suits him.
So please, if you’ve got any ideas, leave them below. For my peace of mind, at the very least.
One-Up: Jacoby Ellsbury
Starting with Monday’s Houston opener, the center-fielder has gone 9-25 with 5 RBI, 4 BB, and 2 SB. In recent weeks he’s begun to flash his power again, and remains as consistent as ever in the field. It’s safe to say that Ellsbury has regained the stock that dropped off since last year’s disappointment. Which of course means…
One-Down: Sox fans who want to see Ellsbury stick around
…that we better not get too used to him in a Sox uniform. With teams now more regularly locking up their homegrown superstar players to long-term contracts, free-agent classes are becoming less and less impressive. As has been oft-written about, Ellsbury is represented by the devil himself, Scott Boras, he of the long, drawn-out, painful negotiation. It’s pretty safe to say that, at least with the shape of the market, Jacoby has played his way into a big contract, and the question is whether or not the Red Sox are willing to pony up the big bucks for him. After all, Jackie Bradley Jr. has impressed in the minor leagues, and was always set up as Ellsbury’s replacement. This is definitely something to watch, but my guess is, some other team will jump and the Red Sox won’t match. And, honestly, good for Ells.
One-Up: How the bullpen is shaping up
Against all odds, the Red Sox bullpen still remains a huge strength of late. Craig Breslow still remains a dependable lefty, and Franklin Morales is on his way back to the team from rehabbing. I weirdly love the idea of having Brandon Workman, Drake Britton, and Rubby De La Rosa all coming out of the pen this fall (the latter’s two first appearances perfectly encapsulate him as a player: his first a magnificent 1-2-3 outing with sharp stuff, and then his fastball flattening out in the second, giving up two homers). And of course, as long as the Red Sox can get to Tazawa and Uehara, they’ll be okay. Uehara, especially, has been an absolute superstar this season. I’d love to see the Sox give him another one-year flyer next year, as he can once again be the one mark of consistency on a dramatically changing team.
One-Down: Jake Peavy
5 innings, 105 pitches, 1 BB, 0 K, 6 ER, 10 H, 2 HR. Yeesh. My guess is this is an outlier for Peavy, but still. Not pretty at all.