Wake and rake.
It’s a mantra Will Middlebrooks prides himself on, and it steered him in the right direction on Sunday. The third baseman launched three home runs, and the Red Sox blasted six round-trippers in total while finishing up their road trip with a 13-0 blowout win over the Blue Jays.
Sunday’s effort was a stark contrast from Saturday, when Middlebrooks went 0-for-3 while the Red Sox mustered up just two hits in a 5-0 loss, and it could be the start of something special for the 24-year-old. That bodes well for Boston.
The Red Sox entered Sunday’s series finale near the top of the league in on-base percentage and runs, yet they had just two home runs in their first five games. Both of those blasts came in Friday’s win, and they were provided by Middlebrooks and Mike Napoli, who also went deep in Sunday’s route. The power outage wasn’t too concerning, as the club’s power potential is destined to rise once David Ortiz and Stephen Drew return to the lineup, but there was some question as to if and when the Sox would ultimately start producing long balls.
Manager John Farrell said when he was hired that the Red Sox would be relentless, meaning they’d keep their foot on the gas at all times. The best way for the Sox to do that is to use their patient approach at the plate to consistently make life difficult for opposing pitchers. They’ve done a good job of that early on this season, but having a bona fide power threat changes the dynamic of the Boston lineup.
Ever since Manny Ramirez and then Jason Bay left town, the Red Sox have been looking for a right-handed compliment to Ortiz. Middlebrooks now figures to be that guy, while Napoli could also enjoy a healthy dose of dingers once Boston opens up its home slate at Fenway Park — a field tailor made for Napoli’s swing.
Middlebrooks smacked 15 home runs in just 267 at-bats in 75 games last season, and he completely raked in spring training, but he was hitting just .200 (4-for-20) in the team’s first five games. Middlebrooks is just too good a hitter to be held down for long, though, and following Sunday’s breakout, the only question is just how high the young infielder’s ceiling is.
“Everybody’s going to point to the three home runs, but you look at the slow roller that he made. He handled a couple of hot shots down at third base as well,” Farrell said after Sunday’s win. “He’s an all-around player, a guy that profiles the position to a tee. He’s a very good athlete. He was interrupted a year ago because of a broken wrist, but he’s clearly back with no restrictions.”
A healthy, locked-in Middlebrooks is a scary thought for opposing pitchers, especially if the rest of the lineup can continue to get on base at a solid clip, as it did on Sunday. The Red Sox can score runs and win games while playing small ball until the cows come home, but home run derbies like Sunday can put games out of reach, and thus alleviate some of the pressure the team’s starting pitchers face.
“Any time you can get a little bit of breathing room and maybe put them on the defense a little bit, it obviously takes a little pressure off me and makes them try to work the count a little bit more,” Sunday’s starter, Jon Lester, said after the game. “So we can, not necessarily change the game plan, but attack a little bit more than normal and we were able to do that.”
Napoli, Jacoby Ellsbury and Daniel Nava also left the yard as part of Boston’s 15-hit attack, but it was Middlebrooks’ huge day that really put the wheels in motion. Those wheels might not stop turning any time soon.
Middlebrooks awoke and raked on Sunday. Now, it’s time to rinse and repeat.
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