Will Middlebrooks

Why you should have cared about Thursday's Red Sox game: Hope for Will Middlebrooks, Clay Buchholz

September 11, 2014 - 7:38 pm
(For the final month of the regular season, "Closing Time" will be called "Why you should have cared," looking beyond the final score -- at a time when losses are arguably more valuable to the Sox than wins (for draft and waiver position) -- for either meaningful signs for 2015 or simple aesthetic considerations.) Stephen Drew wasn't simply sent to the Yankees as some kind of Trojan Horse. The Red Sox recognized, even hoped, that he might help New York. But the team's desire to see Xander Bogaerts at shortstop and Will Middlebrooks at third down the stretch was so compelling that they were willing to aid an enemy with whom they had not dealt since 1997. Bogaerts has rewarded that strategy. He has shown growing comfort both at shortstop and back in the batter's box down the stretch, laying what both the player and the team hope will prove to be a springboard for greater success in 2015. Middlebrooks has been another story. The third baseman entered Thursday hitting .173 with a .209 OBP and .218 slugging mark in 32 games since the trade of Drew, and marks of .182/.249/.260 on the year. He had gone 10 straight games without a multi-hit performance; he collected two hits (and no more than two hits) in five of his first 53 games. Team officials still believe that the same player who made a splash in the big leagues in 2012 -- delivering arguably the best rookie performance of any Red Sox position player since Dustin Pedroia -- still is present, but is dormant inside the struggling third baseman. While belief in his potential remains present in the organization, however, the validation of that faith has been rare. And so, nights like Thursday matter to those who seek evidence of Middlebrooks the producer. The 26-year-old went 2-for-4 with a double , a walk and an RBI. He managed to lay off breaking stuff off the plate away, manage his at-bats and hit the ball hard. The game marked his second of the year (first since May 1, when he had two hits and got hit by a pitch) in which he reached base three times. It was the sort of contest that served as something of a reminder -- in the same venue where Middlebrooks had one of his most dominant early-career performances, slamming homers down both lines and nearly driving a ball out to center near the start of his big league career in 2012 -- from a player who has plenty to prove down the stretch in order to win a roster spot in 2015. Middlebrooks and the Sox did some spoiling, beating the AL Central-leading Royals, 6-3. OTHER REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD HAVE CARED ABOUT THURSDAY'S GAME -- Feats of Mookie: Leadoff prototype. Mookie Betts continued to serve as a kickstarter for the Red Sox offense, going 2-for-5. He has reached base at least once in all six of the games where he's led off, including four contests where he's reached at least twice. In 24 games since becoming an everyday player for the Sox, Betts is now hitting .303/.392/.493 with 13 walks and 15 strikeouts. "To have that skill set -- on-base, base-stealing ability, and in his case, the ability to impact the baseball with extra-base power, he's a pretty dynamic skill set," manager John Farrell told reporters before the game. "It's very encouraging to see the athleticism which he plays with." -- Clay Buchholz continues to offer the Sox a measure of reassurance about what he should be able to contribute next year. He delivered his fourth straight quality start (and fourth straight outing in which he reached the seventh inning) on Thursday, tossing 6 1/3 frames in which he permitting three runs (two earned) on six hits (four singles, two doubles) while walking three and punching out seven. In his last seven starts, Buchholz is now 3-1 with a 3.18 ERA, 7.8 strikeouts and 2.3 walks per nine innings. -- Jackie Bradley Jr., who stands to claim increased playing time with Betts slated to move back to second, had a tough night in his first start in four days and his second since being recalled from Pawtucket. He went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts and grounded into a double play.