It’s usually hard to find things that went wrong in a 12-2 victory. That being said, it would be unfit to call the events of the Red Sox’ home opener anything more than bittersweet. Reid Brignac did his very best Adrian Beltre impression last Friday when he came toppling down on Jacoby Ellsbury’s right shoulder, leaving the star center fielder and leadoff man out for at least six weeks.
There’s almost no debate that Ellsbury was the best player on the team last season. He led the team, and the American League, with a 9.4 WAR, and his dynamic speed out of the leadoff spot always kept the top of the order dangerous. So, with the MVP candidate sidelined for roughly two months, the question becomes, can Boston stay afloat in the incredibly competitive American League East?
The answer, at least initially, seems to be yes, as long as everyone else does their job.
Let’s not forget, this is pretty much the same lineup that scored the most runs in the Majors last year. Account for the facts that they scored those runs with Carl Crawford hitting .255, and that they literally had the worst production from right field of any team in the majors, and things are actually looking pretty good. Now with Cody Ross taking over in the outfield and Mike Aviles, who so far is looking better than Marco Scutaro, entrenched in the lineup, the Sox should theoretically score more runs than last year which is hard to believe.
Speaking of Mike Aviles, let’s handle this leadoff dilemma now. I don’t care if he’s a “contact” hitter. I don’t care if he sees more pitches per at bat than the average major leaguer. I don’t care that he already has two home runs (actually, that is pretty surprising). Mike Aviles is not a leadoff hitter.
We’re talking about a player who has a .318 career OBP. That’s only .014 points higher than Jarrod Saltlamacchia’s career mark. Ellsbury has gotten on base at a career .354 clip, and people always complain that he can’t take a walk as the leadoff man. Aviles doesn’t even feature too much speed, as he’s never stolen more than 14 bases in a season. Don’t buy the power either, his HR/FB ratio is sitting at a lofty 33.3% right now, and will plummet in the weeks to come. That being said, we are being tough on Aviles. His .290 average actually looks pretty sustainable right now (only a .290 BABIP), and his defense has been perfectly adequate (0.1 FLD). Mike Aviles will contribute to this team, it just shouldn’t be from the leadoff spot. So with that being the case, what’s the answer?
That’s where everyone’s favorite 142 million dollar man comes in. Carl Crawford is scheduled to make his first appearance in an extended Spring Training game later this afternoon, and after 50 or so at bats, we should expect him up North. That puts him on target for an early May return, and if I were Bobby Valentine (and I’m not, I actually kind of like Kevin Youkilis and I couldn’t make a wrap to save my life) then Crawford would be leading off from day one of his return. Sure, he only has .333 career OBP, he has stated multiple times that he doesn’t enjoy hitting first, and he was flat out terrible last year, but to me, the move still makes sense.
For one, there’s no way Crawford can be as bad as he was last year, there just isn’t. On top of that, he offers a key element that Aviles doesn’t: speed. Last year was the worst season of his career and he still stole four more bases than Aviles ever has in a season. Let’s not forget, this is a guy who stole 60 bases only three years ago. He is certainly slowing down, but it’s not like he had his legs amputated when he inked his deal. He’s still capable of stealing 35 bases, easy. On top of that, Crawford’s return should see him playing centerfield everyday, which will vastly improve Boston’s defense. Not saying Cody Ross can’t play a capable center field, because he can, but the Sox measure up a lot better with Crawford in center, Ross in left, and Sweeney in right. In fact, on paper, that’s one of the best defensive outfields in the game.
So can the Sox survive without Ellsbury? Absolutely. Will they? Well, as I always told my parents after they asked how my algebra tests went, only time will tell. There’s no question that he will be missed, it’s impossible not to miss a player of that caliber. But if the rest of the lineup pulls their weight, and the pitching at least stays consistent, then the Sox will be just fine until #2 is back in the grass in centerfield and at the top of the lineup card every night.