If Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz are the heart and soul of the Red Sox, Jacoby Ellsbury is the pacemaker. If the Memorial Day Ellsbury survives without injury or major slump, the Sox will be contenders for a World Series berth and World Championship.
The new Red Sox can ride the energy of Pedroia and the clutch hitting of Ortiz to a winning season, but they need someone to create havoc in low-scoring contests. That someone is Ellsbury. Between his speed and situational hitting, Ellsbury puts the team in contention in games when the heart of the line-up is befuddled by breaking balls and pinpoint pitching. Pedroia has the gift of getting on base as well, but only Ellsbury can create panic by his presence on the basepaths.
This should not undervalue the many role-players that make up the Red Sox, but those role-players are not enough to attack dominant pitchers like Hiroki Kuroda or Matt Moore or Justin Verlander. When the Red Sox need to manufacture runs, they need Ellsbury and Shane Victorino to get on and keep moving. The Sox find it fairly easy to load the bases, but getting the runs across the plate remains a challenge.
So when the heart is failing, bring on the pacemaker. He has the talent to bunt his way on or to reach out and poke the outside pitch to left field. He has the speed to steal his way from first to third and don’t leave home plate unprotected!
There are too many uncertainties to put a lock on first plate yet. Injury is the widest pitfall and the pressure to go deep could thwart the good swings he is taking now, but if Ells stay healthy and keeps taking the outside pitch to left, he will keep the Sox in every remaining game.
And the fielding? We saw on Monday how his hitting put a charge into his fielding, as he made a spectacular over the shoulder catch (see photo) and threw out two runners on the base paths. He just needs to avoid a “Victorino,” a close encounter with a wall at full speed.
The best teams rely on every player to step up sometime in the game. But the best teams also have a pacemaker, someone who can make something out of nothing and fabricate runs on the bad days. Ellsbury is the pacemaker, the one who keeps the heart pumping on days when the main arteries are clogged.