BOSTON — The Yankees have baseball’s best record but they are ranked 24th out of 30 big league clubs in stolen bases while the 44-48 Miami Marlins (fourth in the NL East) lead the majors with 88 steals.
Base stealing in the major leagues is overrated.
But speed isn’t, especially when it translates into scoring runs.
Without further ado ... welcome back Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford.
With the speedy duo of Ellsbury leading off and Crawford batting in the two hole, the Red Sox have scored four first-inning runs in four games combined.
Not only have the two speedsters been stealing bases (four combined). But more important, they have legged out infield singles, gone from first to third on singles to the outfield, been involved in a couple of hit-and-run plays and crossed the plate early and often.
Ellsbury has scored five runs in seven games since returning from the disabled list. Crawford has scored six runs in four games.
“They’ve shown the last couple of nights why (speed) is good,” White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham said. “They get on base and they score runs.”
Crawford said Monday that he wanted to use his speed to make infielders and pitchers nervous.
“You know going into that at-bat that if it’s a chopper or a slower hit ball, you’re going to have to rush,” Beckham said. “I had one (Tuesday), a chopper up the middle that Crawford hit that I knew I was going to have to get out of my glove immediately if I was going to get him. And on the way out, I just couldn’t get a good grip. By that time, it was a base hit.”
Beckham said infielders must be aware of the best angles to grounders and charge mostly everything when Ellsbury and Crawford are running to first.
“And if they do get on base, they create a lot of issues because you do know that they’re going to try to steal,” Beckham said. “The pitcher has pressure because (Crawford and Ellsbury) have a great chance to steal a base. And then the outfielders know that they have to get the ball in quick because of the speed.”
Chicago pitcher Philip Humber, who started against Boston on Tuesday, said Ellsbury and Crawford have a knack for getting in scoring position.
“And any time a person is in scoring position, not matter how they got there, you’ve got to bear down and try to make pitches to keep them from scoring,” Humber said.
So far so good for Ellsbury and Crawford. They have made an already dangerous Red Sox lineup, which leads the majors in runs, even more feared. Four games is a small sample size, but Crawford appears to be putting less pressure on himself than last year. All that said, the Ellsbury-Crawford duo might not be around for long together.
Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino said on WEEI yesterday that GM Ben Cherington is empowered to make a bold trade before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Reports have surfaced this week that the Red Sox have approached other teams to gauge interest in Crawford and have received calls about Crawford.
Crawford’s injured ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow and his big contract makes it difficult to trade him.
Ellsbury, on the other hand, seems like more logical trade bait.
There is a good chance the center fielder will leave Boston to test the free agent market after next season anyway. And this is a better time than next year’s July 31 deadline for Boston to receive the most value in return for Ellsbury.
That’s because the new collective bargaining agreement doesn’t allow a team to offer a player arbitration unless that player has been on that team for that entire season. So if a team traded for Ellsbury during the middle of next season, it would not receive a compensation draft pick if Ellsbury signed with another club during free agency. So teams will be less willing to offer top prospects for the center fielder next season.
For the time being though, no trade appears close for either speedster, so just enjoy the 1-2 punch at the top of the Boston lineup. It’s been fun to watch but not to defend.
“Going into a game, knowing the first couple of batters you’re going to see are guys who can fly, yeah, it puts you on your toes really quick,” Beckham said.