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Will Middlebrooks flips the power switch

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  September 11, 2013 08:35 AM

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Playing nine innings while wondering why John Farrell still won't play Xander Bogaerts in place of Stephen Drew against lefties ...

middle.jpg1. Will Middlebrooks now has compiled roughly a full season's worth of major league statistics, and it's a pretty fascinating line:

155 604 560 71 148 31 0 30 95 6 32 151 .264 .307 .480 .787 110
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/11/2013.

While we're still sorting out precisely what Middlebrooks is going to be in the long-term, there are encouraging signs that suggest he's going to be the quintessential No. 5 hitter we all projected him to be after his impressive burst of a rookie season. In his 26 games since coming back from Pawtucket exile a month ago yesterday, he has hit .356/.422/.600 with six home runs in 102 plate appearances. At the very least, we now know the power, which is at a premium right now in major-league baseball, is legitimate. Another encouraging sign: Instead of going down to Pawtucket and burying himself, he got his attitude straight, worked on what he needed to work on, and then took advantage of the opportunity when it came back around. Pretty impressive.

2. Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, particularly considering the good times that are going on right now with the Red Sox, but it is going to be fascinating to see how the whole first base/outfield situation shakes out over the winter. The Red Sox have an abundance of quality players at the two (really, four) positions, particularly if Jacoby Ellsbury sticks around. And that doesn't even take into consideration the possibility of moving Middlebrooks across the diamond. There are a lot of moving parts, but I'm beginning to think there's one part I don't want to see moved: I know he's wildly inconsistent, but I hope the Red Sox find a way to bring back Mike Napoli at a reasonable rate. The 2-3 times he's scalding hot over the course of a season change everything about the lineup. He's having that September I told you about, and I hope he's not so easily dismissed in the offseason.

3. Well, that sure looked like the same old outstanding Clay Buchholz to me. I didn't expect that kind of a performance in his first return to a big league mound since June 8, but there he was throwing five scoreless innings in a meaningful game against a desperate team that had its ace on the mound. As frustrating as his three-month hiatus was, his return in exceptional form Tuesday night, improving to 10-0 with a 1.61 ERA this season, is a reasonable indication that the Red Sox handled this situation right. He was ready, he was great, and a bright outlook for this team just got a little brighter.

martinezpedrofinn911.JPG4. In case you missed it, Pedro Martinez will be a studio analyst on TBS's postseason baseball coverage. I've been told he's replacing David Wells, which if you think about it is sort of the opposite of what the Red Sox did between the 2004-05 seasons. One source told me Pedro, who will be great at this, was going to be paired with Dennis Eckersley, who is great at this, but it appears Eck may end up in the TBS booth as a color analyst alongside another familiar voice, Don Orsillo. TBS has also apparently hired Bobby Valentine to be a studio analyst, but you don't care about that.

5. Speaking of 2004 Red Sox pitching heroes who are dabbling in broadcasting, I thought Derek Lowe was pretty good in his debut in the Red Sox television booth Friday night. He grew more comfortable as the game went along, had some Eck-like insights on pitching (thought it was interesting that he said he came to learn hitters typically sit on soft stuff in a 2-2 count), and was as self-deprecating as ever. With a little more polish, he could have a future in this if it's something he wants to pursue.

6. I hope free-agent-to-be Jarrod Saltalamacchia is back with this team next year on something like a three-year, $25-million deal. His pop is legitimate (46 extra-base hits this year, including 35 doubles), he's continued to improve, he's become more of a take-charge type since getting out of Jason Varitek's shadow, and for whatever flaws he has, he's pretty easy to appreciate after watching Ryan Lavarnway for a couple of games.

7. Mariano Rivera's numbers right now look pretty much like how we've come to expect Mariano Rivera's numbers to look at this point in any season. He has a 2.22 ERA, 42 saves, and a 1.09 WHIP, a fine season by most standards. But he's blown five saves since the beginning of August, and during his two recent blown saves against the Red Sox, it was alarming how far off the mark he was with some pitches. He was always so precise with that buzz-saw cutter. As much as Joe Girardi might want him to stick around for another year, it's starting to look like he's retiring at just the right time. He came back from the devastating knee injury and thrived again. But he seems to have the good sense to know that it's time to say goodbye, something I suspect his longtime teammate Derek Jeter is going to fight until someone makes the decision for him.

8. Koji Uehara has had two consecutive scoreless months. He's one-third of the way through another. He's retired the last 31 batters he's faced. If this keeps up, doesn't he have to start deserving consideration for a major award -- and I'm talking about one more prestigious than being the Red Sox 10th Player honoree. He's having arguably the greatest season a relief pitcher has ever had, one very similar to Dennis Eckersley's 1990 season, when he had a 0.61 ERA, a 0.614 WHIP, and finished fifth in the MVP balloting and sixth in the Cy Young voting. I'd be surprised if Uehara gets similar consideration, but he sure does deserve some significant accolade for all that he has done for the American Leagues' winningest team

9. As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:


In case you missed it or just aren't up on your Yakult Swallows news, Balentien hit his 55th homer of the season last night, tying Japan's single-season record held by Sadaharu Oh (1964), Tuffy Rhodes (2001), and Alex Cabrera (2002). It wasn't that long ago that Balentien was a decent power prospect for the Mariners, putting up an .886 OPS in 302 Triple A games. But he hit just 15 homers with a .221/.281/.374 slash-line in 559 plate appearances over parts of three seasons with the Mariners and Reds (2007-09). If he ever gives it one more shot stateside, he strikes me as someone Dan Duquette would take a flier on.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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