Cody Ross: Why 'The Boss' Can Turn His Big Start into a Big Season

Chris MahrContributor IMay 1, 2012

Cody Ross: Why 'The Boss' Can Turn His Big Start into a Big Season

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    Did the Boston Red Sox foresee Cody Ross as a team pillar when they signed him to a one-year, $3 million deal in January? Or just as added depth to the outfield?

    Whatever Boston’s intentions were for the 31-year-old veteran, the team has certainly gotten its money’s worth.

    After Monday’s 11–6 win over the Oakland A’s, “The Boss” is second on the Red Sox in home runs (five) and RBI (18), has scored 13 runs and manned all three outfield positions without making an error.

    At his current pace, Ross will easily exceed his two-year prime in 2008 and ’09, when he averaged 23 home runs and 82 RBI.

    His continued success in 2012 isn’t merely a statistical projection. There are qualitative aspects to Ross’ performance so far that has him trending upward.

1. Protection in the Lineup

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    There is plenty of thunder in the batting order before Ross, who has batted sixth or lower in all but two games in 2012.

    Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis all figure to come before Ross when they are healthy and/or rounded into midseason form.

    Opposing pitchers are most intent on getting through those five batters. They don’t focus so much on a guy like Ross—and he can make them pay for doing so.

    Boston’s offense has always been tailor-made for bottom-of-the-order hitters to contribute.

    Guys like Jason Varitek, Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller, Trot Nixon, Mark Bellhorn, Mark Loretta and Marco Scutaro—when pitchers think they can relax after going through the heart of the order—can help put more crooked numbers on the board.

    Ross isn’t going to be Boston’s best slugger. But his place in the lineup—and the thumpers ahead of him in the order—put him in good position to make an impact.

2. Success in Clutch Situations

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    Cody Ross delivers when it matters most.

    In fact, that’s when he usually delivers.

    After he was claimed by San Francisco off waivers in August 2010, Ross batted .288 in 33 regular season games and helped the Giants catch the Padres for the NL West title.

    That was a prelude to a clutch postseason in which he hit five home runs—three of them breaking up no-hitters—and claimed MVP honors in the NLCS en route to San Fran’s World Series title.

    Ross is already starting to exhibit that good timing in Boston. When the Red Sox were reeling from five straight losses, he hit both the game-tying and game-winning home runs in Boston’s much-needed victory at Minnesota on April 23 (kick-starting a five-game winning streak).

    With the demons of 2011’s late-season collapse still rearing their heads, having a player with a reputation for delivering when the game is on the line goes a long way on the scoreboard and with team morale.

3. Prototypical Fenway Swing

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    Ross is capable of going to the opposite field.

    But when he’s really crushing the ball, it’s to left and left center.

    And he’s had a couple of home runs at home where you could see how much he enjoyed hitting the ball over the Green Monster.

    Hitters with pull-heavy swings like Ross always seem to benefit from playing half their games at Fenway. Fly balls in any other ballpark suddenly turn into home runs and doubles.

    When Mike Lowell came to Boston in 2006, he immediately started peppering the Monster with line drives (when he wasn’t clearing it entirely).

    You can be sure that hitting coach Dave Magadan has talked with Ross about taking advantage of Fenway’s confines.

    Ross has three home runs and 10 RBI in just nine home games. If he keeps that up, the Red Sox will be that much harder to beat in their home ballpark.

4. Guarantee of Playing Time

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    At the earliest, Carl Crawford will be back in two-and-a-half months.

    For Jacoby Ellsbury, it will be a month to a month-and-a-half before he’s returns from his shoulder injury.

    Until then, Ross is the best all-around player among the Red Sox’s available outfielders.

    Ryan Sweeney has been red-hot at the plate and has flashed the leather in right field, but he doesn’t have the power of Ross. Marlon Byrd is hitting just .178 on the season, split between the Cubs and Red Sox. And Darnell McDonald is more a utility player than an everyday guy.

    Ross is a definite starter now, and he is the best option as the third outfielder when both Crawford and Ellsbury return from the DL.

    And when Ross is guaranteed to play, he puts up decent numbers. He has exceeded 14 home runs and 52 RBI in each season when he’s played 120 games or more.

5. Right Mindset for a Demanding Market

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    During the Giants’ run to the 2010 World Series, one of the most talked-about storylines involving Ross was how—as a kid—he aspired to be a professional rodeo clown.

    When the San Francisco Chronicle asked him why, Ross replied, “I just liked the way they were and the whole mentality of no fear.”

    It’s a nice summation of who Ross has become as a baseball player.

    He never gets too high or too low, and no situation seems too big for him—hence his penchant for delivering in pressure-packed scenarios.

    He doesn’t take himself too seriously as a person or a player. On Twitter, he shamelessly alludes to how much time he spends in the bathroom. He’s upfront about the team’s early-season struggles, as evidenced by the diary he’s keeping this season for ESPN Boston.

    The constant scrutiny and criticism from Boston’s fans and media can unhinge a lot of players. But Ross isn’t one of them.

    Playing under the often-harsh Boston spotlight won’t do anything to change his freewheeling, easygoing ways.

    It’s exactly the type of mindset that a player needs if he wants to make it with the Red Sox.