Amidst the loss-win-loss-win pattern they followed over their recent four-night stay at Safeco Field, the Boston Red Sox learned that David Ortiz will be their sole ambassador to the MLB All-Star Game next week.
If there was ever a good time for them to split a four-game set with a mediocre opponent, let alone after winning each of their five previous series, this would be it. The revelation that all but one of their own will be getting a genuine three-day break could not have been timelier for Bobby Valentine’s pupils.
The Sox were winners of 11 of their previous 14 games when they ventured into Seattle’s pitcher-friendly park, which was likely what held their bat rack back a little bit. Although, it is worth noting that while it confined them to two wins on four tries and only nine runs, the Seattle air could not snap Adrian Gonzalez’s season-high 12-game hitting streak.
Ortiz himself saw a six-game hitting streak come to an end, though his sacrifice fly in the top of the first extra inning drove in what proved to be Sunday’s winning run.
With the win, the Sox nudged themselves to within half a game of a wild-card slot currently held by the Baltimore Orioles. They could supplant Baltimore and/or the Angels within the next three days as they tangle with the Oakland Athletics before coming home to engage the top-dog Yankees.
Afterwards, regardless of their posture in the standings and how much momentum may be on their side, a breather will be in order. The Sox cannot expect to sustain the momentum they have percolated within the last two-plus weeks for the next three months without at least two or three straight days to recharge.
And there may not be a much better time for that break than the first half of next week.
Even if it is not immediately when the season resumes next Friday, the Sox figure to have a new look to their lineup soon after the break. Rehabbing outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford are both projected to move up the minor-league ladder this week after starting at the bottom in the Gulf Coast League.
Ellsbury is reportedly suiting up for the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs on Tuesday night, precisely one week before the MLB All-Star Game.
The long-term forecast is unclear, as the Sox will implicitly determine Ellsbury’s ascension based on his performance in Portland. But the best-case scenario would have him utilizing the next 10-plus nights to squeeze in a smattering of appearances with Portland and Pawtucket before rejoining the parent club either in Tampa or at the start of their home series with the White Sox.
According to ESPN Boston’s Gordon Edes, Crawford can be activated no later than next Friday’s start to a three-night visit to the Rays. And Edes hints at both outfielders being ready to return as soon as their teammates return from the league-wide respite.
In turn, it will be easier for both Ellsbury and Crawford to jell back into the clubhouse than it would be if they were coming back on the fly. They will be rehabbed while the majority of their teammates will be recharged.
And for his part, Ortiz was wise in his decision to sit next Monday’s Home Run Derby out. This way, the American League’s starting designated hitter figures to approach the plate no more than twice during his two-night stay in Kansas City.
Being the team leader in most every offensive category through the halfway mark of the season, Ortiz needs to slow down as much as any member of the Sox. He will have that opportunity next Monday, Wednesday and Thursday while all of Boston’s pitchers and position players get strict rest at home.
With some key cogs coming back and a playoff berth within smelling distance, the post-All-Star portion of the 2012 season might as well be a mini-season for the Red Sox. Starting next Friday at Tampa Bay, it will be a sprint of 76 games within 83 days.
The turbulent first half may not have been enough for anyone other than Ortiz to prove himself to be All-Star worthy. But the second half will equal everyone’s second chance, although the only reward at stake will be an end to the team’s three-year postseason drought as opposed to trivial, individual midseason accolades.
The Sox will need collectively clear heads and fully-charged batteries to ensure their odds in the homestretch. Minimal participation in the All-Star festivities ought to make that possible.