The Red Sox's 2009 season sinks or swims with Jacoby Ellsbury returning to his 2007 form that led the team to a World Series title and not the part-time center fielder who was a flop in the first part of the 2008 season, unable to get on base to utilize his great base-stealing speed.
There is no life jacket in 2009, as the Sox traded super reserve Coco Crisp, who flashed Gold Glove-quality defense and a decent bat.
Ellsbury arrived in 2007 and excited Boston fans by batting .350 and displaying base speed never seen in a Sox uniform. Every walk was equivalent to at least a double and each ordinary looking single risked being extra bases before the next pitch if not soon after.
Fortunately, Ellsbury did rebound in the later part of 2008 when injuries to Manny and Drew necessitated the opportunity. The offense of 2009 badly depends on Ellsbury and Dusty to get on base for the middle of the lineup to get good pitches to drive them in. When Ellsbury slumped last year so did the whole lineup which were the primary reasons Ortiz and Manny's RBI's were so down.
Red Sox opted to trade away their safety net in Coco Crisp for extra bullpen help, but if Ellsbury can't return close to his 2007 form to ignite the top of the lineup, and with assorted injuries to Lowell, Ortiz and others, the offense will be a dud again.
If Ellsbury does not return to form then what is Plan B at leadoff and center field? Rocco Baldelli could adequately replace J.D. Drew for a bit but is not a lead off hitter. Dustin Pedroia could bat lead off, but does not have the base stealing. Lugo was signed initially to be the lead off hitter of his early Tampa years, but has been a very expensive disappointment and is currently out with an injury.
If Ellsbury flops, then the lineup returns to its 1980s slow form of getting on base and hoping for a three-run home run. Unfortunately, this lineup lacks Boggs, Dewey to get on base 40 percent of the time each for Rice, Greenwell and Armas to slug them in.
Ellsbury is pivotal to the Sox's success in 2009. It helps having Alex Rodriguez out of the Yankees lineup for the Sox to potentially build a lead over them. If Ellsbury doesn't rebound Tampa Bay should retain the divisional title and make it a long summer in Fenway.