As the Boston Red Sox put the finishing touches on their magical season, it seems like almost everyone on the roster–from Daniel Nava and Mike Carp to John Lackey and Koji Uehara–has contributed to the team’s success.
It’s why they lead the league in chest bumps, fist pumps and bro-hugs.
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There have been a few disappointments, of course (there always are). Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey got hurt early on. Clay Buchholz has once again proven himself to be incredibly fragile. Jackie Bradley Jr. didn’t set the world on fire like we thought he would.
But nobody underachieved more than third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who spent much of the season trying to recapture the immense promise he displayed as a phenom in 2012.
Big things were expected from Will Middlebrooks this year, but that’s what happens when you rake from day one and take Kevin Youkilis‘ job. One of the few bright spots to emerge from Boston’s Bobby Valentine nightmare, Middlebrooks was supposed to be a fixture at the hot corner for the foreseeable future.
Instead, he fell into a prolonged slump early on from which he was unable to recover. Pitchers quickly figured him out and exploited his weaknesses, namely his willingness to swing at anything remotely close to home plate. John Farrell tried dropping the struggling sophomore down in the order to take some pressure off, but Will Middlebrooks continued to flail. He was helpless. And now a Will Middlebrooks comeback is all Red Sox fans want. Already?
As spring became summer, and it became clear the Red Sox were going to be serious postseason contenders, it was obvious a change needed to be made. There was no Will Middlebrooks comeback to be seen. He wasn’t helping the team win games. Jose Iglesias was. So Iglesias–a shortstop by trade–moved to third and Middlebrooks was sent down to Pawtucket to get his swing right and regain his confidence. At the time of his demotion in late June, he was sporting an unpalatable .192/.228/.389 batting line–a far cry from his .288/.325/.509 showing as a rookie.
Though Will Middlebrooks did not hit exceptionally well with the PawSox (.790 OPS), the time on the farm appears to have done him some good. So perhaps there is a Will Middlebrooks comeback happening? Since making his big league return on August 10th, he’s batted .294/.349/.507 with 8 home runs and 24 RBI. He’s been especially hot in the month of September with 6 big flies and 17 RBI, helping Boston secure its first division title since 2007. With the Red Sox preparing for October baseball, his resurgence couldn’t have come at a better time.
And it isn’t just a random hot streak, either. The more mature Middlebrooks has shown signs of becoming a more polished, refined hitter. Before his demotion, his strikeout to walk ratio was a lopsided 60/9. Since returning, it’s been a much more palatable 36/11. Accordingly, his strikeout rate has fallen considerably, from just under 28 percent to a hair over 24 percent. He’s not getting himself out so much by swinging at tough pitches, and that newfound patience is helping him make hard contact more consistently.
With his sophomore slump behind him, there is a Will Middlebrooks comeback after all. He is back on track, poised for greatness not just in the coming weeks, but in the years to come. Yes, his 2013 campaign has been a trying year marked by growing pains and squandered potential, but it has also been a valuable learning experience that will shape the course of his career.