Will Middlebrooks to save Sox?

Will Middlebrooks watches the ball after getting a hit.
Will Middlebrooks’ return should provide a boost to Boston’s power statistics. (Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

After a sophomore slump left The Man Who Forced Kevin Youkilis Out in the minor leagues, Will Middlebrooks has returned to the Boston Red Sox.

It took just over a month and half in triple-A Pawtucket, but Will Middlebrooks has resumed his MLB career, coming back to a Red Sox lineup that needs his presence.

Middlebrooks was called up from Pawtucket on August 10. He had been with the Sox triple-A affiliate since June 21, when the Red Sox demoted him for falling below the Mendoza Line and his overall failure to produce.

Since his demotion, there has been a revolving door of third basemen for the Red Sox. Most notably, the position was manned by defensive-guru Jose Iglesias, whose torrid offensive start to the season had fans raving, after he had previously been unable to produce offensively at any professional level. Iglesias was part of the Red Sox trade deadline moves, as he was part of the three-team deal that brought Jake Peavy to Boston and sent Iglesias to Detroit.

With Iglesias gone, manager John Farrell turned to Brock Holt and Brandon Snyder, who he had previously used two or three games per week as part of a platoon with Iglesias (and Stephen Drew at shortstop).

The Holt/Snyder platoon was given 10 days before the call was made to bring Will Middlebrooks back up.

Holt, 25, has hit .203 in 19 games for the Red Sox this season. A member of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012, Holt has little offensive-upside. In 143 career at-bats, Holt has not hit a home run. However, he is a gutsy player who was seen diving headfirst to try to catch a bunt just last week.

Snyder, 26, has been about as successful in the majors as Holt. Snyder is hitting .209 on the year, with two homers and seven RBIs in 21 games. Snyder and Holt were never expected to be a long-term solution at the hot corner, but they filled in acceptably while they were needed.

Prior to his demotion, Will Middlebrooks was hitting .192, with nine home runs and 25 RBIs in 53 games. In the two games since his return, Middlebrooks has gone 3-for-7 with two RBIs and a walk, raising his average to an even .200. A streaky player, Will Middlebrooks is expected to need a few games before he gets his footing. It’s what’s after that that’s important.

In the midst of a playoff race, the Red Sox currently hold a three-game lead in the American League East. The Red Sox – barring the unthinkable – will make the playoffs. The question is whether they win the division or settle for the one-game playoff by winning one of the wild card spots. The need to win the division grew with last season’s addition of a second wild card team. So, teams like the Red Sox really can’t afford to coast through the last month and half of the regular season. They could not continue with Holt/Snyder as their everyday third basemen.

Coming into the season, most people did not expect the Red Sox to have a winning record, never mind be leading the division in mid-August. But they are, and they have done so mostly without Will Middlebrooks, whose stellar performance in the first half of last season ousted incumbent third baseman and fan-favorite Kevin Youkilis. Now, Middlebrooks is back, and has a unique opportunity to be a major contributor in a lineup that seriously lacks in production from the left side of the infield.

The Red Sox have found a way around their issues: at first base, with the usage of Daniel Nava and Mike Carp to fill-in for Mike Napoli, who has struggled mightily; in the rotation, with the acquisition of Jake Peavy; and in the bullpen, with Koji Uehara and the so-far-stellar Drake Britton. The last hole they had to fill was at third, a hole they did not have at the start of the season. Middlebrooks created the problem, and Middlebrooks will solve the problem.

Will Middlebrooks did not return to his early-2012 form while in Pawtucket, but he did seem to be headed in the right direction prior to his promotion. In 45 games with the PawSox, Middlebrooks hit .268 with 10 homers, 35 RBIs and a .790 OPS. If nothing else, his power is still there, and power never hurts, especially in a lineup that gets on base as well as the Red Sox, who are second in the majors in OBP and OPS.

Will Middlebrooks is back, and he needs to prove to fans – and to himself – that he’s the right man to man third.

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