McAdam: Betts' speed adds what's been missing

McAdam: Betts' speed adds what's been missing
August 27, 2014, 12:45 pm
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TORONTO - Three things we learned in the Red Sox' 11-7, 11-inning victory in Toronto on Tuesday night:

1) Mookie Betts' speed can be a game-changer.

Case in point: the 11th inning Tuesday night.

Betts was on first when Christian Vazquez dropped down a bunt, trying to move Betts into scoring position. The bunt was hit too hard and Toronto closer Case Janssen fielded it as he came off the mound. He quickly turned and fired to second, attempting to cut down Betts, the lead runner.

Betts was initially ruled out, but he signaled immediately to the dugout to alert John Farrell to challenge the call. Sure enough, with the use of instant replay, the call was overturned and Betts was ruled safe.

After another bunt -- this one further bungled by Janssen -- loaded the bases, Betts scored the go-ahead run on Dustin Pedroia's line single to center.

The Sox would go on score seven runs in the inning, so the run by Betts wasn't as big as it first appeared.

But there's no denying the value of his speed and his ability to get a good jump.

Betts has yet to claim a spot in the Red Sox' future plans, but it's intriguing to think of a lineup that next year could feature both Rusney Castillo and, at least on occasion, Betts.

That sort of athleticism has been missing from the lineup this year, with the departure of Jacoby Ellsbury and the loss of Shane Victorino for all but two dozen or so games.

In an era when offense is down and every run is critical, adding the element of speed to the Red Sox' attack could be a big boost.

2) Quietly, Dustin Pedroia is reviving his offensive game.

Over his past 29 games, going back almost exactly a month, Pedroia has shown encouraging signs. In that span, he's put up a slash line of .323/.354/.444, numbers more in line with his career averages.

In the past two games, Pedroia has hit two homers and knocked in six runs. The four RBI he had Tuesday in the 11-7 victory marked the first time he had knocked in four runs in a game since the first week of May.

Pedroia shrugged off his improved offense Tuesday night, maintaining that his goal has been just to try to put together good at-bats.

Pedroia's isn't one for introspection and certainly isn't one to use injuries as an excuse. We'll never know how much the wrist injury he sustained in the home opener hampered him in the first few months of the season, though with the benefit of hindsight, it seems the answer is obvious.

The Red Sox are far out of playoff contention and even if Pedroia continues to smoke the ball the rest of the way, it won't cancel out the poor first half he had.

But it can go a long way in making the Red Sox feel better about Pedroia for 2015 -- and the six more years that follow it as part of a contract that stretched through the 2021 season.


3) Will Middlebrooks isn't doing much to take advantage of his opportunity.

When Middlebrooks was summoned from an injury rehab on Aug. 1 and it was clear the Sox were going to use the final two months to evaluate where -- if at all -- he fits in the team's future.

But in the span of 20 games, Middlebrooks has done nothing to improve his stock. In the first two games of the series, he's struck out seven times.

He did hit a booming double in the first inning to score a run, but otherwise, struck out four times Tuesday night, the last of which came against a position player (Steve Tolleson) pressed into service by Toronto manager John Gibbons.

In the 20 games this month, he's put up a line of .186/.230/.257 while striking out 25 times and walking just four times in 74 plate appearances.

The Red Sox desperately want Middlebrooks to flash the power that he has, and indeed, it would be tough to give up on that aspect of his game. In 2012, he did slug .509 and cracked 15 homers in just 75 games. Right-handed power is the toughest commodity to find in the game, but unless Middebrooks can start to show some of it in the final five weeks, he's seemingly bound to be included in some trade this off-season.

The third base job is open and waiting to be claimed, but Middlebrooks has yet to show he deserves it.