By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs
BOSTON Jacoby Ellsbury as a candidate for American League MVP?
It might seem a little crazy for a guy that had 20 career home runs headed into this season and played a grand total of 18 games last year for Boston, but take a gander at the unfiltered numbers that the talented centerfielder is putting together.
Ellsbury isnt a full-fledged candidate quite yet, but hes beginning to make his opening MVP arguments in the dog days of summer, which tend to separate the contenders from the pretenders.
The fleet-footed centerfielder added a few more lines to his Im Pretty Awesome resume on Saturday night with a modest two-run single up the middle in the seventh inning a base knock that only accounted for the tying and go-ahead runs in a 3-1 come-from-behind victory over the Mariners at Fenway Park.
Two outs and two strikes were no problem for Ellsbury in that game-turning at-bat against the Ms, and it hasnt been an issue all season. The centerfielder is hitting .271 in all two-strike counts this season, and has shown the pluck to fight off pitchers' counts like he couldnt in seasons past.
Hes been good in all situations, but hes really pretty special right now, said Terry Francona. Hes got the guy behind him in Pedroia that you know they dont want to face. Its exciting to watch. I just think hes getting more comfortable as a hitter deep into the count.
Its a big reason hes a better hitter. Most good hitters, the more pitches they see they get better. They get more dangerous. But you have to feel good about yourself to do that.
He also very nearly dazzled the Fenway crowd with a sliding catch to lead off the ninth inning, protecting the two-run lead before the ball squirted out of his glove, but hell have to save the Superman role for another night apparently. It wasnt so much about the defense for Ellsbury on this night as much as it was about the clutch situations and the run production a pair of things that practically scream out MVP.
Ellsbury has jacked seven home runs and driven in 17 runs during a prolific month of July, and his .515 slugging percentage on the season puts him well ahead of Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Ryan Howard, Mark Teixeira, Justin Upton and a whole host of sluggers with overpowering big league reputations.
None of them are cobbling together the kind of campaign that Ellsbury is as he continues to sit in the middle of everything that the Red Sox are accomplishing while building their lead in the AL East. It would appear the pressure, the hurt and the criticism aimed at the athletically gifted 27-year-old during last years struggles with fractured ribs have transformed Ellsbury into a true baseball diamond.
Everybody around the Red Sox noticed when the centerfielder showed up with determination and a different kind of confidence this spring, and perhaps even a burning desire to prove a few people wrong. That little spark of emotion that Ellsbury let escape with a point skyward and multiple claps after his two-run single in the seventh was the last ingredient needed to inch him toward baseball greatness.
Ive always been pushing him because you know how good that he could be. You could always see the gifts that he has that could make him a really special player, said David Ortiz. Hes been on his game all season, man. You could see that when he came into spring training with a different approach. Hes played that way all this year, and its been great to see. We all knew that was in there.
Armed with all those little pieces of motivation Ellsbury has turned in a .319 batting average good for sixth in the AL along with the third-most runs scored in the American League behind only Curtis Granderson and Jose Bautista.
Ellsbury is on pace for 121 runs scored, 210 hits, 26 home runs and 94 RBI out of the leadoff position to go along with 46 stolen bases and a .377 on base percentage a season that some probably envisioned the electric outfielder producing at his highest point as he rocketed through the Sox' minor league system.
Its not a full American League MVP body of work to be sure, and hell still have to surpass the eye-popping numbers tossed on the board by teammate Adrian Gonzalez. But Ellsbury should start forcing his way into the conversation, and nobody could have foreseen that after only playing 18 games last year.
In the words of teammate Josh Beckett, Ellsbury has figured it out and its been pretty enjoyable to watch.
Its really fun to watch. Ive been here from the very beginning to kind of watch how things have gone for Ellsbury, and it's fun to watch a guy thats figuring it out, said Beckett. Im not saying itll be smooth sailing for the rest of his career and I dont know if maturing is the right word. But hes figuring things out and hes been great for our team all season because of it.
Ellsbury for MVP. There are no bumper stickers or online campaigns for it quite yet on the Sons of Sam Horn message boards, but those things should start popping any day now for the legit candidate in his career year.