Commentary

With hot combo, Sox can't go wrong

As Rangers find out, Ellsbury and Crawford present multiple problems for opponents

Updated: August 25, 2011, 10:38 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Red Sox have two of the top five-tool players in the game on their roster with Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford. When both are healthy and contributing, Boston's lineup is a house of horrors for opposing pitchers. That dynamic has been on display the past two games against the Texas Rangers.

Ellsbury and Crawford have combined for eight hits, including two home runs, six runs scored, eight RBIs and two stolen bases. In the process of helping the Red Sox to back-to-back wins against the Rangers, including a 13-2 beatdown Wednesday night at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, both players are proving how much their production means to this lineup at almost opposite ends of the order.

Ellsbury, who returned to the lineup Tuesday after he missed three games due to a bruised back, has shown no signs of it affecting him the past two nights. He went 3-for-5, including a two-run homer, scored three runs and stole a base Wednesday.

[+] EnlargeJacoby Ellsbury
Jim Cowsert/US PresswireThird-base coach Tim Bogar greeted center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury following Ellsbury's two-run homer against the Rangers on Wednesday.

Crawford finished the night with five RBIs. It's the third time in his career he's posted a five-RBI game, with the last coming June 2, 2010, at Toronto while he was with the Rays.

Crawford produced a two-run double, a sacrifice fly and a two-run homer Wednesday. He's currently hitting .346 (9-for-26) in the past seven games.

"It's great, man," Red Sox DH David Ortiz said. "Those guys are speed killers, and when you see guys like Jacoby and CC doing things like that, it's crazy, and it puts a lot of pressure on pitchers."

Ellsbury is having a breakout season and certainly will be in contention during MVP voting. Overall, he's hitting .315 with 23 homers, 81 RBIs and 34 steals. Plus, he's been outstanding defensively.

"I feel confident when we have other guys in the field, but there aren't a whole lot of guys in baseball like Jacoby," Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett said.

Red Sox manager Terry Francona has said time and again that when Ellsbury is producing, the Sox are a much better team, and he continues to prove that point this season.

"He's been doing it all year, and that's why he's so important to what we do," Francona said. "We gave him a couple of days off [due to a bruised back] and didn't rush him back. He can go out there and do what he can do and feel good about it and not worry about his back hurting. I'm sure it's still sore, but he can do what he's supposed to do.

"He impacts the game all over the place, and that's what good players do," he added.

Ellsbury doesn't want to (at least publicly) talk or hear about his MVP-type season and his chances of winning the award. Even if you ask him about it, he'll take the team-first approach.

"I just come in prepared each day and try to help contribute on both sides of the ball," Ellsbury said. "I try to play the game hard and get things going from the first inning."

Prior to this current streak Crawford is on, he was struggling in a big way at the plate. He spent countless hours in the batting cage, trying to figure out what he was doing wrong. He had plenty of discussions with hitting coach Dave Magadan and watched a ton of video.

Crawford learned he wasn't ready to hit during his at-bats. He was stepping with his front foot and swinging at the same time. He was late on fastballs, and he was chasing breaking balls out of the zone and simply wasn't picking up the ball.

He's made the proper adjustments during this road trip and he's proving he's ready to hit. Basically, he's keeping his approach simple and he's swinging at strikes.

"I've been focusing in a little bit more and zoning in on the pitcher," he said. "I'm really just trying to swing at good pitches. I got into a habit of swinging at bad pitches. I'm just trying to get a pitch to hit."

The home run ball Crawford hit to center field in the top of the seventh inning was a line-drive bullet.

"It feels good to do that," Crawford said. "I was just trying to hit a good pitch and hopefully do something with it."

Like Ellsbury, Crawford affects the game when he's doing well and reaching base.

"Even when he doesn't steal, they have to pay attention to him, and maybe he earns somebody a fastball that they wouldn't normally get. It changes the game a lot," Francona said.

With both guys healthy and producing, Boston's lineup is starting to become consistent again. Ortiz also returned to the lineup Wednesday after missing nine games with bursitis in his right heel, and chipped in a pair of hits, an RBI and two runs scored.

Now all the Red Sox need is Kevin Youkilis (back) and J.D. Drew (shoulder) to return, and the lineup will be complete for the stretch run and into the postseason.

"We still have a couple of guys out, though," Beckett said. "Once we fill everything out, I think we're just kind of biding our time right now."

After losing to the Rangers in the first four games this season, the Red Sox have won the past two, with the series finale Thursday. Boston is back in first place in the American League East, and the success of Ellsbury and Crawford has a lot to do with it.

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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