Over the last few days I've started to look forward to one player's at bats more than any others.
It's not Adrian Gonzalez, who has been at the top of his game by-and-large for the last six weeks. Not Dustin Pedroia, who is rounding into form, Jacoby Ellsbury who gave us so much excitement in 2011, or the developing young talent in Will Middlebrooks.
No, right now I want to see Carl Crawford bat, because when of late when he's stepped to the plate we've gotten to see the old Carl Crawford swing the bat, putting the ball in play with some reasonable power and, more importantly, on a line.
This brief visitation from the Carl of old has brought the left fielder's line up to a very respectable .292/.325./.500 and provided a brief glimmer of hope. Not for this season, necessarily--I've been burned one too many times by this bunch for that--but for a much more...manageable future.
If there was one contract on the books that was really going to stifle the team for years to come, it was Carl Crawford's. Owed $20 million a year through 2017, if he does not perform, this team is going to be hamstrung a fair bit compared to its usual state when it comes to making free agency moves and resigning its own players. $20 million is not an insurmountable figure to overcome, but it certainly brings the Red Sox down towards the pack a lot, and with Crawford there's been the very real possibility that he was simply going to provide zero value to the franchise, possibly even negative figures just by virtue of filling up that spot and not letting the Sox move for someone who could actually help the team.
Now there's at least the hope that won't be the case.
Over his last 10 games, Crawford has hit .350/.372/.725. True to Crawfordian form, he's walked just the once, and his strikeout rate (16.3%) is sill a little high, but it's a lot closer to his average from his best years than the 19.3% figure from 2011. He's not looked great at the plate when he's struck out on pitches in the dirt, but he's also had some impressively long at bats which suggest that, even if he's still not taking the pitches he needs to, he's started to find his ability to really put the bat on the ball again.
Of course, we've seen this Crawford before, or at least some semblance of him. Crawford had a line of .356/.370/.467 over a two week period to start May 2011, and you may recall and 8-for-9 tear that kicked off another run that kicked off another run ending on June 4 with a 4-for-7 game. He hit .400/.415/.750 then. Crawford would do it again for a time in August, and then actually provide one of the most solid bats on the team for most of September.
The problem is that Crawford has always surrounded these period of effectiveness with terrible stretches of futility, and there's no telling whether or not another one of those is headed our way right now.
If there's a reason to take some heart, however, it's that this time Crawford actually has a good start to the season behind him. Taken as a whole, his work in 2012 looks good, and for a guy who seems to often be one of his own harshest critics (hard as that may be in a city like Boston), that can mean a lot for confidence and his ability to just be himself at the plate.
Carl Crawford is never likely going to be a good contract. It didn't make the most sense in the world, taking a defensive speed whiz and dropping him in Fenway Park, which doesn't even suit his swing all that much. That being said, if Carl can turn this into a legitimate rejuvenation, then it can take the leap from Albatross to simply expensive, which is kind of a big thing.
It might even be worth delaying that surgery some even if he thinks he needs it so long as it lets him really put up a good month or two and establish a firm foundation, enabling him to start next year not as an embattled mediocrity, but as Carl Crawford.