It’s been a roller coaster of a season for Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks with a number of highs and lows. Middlebrooks was coming off a successful rookie season, which saw him hit .288 with 15 home runs and 54 RBIs in 75 games, putting himself in a position to be a major piece of the Red Sox offense in providing protection to slugger David Ortiz.
The 25-year-old began the season strong, going 8-for-25 (.320) over the first six games with four home runs, including three against the Blue Jays on April 7. After that, things took a turn for the worse.
Going along with a few ailments, Middlebrooks struggled at the plate as his average went from .320 on April 7 to .201 on May 23 before it was decided to put him on the 15-day disabled list with a back injury. Upon his return on June 10, his scuffles continued, going 4-for-29 (.138) with six strikeouts over his next seven games before it was decided to send the Texas native down to Triple-A Pawtucket to try and get him right and back going again.
“A ride, I don’t know if it was always a fun one,” Middlebrooks said of his season. “It was kind of hell and back. It was a year that I wouldn’t wish on anybody to be honest, but I learned so much. I learned so much from this year and it’s been the best and worst year all in one. Obviously dealing with injuries, not playing well, losing a job. It’s tough, man, especially up here in (Boston). Like I said I wouldn’t wish it on anybody, but at the same time I wouldn’t trade it for the stuff I learned this year because of everything I did gain from it.”
Middlebrooks spent almost two months with the PawSox where he showed flashes of getting his swing back, as in 45 games he hit .268 with 10 homers and 35 RBIs. Back in Boston, Jose Iglesias was manning third base in his absence, but was dealt to Detroit at the July 31 trade deadline. Soon after,on Aug. 10, Middlebrooks was recalled back to Boston ready to help the Red Sox in their AL East title run.
For the final month and a half of the season Middlebrooks was the primary Red Sox third baseman where he hit .322 with an on-base percentage of .406 in 19 games in August, but then couldn’t continue the trend in September, where he hit .244 with 22 strikeouts in 22 games.
Nonetheless, he was still the Red Sox' starting third baseman in the ALDS series with the Rays where he went 3-for-13 in the Sox’ 3-1 series win. He continued to get the starts at third base in the ALCS against the Tigers, before manager John Farrell replaced Middlebrooks with 21-year-old prospect Xander Bogaerts in Game 5. Bogaerts went 2-for-4 with three runs scored in the two Red Sox wins, and has kept is starting job in the first two games of the World Series.
In a year with as many ups and downs as Middlebrooks has had, being sent down to Triple-A was the hardest, but even so, he’s kept a team-first attitude.
“Low point, which one? Man, there’s been a few. I mean, it’s tough,” he said. “Unfortunately it’s part of the game sometimes and like I said, I’ve learned countless things from this year to help me move forward in my career and take care of my body and just be a better player and teammate. I have learned a ton. Low point is obviously is being sent down. No one wants to lose their job."
Even with his role being reduced to a bench player, Middlebrooks is still prepared and ready to contribute any way he can, whether its coming off the bench, or even getting a spot start, especially with Bogaerts hitless in the first two games of the series.
“It’s been a crazy year, but I know I am going to have an opportunity to play at some point whether it’s in the seventh inning, whether it’s starting, whatever it is,” Middlebrooks said. “It’s the hot hand right now and you have to play the hot hand if you want to win. If (Xander) is banging balls off the wall, put him in there man. You need Stephen Drew’s defense, he’s a leader on that side of the ball, so it just kind of leaves me as the odd man out right now. I am going to be ready.”
It would be easy to lose all focus and mainly be concerned with yourself in a situation like this. To his credit,Middlebrooks hasmaintained a professional, mature attitude, not taking anything for granted. Despite having a reduced role, he will be ready when called upon as when the team is three wins away from winning a World Series, that is all that matters.
“A lot of people would say right now could be a low point, where you go from being a starter to a role player in the playoffs and the World Series, but I can help us win there too,” he said. “Look at Dave Roberts and when he came in and stole the bag. Everyone remembers that. No one thinks he wasn’t a starter. It’s not about me anymore, it’s not about Will. It’s about the Red Sox and it’s about putting a ring on our finger.”
Follow Metro Red Sox beat writer Ryan Hannable on Twitter @Hannable84.