Ellsbury not putting on brakes on bases
Speedster going to stick with what works against Angels
BOSTON -- Yes, the Angels wear out the basepaths, and their legs will have a large bearing on how much success they have in this upcoming American League Division Series against the Red Sox. However, it should be noted that Major League Baseball's stolen-base king for 2009 plays for Boston.
And if things go the way Jacoby Ellsbury hopes, he will have a large impact on this best-of-five set between teams that are facing each other for the third year in a row.
The center fielder stole 70 bases -- nine more than any other player.
Don't expect Ellsbury to get conservative in October, even with the dangerous group (Dustin Pedroia, Victor Martinez, Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz and Jason Bay) that hits behind him.
"I'm not going to change anything just because it's the postseason," said Ellsbury, who was caught only 12 times. "You have to play to your strengths, with what got you there. The games are going to dictate what's going to happen, on their side as well. If they're not in situations to run, they're not going to force it. And vice versa."
The Angels finished third in the AL with 148 bases stolen this season, led by Chone Figgins (42), Bobby Abreu (30) and Torii Hunter (18). Though the Red Sox are much more known for their thump and plate discipline, they were fifth in the league with 126 thefts. Of course, Ellsbury had more than half of those.
But Ellsbury could affect the outcome of the series in far more ways than just his steals. He has become a much-improved hitter, one who is more consistent and has a more patient approach.
When Ellsbury is on-base, the Red Sox are a different team, offensively. His mere presence on the bases can take away concentration from the pitcher, and give the Boston bats some more meaty offerings. The left-handed hitting Ellsbury batted .301 with 188 hits and a .355 on-base percentage. He added 27 doubles, 10 triples and eight homers.
"There are a lot of guys that are important," said Red Sox left fielder Jason Bay. "He's definitely at the very top of that list. Not to put any more undue pressure on anybody, but as him and [Pedroia] go, it really sets a tone for our lineup. I think he's a guy that, over the course of the year, has gone under the radar, at least a little bit as far as what he's meant to this game. I think there's guys that have better statistics or this or that, but he's a guy that played every day, stole 70 bases, did all those things and probably didn't get as much credit as he deserved."
Another thing Ellsbury deserves credit for is when he handled what seemed like a demotion from the leadoff spot at the end of May. Looking for a spark for a stagnant offense, Red Sox manager Terry Francona stacked two hitters known for their on-base percentage -- Pedroia and J.D. Drew -- in the top spots in the order. Ellsbury settled mainly into the seventh and eighth slots. Instead of getting down, he got better. On July 20, Ellsbury was restored to the leadoff spot for good, and he might stay there for several more years.
"I think if you go and listen to everything I said, it's pretty much played out like we hoped," Francona said. "We hit him down in the order early and said all along that we thought we were a better team when he leads off. We let him sit down at the bottom of the order, get his at-bats, and then when he's ready, put him there at leadoff and let him go.
"Now, when he's gotten in there, he's been in there every day. That's the one thing we didn't want to do. We didn't want to have a leadoff hitter going back and forth. And now he's been there every day, and we're a better team for it."
Ellsbury has one of the most low-key demeanors on the Red Sox. Ask him about the way he has elevated his game this season, and he all but shrugs it off.
"For me, I guess I just expect that out of myself," said Ellsbury. "I'm very pleased, but there's still a second season to go. For me, the season ended, but it really didn't end. There's still the second season. I haven't really looked back or thought about the season."
But he has thought about what is ahead.
"Everybody's excited," said Ellsbury. "That's what you want when you start the season. No matter what kind of team you have on paper, things have to go right for you. There's only eight teams that will make the postseason, so up to this point, it's been successful but we still know it's just beginning."
If Ellsbury can get into a hot streak, the end won't be for a few more weeks.
Said Bay: "He is probably, in my opinion, one of -- if not the best -- leadoff hitters in baseball."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.