The Red Sox got what they believe is good news Sunday regarding center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. He hasn't played since Thursday due to pain in his right foot after fouling a ball off it Aug. 28. A second opinion confirmed Ellsbury has a non-displaced compression fracture in the navicular bone in that foot. A broken foot doesn't sound like good news, but the type of break, essentially a hairline fracture, is one the Red Sox think could heal enough for Ellsbury to return to action before the end of the regular season, returning one of the team's best all-around players to the lineup just in time for the postseason.
If that's the case, Ellsbury's injury could have next to no effect on the Red Sox's fortunes this season. They have a 7 1/2 game lead in the American League East with 17 games left to play and won two of three against the Yankees over the weekend even without Ellsbury. The division, and thus the playoffs, are a near certainty for Boston. Not so clear, however, is whether or not Ellsbury will return when expected. And if Ellsbury isn't back to full health by the postseason, his injury could have a huge impact on the Red Sox's fortunes.
The Red Sox's success this season has been due in part to having a remarkably balanced offense. Of the 11 hitters with the most plate appearances for the Red Sox this season, only third baseman Will Middlebrooks has an OPS+ below league average, and Middlebrooks has hit .368/.434/.621 in 99 plate appearances since being recalled on Aug. 10. Still, Ellsbury's consistent and productive presence atop the lineup has been key. He leads the team in runs scored, is second in total bases, and leads the major leagues with 52 steals at a spectacular 93 percent success rate. It's the second-best stolen base percentage for a player with 50 or more steals in a season on record (Hall of Famer Max Carey stole 51 at 96 percent in 1922).
Ellsbury has also returned to his Gold Glove-winning form in center field and the combined impact of his hitting, fielding and baserunning puts him in a group of three along with the similarly multi-talented Dustin Pedroia and Shane Victorino as the Red Sox' most valuable players this season. With Ellsbury out, the Red Sox have turned to prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. in center. Bradley is considered an elite defender in center, and since going 3-for-31 in his initial major league stint in April, he has hit a more respectable .242/.306/.485 across 31 scattered major league at-bats and put up a solid .275/.374/.469 line in Triple-A this season. Still, it's a lot to ask of the 23-year-old rookie who was just recalled Saturday to replace one of the team's best players in the playoffs. The Red Sox hope they won't have to do that.