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Will Middlebrooks Key to Boston Red Sox's Postseason Success

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COMMENTARY | Two months ago, Will Middlebrooks was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket. Two months from now, he may be playing a crucial role in the Boston Red Sox's playoff run.

With no one stepping up in the revolving door that is third base, Middlebrooks is making the most of his second chance. Since returning from his minor league exile, he's gone 7-for-18 with three extra-base hits while raising his OBP nearly 20 points.

It may be an odd thing to say for a guy who's still currently batting ninth and has had anything but a strong year, but Middlebrooks' 2012 campaign showed glimpses of what he's capable of when he's "on." His numbers last year are reminiscent of early-May Mike Napoli, back when he wasn't a liability at the plate.

Though "pitching wins championships" may be a popular motto among most baseball enthusiasts, a strong offense can make up for deficiencies on the mound. But the once-potent Red Sox's lineup -- scoring 20 runs more than any other team pre-All-Star break -- has slipped. They're now seventh in MLB in runs scored.

Any help has to be explored.

While fans debated whether it was time to introduce super-prospect Xander Bogaerts to the world, general manager Ben Cherington opted to bring back Middlebrooks instead.

"The decision internally was really easier than perhaps the public narrative would make it seem," Cherington said. "We have a guy in Middlebrooks who has done it in the big leagues, was a really good player last year and hit a speed bump this year as many, many good young players do."

And the truth is that Middlebrooks is still developing. Despite turning 25 in three weeks, his inconsistency is to be expected as his age. Not everyone can be a Yasiel Puig or a Mike Trout right away.

Middlebrooks still projects as a solid hitter, and he should get back there eventually. While it will take time, no one else had stepped up and grabbed the third base slot. "We needed more production out of third base," manager John Farrell said. "Will was the clear cut choice to comeback and provide that."

After Jose Iglesias was sent to the Detroit Tigers for Jake Peavy, it lessened the log-jam on that side of the diamond, allowing Middlebrooks another crack. He's made the most of his renewed opportunity thus far, and he could work his way back toward the middle of the order while Napoli continues to slide.

Johnny Gomes, Daniel Nava and Mike Carp have all been tried at the five-hole with varying degrees of success. David Ortiz continues to produce, but some protection will be necessary for any realistic playoff run. Middlebrooks has been that guy in the past, and he can be that guy again.

Andrew Luistro has followed the Red Sox for over 20 years. He also writes for the The Hockey Writers and Sunbelt Hockey Journal.

Follow him on Twitter @ndrewL7.

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