One reason the Los Angeles Dodgers were able to run away with the National League West Division was the quiet, yet outstanding performance of a once-controversial, widely admired player who had slipped from the level of All-Star to questionable contributor.
Carl Crawford is back and LA will need him in the NL Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals and if they hope to continue advancing in the 2014 playoffs this October.
Getting to this point
Crawford is a lefty-swinging outfielder of great speed who as a free agent a few years ago was able to command a seven-year, $142 million contract from the Boston Red Sox. That was in 2010, after Crawford had emerged as one of the most exciting players in baseball with Tampa Bay.
In Florida, Crawford was a four-time All-Star and he won a Gold Glove. The four times Crawford led the American League in stolen bases he swiped 50-plus per season. Another year, he stole 60. He batted over .300 five times. Sure, when the Red Sox signed him there was considerable discussion about whether they overpaid, but no one saw the impending disaster that resulted, either.
Crawford was still just 29, was an electrifying player, and seemed poised to roam Fenway Park’s left field with authority, an added piece that could help keep the Red Sox the perpetual contenders – or champs – that they had been in the 2000s.
That never happened. Crawford’s Boston stay devolved into an experience akin to “Nightmare On Elm Street.” He might as well have fallen off a cliff, the way his game did, given his siege of injuries. But that was after his numbers slumped to an Adam Dunn-proportion of catastrophe to start the 2011 season. Crawford was booed so loudly in Boston you could hear it in Hartford.
When Crawford righted himself in the second half of the season it was so late that practically no one noticed, or gave him credit. He finished with 11 homers, 56 runs batted in, 18 stolen bases and a .255 average. However, his on-base percentage was a tragic .289.
After taking a deep breath, Crawford went home, disappeared into the off-season, and hoped to come back like his old self in 2012. Yet things got worse. Crawford’s health allowed him to play just 31 games and the Red Sox were enduring what will forevermore be described as “The Bobby Valentine Year” when they stumbled into last place in the AL East.
Even before the season concluded, Boston management cleaned out the clubhouse through a blockbuster trade with the Dodgers. The expensive Crawford was one of the richer players who went. He did utter some comments about his adventure with the Red Sox that make it difficult to envision him planning any vacations to Boston.
The comeback trail
Since his Tampa Bay days, Crawford has been dogged by ankle, wrist and elbow problems – to the extent that Crawford was a rare non-pitcher who endured Tommy John surgery – as well as depression.
Last year Crawford made it into 116 games and batted .283. Still coping with injury problems, Crawford appeared in 105 games this year, but he stole 23 bases and batted .300, and most importantly, was on an upswing and was at his best as the regular-season ended.
The Carl Crawford that the Dodgers now have at their disposal for the playoffs may, at 33, not be the Carl Crawford who was at the peak of his game when the Red Sox signed him. Still, he seems to be playing at his highest level while also being at his healthiest, in four years. That means he has the potential to help turn a series in Los Angeles’ favor on the base paths or at the plate. Crawford may be on the verge of crawling back to elite status.