Statistically, Middlebrooks is in one of the downward spirals of his roller coaster of a season. He has 11 hits in his last 71 at-bats (.155 average), walking four times compared with 22 strikeouts dating back to Sept. 10.
Eventually, when Middlebrooks has a full history of numbers to look back on, these small sample sizes could find their way out of the conversation. But during the playoffs, the spotlight tends to be on every at-bat.
"I don't think about that at all," Middlebrooks said. "I don't think anybody does. You're just trying to get the job done at that point in time."
And what Middlebrooks is capable of doing at any time, along with his well-above-average defense, is why he continues to get the starting nods at third base. His prolonged slump to start the year, when he went 39-for-203 (.192) with nine walks and 60 strikeouts from April 1 to June 20, was at a time when he felt like a different hitter.
Middlebrooks, 25, is still learning how to adjust his mechanics over the course of a season that begins in February with Spring Training and is still going with postseason baseball in October. He has already changed his swing at least twice, pushing it further away from what it was in April and giving reason to believe that he is much closer to looking like the player he was from Aug. 10 to Sept. 8, when he went 32-for-87 (.368).
His numbers this October are hinting at a change as well, as he started the postseason 3-for-11 (.273) with a run scored and an RBI, also carrying three walks to four strikeouts.
Veteran players often work themselves out of slumps faster with consistency in their swings. Middlebrooks is working toward that.
"For most of these guys, they've been working at it for 12 years, so it's pretty easy for them," Middlebrooks said. "I made a couple of changes to mine earlier this year. We were going through some things. Now it's more making that a habit and making that my everyday swing. It's a work in progress."
Jason Mastrodonato is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.