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Boston fans, calm down. Your beloved Red Sox are going to be just fine. The loss of David Ortiz is as debilitating as possible in terms of affecting a lineup, don’t get me wrong. But let’s face it: at this point, it may not even matter.
The Sox are hitting .283 as a club, which is 2nd only to the Chicago Cubs in all of MLB, and best in the AL. Rather impressive, especially considering that Ortiz is in the midst of his worst offensive season since joining Boston in 2003. He’s on pace to match his HR and RBI totals of last year, which were easily the lowest since that first year in ’03. Yet his overall power is down, on pace for only 27 doubles and currently batting just .252. While you can argue that he got hot in May, batting .318 and raising his average from .198 after April, it’s been the contributions from the rest of the lineup that have been significant.
Take Kevin Youkilis for example, who has slugged nine homeruns and 35 RBI’s while batting .305. Or Manny Ramirez, who has 12 bombs, 39 RBI and a .296 average after hitting career homerun 501 last night. There’s Mike Lowell, last year’s World Series MVP and perhaps regular season team MVP who has returned from a wrist injury. Since coming off the DL, the third baseman has hit .305 with seven homeruns and 25 RBI in 34 games. And Jacoby Ellsbury has been electrifying, batting .287 out of the leadoff spot, stealing 27 bases in 30 attempts and contributing 12 extra base hits, as well. Long story short, the Sox has five starters hitting over .285 (Youkilis, Ramirez, Ellsbury, Lowell, and J.D. Drew) with two others batting .279 (Dustin Pedroia and Julio Lugo).
And while the loss of Ortiz will certainly put more strain, pressure and importance on the at bats from these guys, I don’t see them slipping with Big Papi in the dumps. Not to say Boston is better without Ortiz by any means, but I think the team’s improvement in other areas will, to a certain degree, counteract the significant loss in power and balance things out.
Ramirez should move to the DH role, opening up a spot in left. Ellsbury could easily shift to left while Coco Crisp moves back into center. I think this is the best option, as Crisp was incredible defensively last year and should have won a Gold Glove over Torii Hunter, who has essentially been grandfathered in as the perennial Gold Glove CF. And while the team gets a little thin with the OF corps, Jeff Bailey is a big right-handed bat currently with the club, while Brandon Moss could see a call-up if necessary. I’d actually like to see it. He’s hitting .405 over his last 10 games in Pawtucket, and had a three-homer game last week. Jed Lowrie is another guy Theo Epstein could call on to fill in as a reserve in case the team’s resident patient, J.D. Drew, goes down with another case of vertigo or a yeast infection.
Regardless of whom they bring in, if anyone, to fill that need, the Red Sox are going to see a significant boost in speed. Having Crisp, Lugo, and Ellsbury in the same lineup night in and night out will give opposing batteries migraines, and I expect to see a variation of small to come from Terry Francona’s club. Crisp only has seven swipes on the season so far, but that should skyrocket over the next couple weeks because he’ll be playing every day as opposed to catching the short end of a platoon situation. The Sox have never done much in terms of bunting over runners and I don’t expect that to happen now either. But with a lineup that is consistently making contact throughout, we’ll see more hit-and-runs, stolen bases, runners moving over on balls the other way, etc. With the speed on the base paths, balls in the gap will easily score runs and if guys like Crisp, Ellsbury, and Lugo can force a throw to the plate, help move the hitter up an extra base, as well.
As I said, I don’t think the team is better off without Ortiz, nor do I think it’ll change its approach. But I do think we’ll see more speed, better defensive play, and continued success until Ortiz returns.
Much like the depth in pitching, Boston has a “problem” in that it has significant depth with hitters. And much like Justin Masterson and Bartolo Colon have answered the call with injuries to Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka, I think the hitters in that clubhouse, collectively, will find a way to do the same in the absence of Ortiz.
Another reason the Sox should be fine without Ortiz is the aforementioned depth at pitching. Josh Beckett is slowly returning to form, while Jon Lester has been much improved over the past month, especially with his no-hitter against the Royals. Despite Dice-K and Buchholz both being on the shelf, Colon and Masterson are certainly contributing beyond expectations, and Tim Wakefield has been his steady self. It’s not exactly a murderer’s row of starting pitchers, but all are serviceable and capable of contributing six strong innings. The question will be if the bullpen can hold a lead or stop a threat and get the ball to Jonathan Papelbon. Manny Delcarmen, Craig Hansen, and David Aardsma have all throw well over their last few outings, and with Hideki Okajima struggling, each will need to continue this recent run of success if the Sox will be able to stay afloat.
While the Tampa Bay Rays will be a tough test at Fenway the next three games, the Sox then move to Seattle and Baltimore. At home, they should easily take 2 of 3 in both. Then it’s on to interleague play and series at both Cincinnati and Philadelphia. Because they’re in NL parks, Ortiz effectiveness here would have decreased anyway with there not being a DH. By then, we should have a clear perspective on the health of his wrist and a more definitive timetable, as well. Papi’s bat will certainly be welcome by the end of the month, when the Red Sox embark on a string of games against St. Louis, Arizona, Houston, Tampa Bay and New York.
So let’s give him his time to rest on the 15-day DL before jumping off the Tobin, because depth and scheduling are playing into the Sox favor right now.
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