Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Big Papi's 21st Century Breakdown

Yes, I did reference the new Green Day album in the title of this blog post. The difference between the album and David Ortiz? "21st Century Breakdown" is awesome, but David Ortiz sucks. If his recent layoff doesn't create better results, the Red Sox will have plenty of questions to answer about the future of their offense.

Terry Francona elected to give Ortiz four whole days off following his most putrid performance of the 2009 season thus far last Thursday, when the former slugger went 0-for-7 and left a stunning 12 men on base. His season numbers tell the full story: a line of .208/.318/.300, 30 strikeouts in 130 at-bats and exactly zero home runs.

I feel like it's been theorized ad naseum about what exactly is wrong with Big Papi. What we'll discover, beginning with tonight's tilt against Toronto, is if this uber-slump has been because of something mental. I assume the biggest reason behind the hiatus was getting his head straight, and probably also to work on whatever holes exist in his swing.

But I'm skeptical about his problems being purely mental. This is David Ortiz we're talking about. How is it possible that the same guy who has perfomed at historic levels under pressure would fold psychologically during an afternoon contest in Anaheim in mid-May? I also refuse to acknowledge the chatter about steroids because at this time it's completely baseless.

Therefore, it has to be something physical. He dealt with a sore shoulder February, and probably should not have participated in the World Baseball Classic because of it. (I'm not going to blame the WBC for his troubles because whatever effect it had couldn't be this adverse). There has been constant issues with his knees through the last few years, and he missed significant time last season after partially tearing a tendon in his left wrist. He never had surgery on the wrist, and actually performed pretty well upon returning.

His issues at the plate are coming as a result of at least one of these three things, if not a combination of all three. There's no other explanation at this point. The question: If Ortiz really is hurt, why isn't he saying anything about it? Doesn't he realize that by staying out there and hitting so ineffectively that he's simply crushing his team?

Francona, whose undying faith in his players has definitely hurt the Red Sox in the past, will soon make public where the post-layoff Ortiz will bat in the order. I would be surprised if Francona moves Ortiz out of the 3rd spot just because that's what Francona does. And this continuation will definitely hurt the team if Ortiz continues to suck, and the run totals for Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia will drop. Kevin Youkilis will return to the lineup tomorrow, which should help. But J.D. Drew should hit third, with Youkilis fourth and Jason Bay fifth, followed by Ortiz. If this actually happens soon, I'll be shocked.

But how long will the Red Sox allow Ortiz to murder them, regardless of where he hits in the order? Say Ortiz is still homerless in two weeks. The Red Sox will have no choice but to put Papi on the DL. They might have to make up an injury so long as Ortiz is unwilling to admit that he's unhealthy. Either way, they'll need to look for another source of power. Indians like Victor Martinez and Matt LaPorta have already been bandied about, and with the Sox eight-deep in their starting rotation, a deal for a slugger is probable.

Yet, maybe four days off will make all the difference. Maybe Ortiz comes out tonight against Brian Tallet, goes deep twice, and leads the Red Sox to an important victory. Youkilis returns, the starting pitching finds consistency, the bullpen continues to dominate, and the Red Sox overtake the Blue Jays and sit in the AL East driver's seat will into the summer.

It's hard to be optimistic. Big Papi just doesn't seem like the same ballplayer, just three years after belting 54 homers. Unlike Green Day, David Ortiz isn't getting better with age.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

How is the chatter about steroids completely baseless? Its been a little while since they have been testing the banned substance, and the 'roids in his body have finally worn off. Its very likely and probable that the lack of steroids in his body is to blame.