Friday, May 15, 2009

Ortiz not alone in struggles

He's a lefthanded hitter who, for much of the season, has dragged down the heart of the Red Sox order. He's normally a .280 hitter but is hitting well below that this season. He's hitting just .190, in fact, since April 22, and he has just four hits in his last 28 at-bats (.143) .

He's walked 19 times, but he's struck out 32 times -- second on the team to Jason Bay. He's hit his share of doubles and even a triple, but he's got fewer than half the RBIs Bay has so far this season.

He's also got five home runs so far this season.

Oh, yeah. This isn't about David Ortiz.

Big Papi will get the Friday morning headlines -- and, in many ways, for good reason. It was Ortiz who went 0-for-7 against the Angels on Thursday; it was Ortiz who left a record-tying 12 men on base as the Red Sox missed an opportunity to win a big series on the road.

But J.D. Drew had two early chances to drive home runners and failed to do so. After Mike Lowell doubled to lead off the second inning, Drew worked Ervin Santana into a 3-0 hole but proceeded to strike out on the next three pitches. With one out and Bay on second base in the fifth inning, Drew flew to left.

Drew, like Ortiz, has had a miserable time of things lately. He was hitting .310 after the front end of a day-night doublehead against Minnesota on April 22, but he's hitting below the Mendoza Line since then. He has five 0-fers in his last eight games. His batting average for the season, right now, is .238.

And while you can point to Drew's .360 on-base percentage, don't forget this: Even Ortiz, for all of his troubles, is OBP'ing .315. Big Papi, in fact, has more walks (20) than Drew (19) -- and he has fewer strikeouts (30) than Drew (32), too.

(For what it's worth, Ortiz and Drew are almost precisely the same age. Ortiz was born two days before Drew in November of 1975.)

That's not to say that Drew is on an Ortiz-type decline, of course. Drew has hit the ball hard all season long and has the athleticism to stay productive into his mid-30s or later.

But as the cries for Terry Francona to drop Ortiz in the batting order grow louder, it's worth stepping back to ask the key question: With whom would you replace him?

Drew is struggling mightily. Kevin Youkilis is on the disabled list. Jason Bay is more of a cleanup hitter than a No. 3 hitter. Mike Lowell has had a nice start but isn't that type of player anymore.

The opportunity for Francona to shake up his lineup might present itself when Youkilis is activated from the disabled list. You may very well see a lineup that looks like this:

Ellsbury, CF (L)
Pedroia, 2B (R)
Youkilis, 1B (R)
Bay, LF (R)
Drew, RF (L)
Lowell, 3B (R)
Ortiz, DH (L)
Varitek, C (S)
Lugo, SS (R)

It would be nice if Francona could break up the righty-righty-righty trio of Pedroia, Youkilis and Bay. But until Drew starts swinging the bat the way he did during the first couple of weeks in the season, Francona is running a little bit low on options.

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