ST. LOUIS — David Ortiz admits it’s going to be depressing to play out the string the next few weeks, an all-too-familiar feeling around the Red Sox in two of the last three seasons.
“We’re just not here to collect numbers and paychecks. We’re here to win like we did last year. That’s when baseball is fun. It’s tough for a guy like [Dustin] Pedroia not to be able to play for something. That’s what we do. That’s why it’s been such a great career here in Boston because we always won something or were fighting for the playoffs. We’re not fighting for that now,” said Ortiz, who was hitting .249 with 26 homers and 82 RBIs.
“We’re trying to figure some things out here, and I think [general manager] Ben [Cherington] has a done a good job with the moves he’s made so far. I told them after last year that we needed power. I suggested Nelson Cruz, but I’m sure they had their reasons not to sign him, but he’s the big reason why Baltimore is in first place,” Ortiz opined.
“If you’re Boston, you need to have a great lineup every year. If you don’t have that we’re not going to be able to compete. I knew when we didn’t get a big power hitter in the offseason it was going to be tough. Now they went out and got [Yoenis] Cespedes and Allen [Craig] and our lineup is starting to get some power to it again. We’ve got a few things we need to figure out,” Ortiz said.
Like third, shortstop, and center field.
Are the Red Sox on their way to at least a better lineup in 2015?
“We’re going to find out,” Ortiz said.
It’s good to listen to Ortiz because he still is the centerpiece of the offense.
Now the Red Sox seem to be heeding his advice on righthanded power. They’ve got it now.
But if Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. continue to hit in the low .200s , the Red Sox offense will again sputter. There were too many struggling young guys to sustain a championship lineup.
“I think we found out what Jacoby Ellsbury meant to our lineup,” said Ortiz, who didn’t start Thursday night because of the wet field conditions. “He was big for us. When we lost him, we lost a big part of the top of our lineup and people being on base. He was hard to replace. We tried with different guys, but he was important to us.”
Ortiz admits he’s not what he used to be. He doesn’t feel he can put up the numbers he did five years ago. Ortiz said he was looking at a stats sheet recently and couldn’t believe he had 82 RBIs because it’s never felt as if he’s had men on base all season.
“I know what I can do and I can still hit,” Ortiz said. “I can’t hit like I did a few years ago, but I can hit enough to help this team and still be one of the better hitters in baseball.
“But people talk about power being down around the league because there are no more steroids, but the biggest thing that’s happened is the pitching in baseball has never been better. I’ve never seen anything like this. You’ve got starting pitchers on every team who throw 96-97 miles per hour and every guy in the bullpen throws 95-98. You’ve got these lefties who all look like Andrew Miller. The pitchers have gone way past the hitters.
“So you need a lineup where the hitters can do the job and be able to hit guys like this every night. It’s not easy. It’s the toughest I’ve ever seen it.’’
And that’s made the struggles of Bradley stick out even more. The Red Sox don’t want to peg Bradley as a future fourth outfielder, but right now all he has is his defense. A almost full season of major league pitching hasn’t brought major improvement. And while the Red Sox minor league people keep stressing patience — that Bradley will hit well enough — time seems to be running out.
One Red Sox source indicated Bradley, who is now batting .216, needs to hit at least .260 with some run-producing ability to keep his job.
The Red Sox also believe Bogaerts, who is hitting .238, will hit, but he too will have to prove he can hit major league pitching more consistently.
And Will Middlebrooks (.195) is a complete mystery right now.
These are the things that Ortiz sees that he doesn’t talk about openly so as not to offend his teammates, but they’re plain to see.
There are still offensive flaws that have to be addressed. There aren’t your 2003 Red Sox, which 1-9 in the order had threats to hit for power and drive in runs.
“I’ve been around a long time,” Ortiz said. “Since I’ve been here I’ve noticed that the other team gets a little more pumped up to face the Boston Red Sox. The pitchers throw harder, they concentrate more on getting you out. I feel that on the field. So that’s why you need that little extra in your lineup. You need hitters, power hitters, leadoff hitters, guys who get on base. You have to score a lot of runs if you’re the Boston Red Sox.
“That’s why this year has been very frustrating.’’
Looking around the room, Ortiz has seen so many teams he’s been on dismantled. It’s happening more frequently now.
While he’s seen the pitchers get better, he’s seen so many other changes. He and Pedroia are the constants.
“It’s just different now,” Ortiz said. “There’s always a lot of change. You see 10 or 11 guys left from last year. We won the World Series last year. I knew when we didn’t bring everyone back it was going to be tough for us. If you slip a little bit in one place, this league will make you pay for it.
“It can be so much fun playing for the Red Sox. The fans, the ball park, the championships. But in years like this, you just hope you can make it better again fast.’’Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.