Last night's injury to David Ortiz could spell big trouble for the Boston Red Sox.
When Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz came up injured rounding second base in the 8th inning of last night’s win against the Chicago White Sox, fans everywhere had the same reaction: “Please, let this just be a cramp.”
Instead, Ortiz is scheduled to undergo an MRI (via Boston.com) today that will determine the extent of the damage to his right Achilles’ tendon. Although the injury does not seem terribly serious, any time missed by the slugger would be a huge blow to the Sox.
This team has just started to get healthy, with Carl Crawford playing his first game of the season last night, and Jacoby Ellsbury only having just returned as well. With Dustin Pedroia recovering more quickly than anticipated from his thumb injury, it looked like the Sox might finally have their preferred lineup available within a week.
An injury to Ortiz changes all that in a hurry.
Big Papi has been the Red Sox’s most valuable hitter by far, leading the team in most offensive categories while providing strong leadership off the field. Losing him for even a brief period of time would be a huge blow to the team’s chances of climbing back into the playoff race.
While there’s also a chance that this injury is minor and Ortiz will not miss much time, all scenarios need to be considered. Here are five possibilities for how long Ortiz is on the shelf, and what each means for the Sox.
Truly the best-case scenario here is that Ortiz has simply had a flare-up of a chronic problem, which can be treated with rest. Because he is a DH and not exactly known for his wheels, a hobbled Ortiz is better than none at all.
While an Achilles’ tendon injury is never a good thing, it actually helps that it is Big Papi’s right foot rather than his left. As a left-handed hitter, Ortiz’s left (back) foot handles the majority of his weight and is the one that rotates as he swings. His right foot strides forward but does not have to handle nearly as much pressure.
This absence is the most likely to occur, given that Ortiz is almost certainly going to need a bit of a break to get his foot right. Losing his bat in the middle of the lineup for a week is not a good thing, but is by no means catastrophic.
With the way he’s been swinging the bat lately (especially last night), Adrian Gonzalez appears ready to reassert himself as an elite middle-of-the-order presence. With the returns of Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury, the Sox lineup has enough thump to weather a brief injury to their signature slugger.
If Ortiz needs to go on the 15-day DL, the Sox would probably replace him with another DH-type with some pop. The most likely candidate would be Ryan Lavarnway, the team’s top catching prospect, who flashed excellent power in his September call-up last season.
While missing Ortiz for such a long period would be a serious blow to the team, they would at least get to see what they had in Lavarnway. Because of the talent in the Sox lineup (they’ll be back at full strength when Dustin Pedroia returns), the pressure on Lavarnway to perform would be minimal.
While it would not be fair to expect Papi-like production from Lavarnway over a long stretch, the Sox would likely be able to use their depth in order to temporarily compensate for Ortiz’s absence.
This is where things start to look bleak for the Sox. Ortiz, quite simply, has kept this team going offensively all season.
He leads the AL in OPS (1.024) and runs (65), and is in the top 10 for batting average (.316), doubles (25) and home runs (23). While he likely won’t win, he has been a leading MVP candidate all season.
His current offensive wins above replacement (oWAR) for the season stands at 2.9, putting him just outside the top 10 in the AL.
Losing this productive a player would be problematic for any team. Given their inconsistencies this season, it would go doubly for the Sox.
Obviously, here we have the doomsday scenario. If Ortiz is truly injured this badly, the Sox and their fans can essentially bid farewell to their chances of qualifying for the playoffs.
As the last member of the 2004 World Series team and one of seven remaining from the 2007 squad, Ortiz brings a level of experience and grit that few other players on the Sox can match. He knows not only how to win, but also how to conquer seemingly insurmountable odds to do it.
The Sox will miss the production mentioned in the previous slide, certainly. More than that, though, they’ll miss the leadership Ortiz has brought to the team this year.
Without their reliable veteran slugger, the 2012 Sox would be finished.