David Ortiz: the Leader Boston Needs?

Reports began surfacing today that the Red Sox held a heated players-only meeting in the wake of Josh Beckett’s disastrous start against the Indians in early May. The general gist of these rumors seems to be that David Ortiz called the meeting and demanded better from the pitchers. “Sources” say that the meeting got heated, though details are lacking.

What hasn’t been lacking since then is the team’s performance. Following the meeting, the Red Sox have been on an absolute roll, winning eight of ten games. Hell, even Josh Beckett has started pitching like, well, a PITCHER, tossing two absolute gems in a row. Buchholz has gotten shelled less and Lester is still pitching decently, if not great. Bard and Doubront have also continued to be solid.  If the first reason for this turnaround is the change in team attitude, the second is certainly the pitching.

That said, we have been down this road before. At the end of April the Red Sox put together a streak of seven wins in eight games and it looked like they might have turned the corner. Of course, after that they fell apart again, culminating in the aforementioned disastrous Beckett start. They didn’t have it figured out before and there aren’t a ton of reasons to believe that it is any different now.

But there are reasons to be optimistic.  The Red Sox have been in search of a leader since last season, when there was no one to step up in the clubhouse as the team skidded to its now-legendary collapse. For years sports radio has been crying from the mountaintop that Dustin Pedroia is the spiritual leader of the team, the man who should be wearing the ‘C’ on his chest.

Well, I’ve got news for sports radio: if Dustin Pedroia is a leader, it’s on the field, not in the clubhouse.  The way Pedroia plays the game is beyond reproach, and he is a favorite of every Boston fan. But Pedroia has certainly failed to step up when it comes to reconciling the clubhouse, and if it is true that it was David Ortiz who called the players-only meeting, then it only solidifies Pedroia’s willingness to take a backseat when it comes to clubhouse leadership.

Don’t mistake this as a diatribe against Dustin Pedroia. He works hard and plays harder. He is by all accounts a great guy. He is personally one of my favorite players. And it’s important to remember there are a number of reasons why he might not be the best option to step up and yell at the guys in the clubhouse–not the least of which is his perceived closeness with former manager Terry Francona.

But it may be time to stop giving Pedroia the credit for being the heart of a team that has played, well, without heart for large stretches of the past two seasons. Love the player and love the way he plays, but don’t make him into the messiah that the Red Sox need.  If recent headlines are to be believed the man who deserves the most credit for the Red Sox turnaround is David Ortiz, and for Ortiz to go out on a limb and put himself at the mercy of a divided clubhouse for the sake of the team shows a quality of leadership that has been absent lately.

Then again, David Ortiz has never shied away from bold decisions.

On to other matters:

The Kevin Youkilis Trade Train Chugs Along: In addition to the stories about the players-only meeting, several stories surfaced today regarding the fate of Kevin Youkilis, essentially implying that Bobby Valentine wanted Youkilis out since spring training. This wouldn’t exactly be surprising, and would certainly put Valentine’s comments about Youkilis’ heart not being in the game anymore in greater context. If Bobby V wanted Youk out before, Will Middlebrooks’ breakout will no doubt hasten his departure.  The real question now will be how many starts Bobby V is willing to give Youk to showcase him for a possible trade. I’ll say it now: it’s a matter of when, not if, when it comes to a Youkilis trade.

Report from the Ryan Sweeney Bandwagon: Sweeney went a mere 1-11 this week, suffering from a baffling lack of playing time given his production and the lack of options in the Red Sox outfield. However, Sweeney did suffer from what may have been a concussion this week, though he hopes to play tonight. And for my fellow Sweeney fans, let’s be sure to note the tremendous diving grab that our boy made against Philadelphia this weekend. Expect to see more of Sweeney in the near future because…

…Don’t Look Now but the Entire Red Sox Starting Outfield Is Now on the DL: Yep. Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, and Cody Ross are all now on the DL.  And I don’t know about you, but I’m not planning on seeing any of them anytime soon. Ellsbury will probably be out at least another month and a half, Crawford doesn’t seem to have any sort of timetable to return (a far cry from Bobby V’s proclamations of “sure, he could be ready for opening day!”), and Cody Ross has now been placed on the DL with a fractured foot. Ross’ fracture just happens to be the same bone that sidelined Dustin Pedroia for the entire end of the season two years ago, so don’t count on seeing Ross anytime soon either.  Of course, this means…

…LINSANITY! That’s right, we finally get to do Linsanity! Che-Hsuan Lin was called up a few days ago, and now we get to hope and pray that he goes on a tear and we get to rub it in New York’s face that we even do Linsanity better than them (NOTE: do not actually do this. “Linsanity” is the most obnoxious and played out concept in the entire universe, my joy at his being called up notwithstanding).

Eight Runs or None? Eight runs or none is a fun new game for Josh Beckett fans! For each Josh Beckett start, you guess whether he’s going to give up eight runs or none! It’s sort of like a drinking game, except that instead of drinking, when he gives up no runs you say “I always believed in him!” and when he gives up eight runs you kill yourself.

The Week Ahead:

The Sox have a three game series in Baltimore (which I will be attending the second game of) to face the red-hot Orioles. I don’t know how long the Orioles can keep up this blistering pace, but it’s making the AL East even more insufferable for the rest of the baseball world, which makes me sort of perversely happy. In any case, it will be a real test for the Red Sox to see whether this current turnaround has legs. After a day off, the Sox will head back home to face Tampa Bay. Let’s take a look at the probable pitching matchups:

5/21: Boston (Buchholz) @ Baltimore (Hunter)
5/22: Boston (Doubront) @ Baltimore (Matusz)
5/23: Boston (Bard) @ Baltimore (Arrieta)
5/25: Tampa Bay (Price) @ Boston (Lester)
5/26: Tampa Bay (Hellickson) @ Boston (Beckett)
5/27: Tampa Bay (Moore) @ Boston (Buchholz)

The Orioles are too hot right now for the Sox to continue to roll.  The depleted Red Sox outfield is going to struggle to find its legs at first. I’ll give the Sox one game out of this series (hopefully the one I’m attending), but that’s about it. Against Tampa Bay I like them to win the series, but they’re not going to sweep. I’ll be very interested to see if Lester can step up his game against Price and get back to the level we know him to be capable of. I had a good week of predictions last week, but let’s hope they outperform my expectations this week.

Fearless Prediction for the Week: 3-3

Last week’s prediction: 4-3. Last week’s results: 5-2

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