McAdam: Ortiz blasting his way into Sox' future


McAdam: Ortiz blasting his way into Sox' future

By Sean McAdam

NEW YORK -- David Ortiz couldn't help but admire his handiwork in the fifth inning Tuesday night.

As soon as he connected for a majestic two-run homer, which landed in the right-field seats, Ortiz performed a little pirouette, then flipped his bat aside in celebration.

The homer gave the Red Sox a five-run lead over the New York Yankees, en route to their 6-4 victory. But Ortiz could have just as easily have been toasting his own return to form and what that means going forward.

Last fall, with more than a little trepidation, the Red Sox picked up Ortiz's one-year, 12.5 million option for this season.

At the time, they wondered whether Ortiz could match the sort of production he provided a year ago, when he hit 32 homers and knocked in 102 runs.

Their fears, it seems clear, were unfounded. Ortiz is not only performing better than he was last year, he's currently mashing the ball with the kind of power and consistency that he showed from 2004-06, when, with Manny Ramirez, he formed arguably the best middle-of-the-order combination in the game.

His .602 slugging percentage would be his highest since he slugged .621 in 2007.

His .324 batting average is his best since he batted .332, also in 2007.

His OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging) of .992 is his best in the last three seasons and higher than his career OPS of .922.

In short, at the ripe old age of 35, Ortiz has managed to turn back the clock. Improbably, he's feasting on left-handed hitting a stunning .355, a remarkable improvement over the .220 he hit against lefties last year.

Suddenly, the notion that the Sox would have to find someone to platoon with Ortiz in the DH spot seems laughable.

Both hitting coach Dave Magadan and manager Terry Francona agree there are two reasons for Ortiz's late-in-career renaissance: the ability to, again, take the ball the other way to left; and his newfound plate discipline which has seen him refuse to offer at pitches out of the strike zone.

Ortiz is swinging solely at strikes these days. After fanning a career-worst 145 times last season, Ortiz is on pace to cut his strikeouts in half, an incredible feat for anyone -- never mind a slugger supposedly in his waning years.

Though he and new teammate Adrian Gonzalez don't hit back-to-back in the Boston batting order -- they're separated by Kevin Youkilis for the sake of left-right balance -- Ortiz has certainly benefited by Gonzalez's arrival. The two began talking hitting in spring training and Ortiz credits his new teammate with helping him in his approach to lefties.

For the moment, Ortiz's superb first 10 weeks has solidified the Red Sox' lineup and made their offense one of the most feared in the league.

For the long-term, however, Ortiz's season poses a number of issues for the team.

It's likely that when the season began, Red Sox management envisioned this as Ortiz's last in Boston. Throughout the American League, the trend has been to move away from high-priced, veteran sluggers as full-time designated hitters and toward a rotation in which position players are kept fresh by serving as the DH once or twice per week.

But as long as Ortiz continues to produce at his current clip, can the Red Sox afford to let him go when his deal expires?


For Ortiz is not some bit player in the lineup, protected and enhanced by the presence of Gonzalez, Youkilis and others. Instead, he's a mainstay, without whom the Sox wouldn't be nearly as fearsome.

And at a time when offensive numbers are down across the board, and pitchers are again dominating, can the Red Sox really afford to lose a hitter who's on pace to deliver 39 homers?

Had Ortiz merely matched what he did a year ago, the Red Sox might have offered him a one-year deal -- at a reduced price, that is. Ortiz's countryman, Vladimir Guerrero, found out the hard way last winter the going rate for a successful but aging DH: he took 8.5 million on a one-year deal from the Baltimore Orioles.

Now, such a proposal to Ortiz would be laughable. Power is in too short supply to risk pushing Ortiz out the door and it's likely that, at the very least, the Red Sox will have to A) come close to matching Ortiz's current salary and B) offer some sort of vesting option, if not a guaranteed two-year deal.

Ortiz had made no secret of his desire to finish his career in a Red Sox uniform. It's likely he'll get his wish now, but that finish may come later than most expected, and, at a higher cost.

Sean McAdam can be reached at Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945


NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945

CHICAGO -- Cursed by a Billy Goat, bedeviled by Bartman and crushed by decades of disappointment, the Chicago Cubs are at long last headed back to the World Series.

Kyle Hendricks outpitched Clayton KershawAnthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras homered early and the Cubs won their first pennant since 1945, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 Saturday night in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.

The drought ended when closer Aroldis Chapman got Yasiel Puig to ground into a double play, setting off a wild celebration inside Wrigley Field, outside the ballpark and all over the city.

Seeking their first crown since 1908, manager Joe Maddon's team opens the World Series at Cleveland on Tuesday night. The Indians haven't won it all since 1948 - Cleveland and Cubs have the two longest title waits in the majors.

"This city deserves it so much," Rizzo said. "We got four more big ones to go, but we're going to enjoy this. We're going to the World Series. I can't even believe that."

All-everything Javier Baez and pitcher Jon Lester shared the NLCS MVP. Baez hit .318, drove in five runs and made several sharp plays at second base. Lester, a former World Series champion in Boston, was 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Dodgers.

Deemed World Series favorites since opening day, the Cubs topped the majors with 103 wins to win the NL Central, then beat the Giants and Dodgers in the playoffs.

The Cubs overcame a 2-1 deficit against the Dodgers and won their 17th pennant. They had not earned a World Series trip since winning a doubleheader opener 4-3 at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, 1945, to clinch the pennant on the next-to-last day of the season.

The eternal "wait till next year" is over. No more dwelling on a history of failure - the future is now.

"We're too young. We don't care about it," star slugger Kris Bryant said. "We don't look into it. This is a new team, this is a completely different time of our lives. We're enjoying it and our work's just getting started."

Hendricks pitched two-hit ball for 7 1/3 innings. Chapman took over and closed with hitless relief, then threw both arms in the air as he was mobbed by teammates and coaches.

The crowd joined in, chanting and serenading their team.

"Chicago!" shouted popular backup catcher David Ross.

The Cubs shook off back-to-back shutout losses earlier in this series by pounding the Dodgers for 23 runs to win the final three games.

And they were in no way overwhelmed by the moment on Saturday, putting aside previous frustration.

In 1945, the Billy Goat Curse supposedly began when a tavern owner wasn't allowed to bring his goat to Wrigley. In 2003, the Cubs lost the final three games of the NLCS to Florida, punctuated with a Game 6 defeat when fan Steve Bartman deflected a foul ball.

Even as recently as 2012, the Cubs lost 101 times.

This time, no such ill luck.

Bryant had an RBI single and scored in a two-run first. Dexter Fowler added two hits, drove in a run and scored one.

Contreras led off the fourth with a homer. Rizzo continued his resurgence with a solo drive in the fifth.

That was plenty for Hendricks, the major league ERA leader.

Hendricks left to a standing ovation after Josh Reddick singled with one out in the eighth. The only other hit Hendricks allowed was a single by Andrew Toles on the game's first pitch.

Kershaw, dominant in Game 2 shutout, gave up five runs and seven hits before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth. He fell to 4-7 in the postseason.

The Dodgers haven't been to the World Series since winning in 1988.

Pitching on five days' rest, the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner threw 30 pitches in the first. Fowler led off with a double, and Bryant's single had the crowd shaking the 102-year-old ballpark.

They had more to cheer when left fielder Andrew Toles dropped Rizzo's fly, putting runners on second and third, and Ben Zobrist made it 2-0 a sacrifice fly.

The Cubs added a run in the second when Addison Russell doubled to deep left and scored on a two-out single by Fowler.


Maddon benched slumping right fielder Jason Heyward in favor of Albert Almora Jr.

"Kershaw's pitching, so I wanted to get one more right-handed bat in the lineup, and also with Albert I don't feel like we're losing anything on defense," Maddon said. "I know Jason's a Gold Glover, but I think Albert, given an opportunity to play often enough would be considered a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder, too."

Heyward was 2 for 28 in the playoffs - 1 for 16 in the NLCS.


Kerry Wood, wearing a Ron Santo jersey, threw out the first pitch and actor Jim Belushi delivered the "Play Ball!" call before the game. Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder and actor John Cusack were also in attendance. And Bulls great Scottie Pippen led the seventh-inning stretch.