Ortiz not pressing over season's first month

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Ortiz not pressing over season's first month

By SeanMcAdam
CSNNE.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Surrounded by new superstar teammates and playing for a team with enormous expectations, David Ortiz foresees a happy ending for the 2011 Red Sox.

What's less certain is how the season begins, especially for him.

Ortiz hit just .143 in April last year and was frequently miffed that manager Terry Francona chose to sit him at times in the first month, often against tough left-handed pitchers.

"It was a very difficult month,'' acknowledged Francona. "But we fought our way through and we came out feeling better, which I think was important.''

In one memorable exchange, Ortiz reacted with anger when he was asked about his "slow start'' exactly two games into the season. He uncharacteristically snapped at reporters and withdrew.

Ortiz believes the best way to get off to a better start is to stop obsessing about it, as he did too often the last two years.

"I think all I need to do is not think about it,'' he said. "Going into the season, sometimes you hear everybody talking about your start and you put more pressure than normal on the beginning of the season.

"A good start guarantees you a good end and I understand why people worried about me the way the season started because everybody is kind of used to seeing you do your thing. But I'm not planning to put pressure on myself at the start. I plan on playing more in the preseason than I normally do.

"My emphasis is not focusing on what people have to say about the beginning of the season. My focus is getting prepared and going to play the game, the way it's supposed to be.''

The last two seasons, Ortiz found himself pressing when he stumbled early. Determined to break out of his April slumps, he began beating himself up, trying to shake his hitting woes.

Not now.

"I'm not going to let that get into my head like last year,'' said Ortiz. "I know that just like I can go 0-for-20, I can go 15-for-20 just as quickly. It's just a game. I think last year what happened was, I snapped, when the second game, people were having their doubts.''

If Ortiz struggles -- particuarly against lefties -- Francona may have more options in 2011. Last year, a hobbled Mike Lowell was his best choice to play when Ortiz nosedived. This year, Francona can choose from among Mike Cameron and Jed Lowrie as DH fill-ins.

It may also help that Ortiz will be part of a deeper lineup, featuring newcomers Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. That should ensure more baserunners and, in turn, better protection in the lineup for Ortiz himself.

"I think right now we have more thunder than we've had the past few years,'' said Ortiz. "It will be crazy for the opposing pitchers to focus on a lineup like that. You have a lot of good hitters, one behind another. I don't think I'm going to be the guy people are going to have worry about now.''

Still unclear is Ortiz's future after 2011. He publicly campaigned for the Red Sox to give him a multiyear extension after he topped the 30-homer, 100-RBI plateaus, but in the end, had to be satisfied with the team exercising a one-year, 12.5 million option.

"That's something I can't really control,'' said Ortiz of the team's contractual offer. "I want to stick around, but that's what they had on the table for me at the time. We just move on. I'm just going to focus on playing baseball right now and whatever happens later on, happens. I haven't thought about what might happen if he is off to a good start and deserving of a longer commitment yet. I'm glad to be here and I'm excited what's coming up.''

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Red Sox-Indians ALDS matchup becoming increasingly likely

Red Sox-Indians ALDS matchup becoming increasingly likely

BOSTON - The Red Sox knew they'd be in the playoffs last weekend when they clinched a postseason berth for the first time since 2013.

On Wednesday, they became division champs and knew they'd avoided the dreaded wild-card game.

ANALYSIS: Nick Friar looks at potential Red Sox-Indians matchup

They still don't know their first-round opponent, though it's becoming increasingly likely that it will be the Cleveland Indians.

Here's why: the Red Sox' loss to the Yankees on Thursday night leaves them with a 92-67 record with three games remaining, the second-best mark -- for now -- among the three A.L. division winners.

The Texas Rangers, at 94-65, retain the best record, with the Indians, at 91-67, a half-game behind the Sox.

The team with the best record of the three will enter the playoffs as the No. 1 seed, and will be matched against the winner of Tuesday's A.L. wild-card matchup.

To finish with the A.L.'s best record and host the wild-card winner, the Red Sox essentially need to sweep the Toronto Blue Jays on the final weekend and hope that the Rangers get swept by Tampa Bay.

That's because a tie between the Red Sox and Rangers in the standings would make the Rangers the top seed by virtue of the second tie-breaker: intra-division play.

(The first tie-breaker is head-to-head play; the Sox and Rangers split the season series, sending them to the second tie-breaker).

In other words, the Rangers have a magic number of one to clinch the best record in the A.L. and gain home-field advantage throughout the postseason. One more Red Sox loss or one more Rangers win would get the Rangers locked into the top spot.

Again, barring a sweep by the Sox and the Rangers getting swept, a matchup in the Division Series with Cleveland seems almost inevitable.

What's not known is where that series will begin, and here's where it gets tricky.

Because the Indians and Detroit Tigers were rained out Thursday, the Tribe will have played only 161 games by the time the regular season ends early Sunday evening.

That could force the Indians and Tigers to play a makeup game on Monday, since the game could have playoff seeding implications for the Indians and Tigers. Detroit is still in the running for the A.L. wild card spot, currently a game-and-a-half behind the Orioles and Jays.

Since the Red Sox won the season series against the Indians 4-2, the Sox can clinch home field by winning two-of-three games from Toronto this weekend.

Should the Sox win two from the Jays, it would wipe out the need for Monday's makeup -- at least as far as the Indians are concerned. It's possible that it would still need to be played to determine the one of the wild card spots.

No matter who wins home field in a likely Red Sox-Indians matchup, the Division Series between the two will start with games next Thursday and Friday. After a travel day, the series would resume Sunday and Monday, Oct. 9-10.

Should the Sox win home field and host the first two games, Game 3 would be played Sunday Oct. 9 in Cleveland -- on the same day and in the same city where Tom Brady will make his return to the Patriots.