MacArthur: Potent heart of Red Sox order heating up

Scott MacArthur
10/24/2013 6:02:20 PM
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BOSTON - The St. Louis Cardinals have a problem on their hands.

It's not how poorly they played in the World Series opener or whether they're able to bounce back with a better performance on Thursday night.

It appears, after a cold spell, David Ortiz is heating up.

"Big Papi," as he's affectionately known in these parts, has had an up and down fall.

After torching the Tampa Bay Rays in the Division Series to the tune of .385/.556/.923, two home runs, a double and three RBI, Ortiz slumped in the ALCS. Tigers' pitching held him to just two hits and a .091/.200/.227 slash line.

It's easy to forget Ortiz struggled against Detroit because one of his two hits was an eighth inning grand slam in Game 2 that erased a 5-1 deficit, propelled the Red Sox to a series-evening victory and may well have saved Boston's chances of advancing.

The other was a dunk single to left field in Game 5.

The mantra of good teams is when one player is struggling; another guy - or guys - picks him up. Dustin Pedroia has been finding ways to get on base. Mike Napoli has been hot since his home run off Justin Verlander in Game Three of the ALCS.

Ortiz seemed to break out on Wednesday night. He was robbed of a second inning grand slam by Carlos Beltran but later singled and, in the eighth inning, hit a two-run home run he made sure cleared the right centerfield fence. If not for Beltran's great catch, Ortiz would have had a two home run, three hit, six RBI night.

To this point in the playoffs, not that it's deterred them; the Red Sox haven't had Pedroia, Ortiz and Napoli hitting well at the same time. If last night's performance is an indicator of what's to come, Boston is in good shape.

"I'm very encouraged, particularly with what Mike Napoli has done since probably Game 3 of the ALCS," said Farrell. "Probably each guy has the ability to carry us. And the fact that we can get the middle of the order going like that - we still have other guys we need to get going."

St. Louis, on the other hand, has non-performance related issues in the middle of its order. An injury and a recovery have put two key players in difficult positions.

Beltran was injured making the catch on Ortiz's would-be grand slam. He left the game and went to hospital for tests. A CT scan and an X-ray showed no fractures and he will attempt to play through a deeply bruised right side of his ribcage. It's hard to imagine Beltran won't be compromised by the injury.

Meantime, Allen Craig will be the Cardinals designated hitter again in Game 2. He returned last night, having not played since September 4 due to a sprained foot. Craig had a single in four at-bats and is being asked to quickly find his offensive timing with so little time left in the season.

Farrell's starting lineup will suffer with the deletion of either Ortiz or Napoli under National League rules. It appears Ortiz will get the Game 3 start at first base, relegating Napoli to a pinch hit role.

The Cardinals don't have a left-handed starting pitcher so Ortiz could get all the starts at Busch Stadium. Napoli's degenerative hip condition prevents him from returning to catcher, a position which he's played for most of his career.

"The one outside view might be to put Mike Napoli behind the plate but we wouldn't do that," said Farrell. "One or the other is going to sit, unfortunately."

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