When you have the best offense in baseball, scoring 57 more runs than any other team in the regular season, the idea of an opponent pitching around one player to keep the lineup at bay seems ridiculous.
However, if you are the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2013 World Series, why would you let the Boston Red Sox's best hitter, David Ortiz, keep beating you?
In fact, given the way Ortiz is hitting, the Cardinals should consider giving him what is known as the Barry Bonds treatment. Pitch around him and hope you can get him to chase something—worst-case scenario being a measly walk.
The story of Game 4 will be about Jonny Gomes' three-run homer that put the Red Sox ahead 4-1 in the top of the sixth, but make no mistake: Ortiz is the only one putting pressure on the Cardinals' pitching staff.
How bad have things gotten for the Red Sox in the World Series? Here are slash lines for the starting lineup in Game 4 compared to the regular season, excluding Ortiz.
|Red Sox World Series Game 4 Starting Lineup|
|Player||RS AVG/OBP/SLG||RS K-BB||WS AVG/OBP/SLG||WS K-BB|
I feel obligated to point out the Red Sox are less than full strength playing in a National League ballpark. Mike Napoli's only game action in the last two games came as a defensive replacement Sunday night after Quintin Berry ran for Ortiz in the eighth inning.
Yet that also enhances the point about how good Ortiz has been and why the Cardinals should avoid pitching to him at all costs.
If the Red Sox don't have their best lineup going, why give the one player you have seen burn you throughout the series a chance to keep doing so? And this isn't just me making up random narratives around Ortiz. Check out these numbers so far in the World Series.
|David Ortiz's 2013 World Series Stats|
If that doesn't do anything for you, Jenny Dell of NESN can help illustrate my point about Ortiz's amazing series performance.
The Red Sox have 24 hits so far in the World Series—David Ortiz has eight of them. He is averaging two hits and almost four bases per game with his 1.364 slugging.
Even with the small sample-size caveats that must be applied to any hot streak in the postseason, Ortiz is proving beyond any doubt he belongs in the category of all-time great hitters.
At the height of Bonds' powers from 2000-04, teams were so cautious with him it felt like there would be days that went by when he didn't swing the bat. When he did, the ball usually went a long way. The former seven-time MVP walked at least 117 times in all five seasons, including 232 in 2004.
There was a famous incident with Bonds in 1998, when he was merely superhuman and the not holy-crap-how-is-this-real player. The Arizona Diamondbacks intentionally walked him with the bases loaded in a game they were leading 8-6 to let one run score rather than give him a chance to drive in all four.
While I would never encourage the same approach for the Cards, especially with so many relief specialists in the bullpen, Ortiz should make Cardinals manager Mike Matheny think long and hard about what the plan of attack should be.
Even if you think Ortiz will eventually come back down to earth, there are only, at most, three games left to play. He might keep hitting .727 with a slugging percentage that would look insane even in a video game by the time things are over, at which point Matheny could be asking himself why he tried to pitch to him when no one else was hitting in the Sox lineup.
When the series moves back to Boston, it will be harder to justify putting Ortiz on base every time he steps to the plate because the Red Sox lineup will be back to normal, depending on the status of Shane Victorino after sitting out Game 4 with lower back tightness.
Napoli hasn't had the opportunities to play a big role in this series, sitting on the bench in favor of Ortiz at first base in St. Louis. But he did come up with a big three-run double in the first inning of Game 1 that set the tone for the Red Sox.
Time is running out for the Cardinals to truly capitalize on the opportunities they are creating. They have been in every game this series, and quite honestly are two Pete Kozma errors in the first inning of the series opener from having a chance to sweep the Red Sox.
Yet you can also say the same thing for the Red Sox, who shot themselves in the foot with two poor throws to third base on two separate occasions. If the Cardinals are to win this series, a couple things need to happen: Their offense has to better execute, and the team has to keep the hottest hitter on the planet from beating them.
Ortiz didn't get the big hit that proved to be the difference in Game 4, but Cardinals starter Lance Lynn wanted nothing to do with him in the pivotal sixth. That was one instance where a four-pitch unofficially intentional walk was a smart play.
Matheny had the matchup he wanted, bringing in right-hander Seth Maness to face Gomes. The rookie left a flat sinker over the middle of the plate that Gomes crushed, and yes, that whole sequence was set up by Lynn and the Cardinals wanting nothing to do with Ortiz.
One bad pitch proved to be the difference in Game 4, but will the Red Sox get that lucky two more times in order to capture their third championship in nine years?
That is the question the Cardinals have to ask themselves right now. Based on the results thus far, the answer is staring them right in the face in the form of all the old tape on Barry Bonds.
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