Everyone remembers David Ortiz's early-season struggles in 2009. Many of us can even recite the statistics from memory: a .185 batting average through April and May and not a single home run until his 164th plate appearance on May 20, the season's 40th game. It was the longest home-run drought of his career.
Yet, take a gander at the end-of- season stats for Big Papi, and you'll see numbers more befitting one of baseball's top sluggers of the decade. No, they're not the .297 average, 42 homers and 128 RBIs Ortiz averaged in Boston from 2003-07, but 28 dingers and 99 ribbies is nothing to scoff at.
Especially for a 33-year-old slugger. Many, in fact, attributed Big Papi's poor start last season to age. He struggled with minor injuries, he could hardly run the bases and he had trouble getting around on pitches he used to crush to kingdom come.
"I think it kind of ganged up on him," manager Terry Francona told ESPN.com last month. "As we got a month into the season and things started to go from bad to worse, it just kind of multiplied."
During the season's first two months, the Red Sox were 29-22. On the morning of June 1, 2009, the Red Sox stood a half-game behind the Yankees for the AL East lead.
But despite his rough start, Ortiz recovered to have a productive season. He hit seven homers and drove in 18 runs in June, hit another seven bombs and upped his RBI total to 24 in the month of July, and finished August with another seven homers and 18 more runs batted in.
"I asked myself, how did I bounce back? I had an answer for that," Ortiz told The Providence Journal this spring. "I just stayed strong and didn't pay attention to all the negativity that sometimes people bring around. … There were a few pieces I put together and came around. I definitely know that bouncing back like I did last year gave me more confidence and makes me stronger for this year."
"He didn't quit," Francona said. "That was a difficult two months, there's no getting around it. There was no production, he was going through stuff he had never gone through before. And he gathered himself enough to be a potent bat in our lineup."
Still, Papi's season average was a depressing .238. His OPS was a career-worst .794. His strikeout totals were a career-high 134. But he rebounded strongly from the early-season slump and managed to put up totals of which 90 percent of the hitters in the majors would be proud.
"I just turned the page and put [last year] in the past," he told the Boston Herald. "This is a new season. I just put that behind me."
So who's to say Ortiz can't improve on his numbers from a year ago? No one.
And just imagine the impact Papi could have on the Red Sox — and their race with the Yankees for the AL East — if he can have even average months of April and May in 2010.
Consider this: Before last season, Ortiz had averaged 4.8 home runs per April throughout his career. In May, the average went down to 2.9. So his career average number of homers in April and May, prior to 2009, was 6.7. Last year, he hit one.
Playing the same game with RBIs, over his career, Ortiz averaged 16.7 in April and 15.2 in May for a total of 31.9. Last year, he had 18 RBIs in April and May combined.
To play it conservatively, add another five home runs and 13 RBIs to his total from those first two months of 2009, and you have season-ending numbers of 34 and 112.
Hey, that's starting to look something like Big Papi's numbers of old!
Of course, no one knows how Ortiz will fare in 2010. It's unclear how the absence of Jason Bay and Mike Lowell – not to mention the presence of Adrian Beltre and Mike Cameron – will affect his approach and production in the middle of the Red Sox lineup.
But if Papi were able to top 30 home runs and 100 RBIs, two milestone numbers that he narrowly missed hitting last season, the Red Sox offense could very well be better than in 2009. Couple that with a vastly improved rotation — thanks to the addition of John Lackey — and a deep bullpen, and you'll have a team capable of winning lots of ballgames this summer.
The consistent slugging of David Ortiz helped to bring two World Series titles to Boston in the last six years. If Papi is able to regain some of that reliability in the middle of the Red Sox lineup, there's no reason they shouldn't be right there in October competing for a third.
From now until Opening Day, NESN.com will run down 25 things that need to happen for the Red Sox to win the World Series.
March 13: Live up to their run prevention tag.