The Boston Red Sox miss David Ortiz. This much is clear.
Just ask Mookie Betts, a key member of Boston’s young core, which still is trying to adapt to life without No. 34 as the Red Sox fight for their second straight American League East title.
“All we knew here was David Ortiz. Just knowing that not one guy has taken the brunt, we have to understand that,” the Red Sox right fielder told WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford on a recent episode of the “Bradfo Show” podcast. “And it took a little while to understand that. It took us a little while to find our identity. I think we’re starting to figure it out. Nobody is going to take a month and we are going to know. It may take us a couple of more years to fully understand it. I think we’re starting to kind of get it a little.
“We have to know that it’s not one guy and the rest of the team behind him. It’s five or six guys. On and off the field. You have to know that we’re all together.”
In other words, not only could the Red Sox use Ortiz’s bat in their lineup, which has struggled to produce runs consistently this season. They also could benefit from Ortiz’s clubhouse presence at a time when some have questioned whether the team has anyone capable of emerging as a vocal leader.
The Red Sox entered Thursday in first place in the AL East, one game ahead of the New York Yankees, yet there’s a widespread belief that Boston still hasn’t reached its full potential and that Ortiz’s departure is a big reason why.
“This year has just been rough. Just a lot of failure. A lot of adversity.” Betts told Bradford. “You come off a good year last year, had David to kind of protect us. Now that’s he not here, we don’t have one big person to oversee everything. We just have to kind of collectively, as a unit, pick up where he left off.
“I feel like I haven’t done my part. I do what I can. (Dustin Pedroia) has been great. He’s been playing great. Other guys. (Chris) Sale has been pitching great. I can’t even think of everybody right now on the spot. But I think guys have kind of pushed it and I don’t feel like I’ve done my part pushing. I’ve had some good moments, but I’ve had a lot of stretches where I haven’t done anything. This year has been learning how to deal with that and learning how to get out of it.”
The Red Sox won 93 games last season en route to a division title before getting swept by the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS. That happened with Ortiz, who retired at season’s end, so it’ll be even more difficult for the club to reach the next level in 2017.
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images