Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Know Thy Enemy: Boston Red Sox

Leading up to spring training, we will be going through the traditional and new enemies of the New York Yankees this off-season, to see where they stand. How did they do in the off-season, who is healthy, etc? First up: The Boston Red Sox.

This off-season, the Boston Red Sox lost Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez—that’s 48 HRs and 180 RBIs gone—and yet the BoSox feel supremely confident going into 2011. That’s because they signed Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford in the off season; two guys in the prime of their careers at 29 years of age and who seem perfectly suited to play in Fenway Park.

Firstly, looking back, the Red Sox were battered by injuries last season, yet still won 89 games. Josh Beckett, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Youkalis were just some of the players on the DL for parts of last season. Now that rejoin an improved team that almost won 90 games in the AL East.

Pitching-wise, the Sox have a few questions. Firstly, if Josh Beckett comes back healthy in 2011 and anywhere near his 2007 performance, the Red Sox will have the top starting 3 in the league. With Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz achieving true ace status in 2010, Beckett would just ensure any short series would be difficult for any opponent to win. Add to that, John Lackey will be entering his second season in Fenway and should be more acclimated to life in the AL East and most likely, will improve on his 4.40 ERA. In short, the Red Sox should have a solid, and possibly, awesome, starting rotation.

The bullpen has a keeper in Daniel Bard and can normally rely on the mercurial Jonathan Papelbon—although, Papelbon can't be considered the ace of the pen he once was. Some questions: Do they have any viable lefty options, though? Is Doubront and Okajima solid options? If Bard goes down, can Papelbon be solid as the only closer in the pen? The Red Sox added Bobby Jenks in the off-season, but their bullpen is nowhere near the level of their rotation. It may not matter too much; they will probably playing with a lead most nights.

And that’s because their lineup is stacked. Adrian Gonzalez should just be penciled in for the MVP now; He averaged about 35 HRs and 105-110 RBIs in cavernous Petco Park—in Fenway, who knows what he could average? Crawford, with a much more powerful and dangerous lineup around him could increase his MVP-consideration numbers (7th in Al MVP last year; .307 BA, 134 OPS+, 8th in AL total bases). And with a healthy Youkalis and Pedroia (not to mention, Ellsbury), the Red Sox would have 4 serious candidates for the MVP in their lineup.

The Red Sox do have some questions; as mentioned, their middle relief. Also, can Jarrod Saltalamacchia step up and become an everyday catcher? Can J.D. Drew rebound from an off 2010? How long can Big Papi churn out hits or will his big lumbering body finally give? Can Dice-K and Papelbon turn their flagging careers around?

On the whole however, these questions are really not overwhelming questions—most teams would give a lot to have Dice-K as their 5th option to start. Last year the Red Sox were second in the AL in slugging and first in OPS+. Those numbers should climb this season. The BoSox pitching last year was 6th in WHIP in the AL and first in strikeouts. If Beckett can rebound and Lackey settle in, those numbers could very well increase as well. To sum up, the future looks very bright for Le Sox Rouge. One would have to consider them the obvious favorites for not just the AL East, but for the entire American League.


blmeanie said...

One of my favorite subjects, the Sox...

I am mildly surprised at your review of them, I would have expected an outsider to poke more holes in them than you do. Typically there are players on the Sox that do not get the level of respect they should IMO but I am happy to see you do. Maybe you are setting it up so the Yankees are an underdog and I get that perspective

Anyway, my pov is that the Sox should be better than LY even if combination of Lackey and Beckett don't shine brighter (I think one or both will greatly improve but fear Buchholz will be slightly less.
I don't fear Salty/Varitek combo, one spot in 9, the team will score regardless. The defense from catchers will suck again but they didn't throw anybody out last year and we now have Crawford who probably stole more bases against the Sox than anybody in the AL.

If there are not crippling injuries like in 2010 this team will be hopefully around 95-105 wins. They were 7-11 against Tampa last year. I think Tampa falls off 10 wins this year which the Sox would take some of those.

Pete S said...

blmeanie...yankees fans ALWAYS give the red sox the credit they're due. To suggest otherwise is silly. As Yankees fans, we love to see the Sox improve their team. It makes the rivalry that much better.

blmeanie said...

Pete, I would agree some Yankee fans give the RedSox their due. Many do not, which is likely a result of 27/28 championships over the years and a level of arrogance which is deserved. I have a good friend that is diehard NY and we debate the Sox Yankees rivalry as you say. I have other acquaintances that are diehard NY that spend all their energy when I'm around crapping on the Sox in any way they can.