So here we are on Opening Day Eve, anxiously awaiting the start of organized religion in New England for the next 6-7 months. (Spring Training is disorganized religion, FYI) Anyways, I have my own predictions ready for this season, so I guess I can take time out of
anxiously patiently awaiting tomorrow’s ballgame and Thursday night’s hockey festivus as well as all that school work that I so meticulously complete in order to share my thoughts with all of you.
Let’s start with the infield.
I think this may be where the Red Sox are strongest headed into the season. An
well-timed unfortunate Spring Training injury to Julio Lugo opened up a spot for Jed Lowrie in the 25 man roster, and I doubt anybody will be missing good ol’ Julio. Lowrie had the best spring out of anyone on this team. He finished March with a .343 average, .400 OBP and a staggering .657 slugging percentage. This kid has a bat on him. I’m predicting him to get off to a slow start in April, much like Dustin, but within a few weeks, this kid should be brightening up the lineup.
What could be better for a rookie shortstop than to be surround by an all-star infield? Lowrie will be greatly helped by Youk and Mike Lowell on the corners and reigning MVP Dustin Pedroia right there at second base. Expect the status quo out of those three, which is of course fantastic seasons all around. Mike Lowell will be the biggest wild card out of the three of them based on his age and injuries, but even his play should not be too much of a question mark, what with his immaculate fielding skills and seemingly consistent bat. His spring was not as glorious as Lowrie’s, but I would rather have him give it his all during the season. As a veteran, he does not need to have a good spring.
Re-signing Jason Varitek, as controversial as it may have been, will greatly help this team. Varitek’s leadership is unparalleled, and though his bat definitely will not be the best in the lineup, his presence and intelligence at the plate and on the basepaths should help the team get someone on base.
Additionally, Varitek is integral to the succes of the starting rotation. The top of the rotation for the Sox this year is still pretty good. Lester, Matsuzaka and Beckett are three of the best talents in baseball. It is difficult to really get a feel for pitching during Spring Training because most pitchers are not consistently unleashing their full-effort arsenal, so inconsistent starts for all three in March should not concern anybody.
Lester simply needs to continue with what he did last season. This kid has a lot of potential, and he could even contend as a Cy Young prospect in upcoming seasons for the Sox.
Matsuzaka is a little bit more complicated. He was once again the MVP of the World Baseball Classic, but he accompanied his return to the Sox with some shaky bullpen sessions. Daisuke needs to learn to be consistent. When he is on, he is nearly unhittable, but Daisuke can become unraveled quickly. Matsuzaka will pick up at least 15 wins with the Sox this year if he can stay healthy and well-rested.
Beckett is another case of “if he stays healthy.” He earned the top spot in the rotation to begin the season, and he is arguably the ace of this staff. However, Beckett has a history of calluses and fingernail issues which the Sox cannot afford to battle.
The biggest weakness of this rotation is its depth. Clay Buchholz looked phenomenal in the spring, ranking amongst Lester in Buchholz in terms of ERA (2.52) and Ks (19). However, he has been left out of the rotation in favor of Brad Penny, a veteran battling all sorts of injuries. Penny had some shoulder soreness earlier in the spring but says he is pain-free now. His velocity is higher, and if Penny can stay healthy he’ll be a decent addition to the rotation, but it does not seem like he will last the full season without a stint on the DL.
Adding to the patchwork end of the rotation are Tim Wakefield and John Smoltz. Wakefield is an old-timer to say the least who will be most effective during the middle of the season. He still has the ability to pitch a few gems, but his glory days are over. Wake will serve more as a supplement than a impact player in the rotation. Smoltz seems to be on the team for the postseason rush. If he can get himself healthy, this will be a great addition for the Red Sox come September, but until then Smoltz will be a non-factor.
Overall, this rotation may not be enough to completely overpower that of the Yankees, but it should be decently solid barring severe injury.
The bullpen is okay and better than last year, but it definitely will not be the best bullpen in baseball. Papelbon speaks for himself and he should have another great year, but it will take the emergence of Manny Delcarmen and the re-emergance of Hideki Okajima for the Red Sox to have a solid bullpen this season. One of the biggest impact players on the 2007 World Series team was Okajima. The Sox had the insurance of not one but two suitable closers to shut the game down. Last season, Okajima was basically a non-factor. He is key to end-of-ballgame success for the Red Sox.
Manny Delcarmen needs to heat up and become a reliable reliever for the Sox to use as a bridge to Okajima and Papelbon. Justin Masterson is still developing as a pitcher, but he looked very good late last season as a reliever, so if Masterson and Delcarmen can take care of the 6th, 7th and 8th innings, the bullpen should be fine. If not, look for a trade mid-season involving Delcarmen and possibly Buchholz.
Way out in the outfield, the Sox have an exciting trio of actual players. The Manny saga is over, so the team knows what type of effort they will be getting from Bay, Drew and Jacoby on an every day basis. All three are solid fielders, and all three have moderate to good bats, so there should be mostly good things coming from these three. Again, a big question mark is J.D. Drew’s health. At times his effort has been questioned, but that will be insignificant compared to all that happned with Manny.
The lineup needs a big year from David Ortiz. Although almost every bat (excluding Varitek) is is solid, the team lacks the superstar presence they got from Manny Ramirez. If Ortiz can see good pitches and have a monster year, this lineup could do some serious damage. If not, the Sox may have to rely on Youkilis, Drew and Bay for big hits, something that this team cannot rely on every game. This lineup could either be explosive or just mediocre, so that’s another question mark for fans.
Overall, the Red Sox have a solid but not superstar team this year. Obviously, their biggest competition will continue to be the Yankees and the Rays. The Red Sox and Rays are completely overpowered in terms of talent by the Yankees, especially since the Yankees seemingly bought all of baseball this off season and greatly improved their pitching. However, the Yankees will have to suffer through the A-Rod drama this season. He will start the year on the DL, but once he comes back it will be a circus in the Bronx. That could potentially really hurt the team.
The Rays are a very solid all-around team, but their pitching staff and the Red Sox pitching staff is about equal. The Red Sox may come out as the better team over the Rays this season simply because of the coaching staff and veteran presence, but as the world saw last year, the Rays can take charge of this division.
Game time is at 2:05 tomorrow for the Red Sox at Fenway, but heavy rain is in the forecast so festivities tomorrow may be a wash. All is well, though. We have 162 more games of this left!
Dear Your Highness Sir Theo Epstein,