Yea, this is for the Team-by-team Season Preview that CBS is offering. I will do the Boston Red Sox, but I'll also be doing other teams, maybe my National League team, the Mets, or other various teams. Now, onto the defending Champs!
Key Aquisitions: Sean Casey (1 year, $800 thousand), Bartolo Colon (minor league deal), David Aardsma (traded from Chicago White Sox), and the resigning of Mike Lowell, Tim Wakefield, Mike Timlin, Julian Tavarez, and Curt Schilling.
Yes, the Red Sox had an extremely quiet offseason, but their biggest solutions have come internally. Firstly, there is the new centerfielder, Jacoby Ellsbury, replacing the leather-flashing no-hitting Coco Crisp as the starter. Ellsbury gave Red Sox fans loads of excitement when he showed his hitting ability as a call-up late last season, and helped Boston win their 2nd World Series title in the past 4 years. Ellsbury gives the Red Sox a true leadoff-hitter, and whether or not he will live up to his 40 stolen-base potential is another story in itself, but he gives the Sox a hitter with more potential without losing much on defense.
In the pitching department, we will see Jon Lester look to complete a major league season after returning from his illness in 2007. The young lefty will look to become a little less erratic with his pitches, but the potential remains high, and he will fill in as the Red Sox number 4 starter behind Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Tim Wakefield. Clay Buchholz also impressed in his first major league stint, throwing a no-hitter in his second major league start. He will fill in as the 5th starter, and, barring complete failure, will remain in the rotation on a monitored pitch-count with Julian Taverez waiting in the bullpen as a spot-starter.
Curt Schilling starts the season on the 60-day DL, hoping to avoid surgery that could potentially end his career. If he manages to return mid-season, he could be a boost the Red Sox may need to stay alive with the inexperience in their rotation. As of right now, he is a tremendous questionmark as to whether or not he'll even pitch again, let alone pitch effectively. Josh Beckett's back spasms are a concern, but for now, he only is slated to miss a few weeks, probably the season opener, but should return after enough rest and pitch like the Cy Young competitor he is.
Daisuke Matsuzaka had a decent first half last year. Not anywhere near deserving of the ridiculous contract he holds, but decent none the less. He got tired down the stretch, or he got figured out, or his walks caught up to him, or a combination of everything, but either way, he broke down late and didn't pitch well. He still has the ability to be a solid starter, it's just a matter of not overusing him just because of the stories that surround his arm, and using the effective Red Sox bullpen to close games.
The offense already has the addition of Jacoby Ellsbury, and the rest remains stable. Manny Ramirez showed up to camp on time, and in the best shape of his life. He, along with David Ortiz, whose power struggled last year due to a knee injury, will anchor this offense. Mike Lowell will look to put up a similar season to 2007, where he was arguably the Red Sox best hitter. J.D. Drew usually has an off-year, and then an on-year, so he's scheduled to have an on-year, but even with similar production, he won't hurt the lineup, even though he has not earned his contract yet. The biggest battle in the Sox lineup is for the 2-hole.
Dustin Pedroia or Kevin Youkilis. Both had very solid seasons. Pedroia, after a dismal April, showed why he deserved Rookie of the Year consideration and finished batting .317 for the season. He also only struck out 42 times in 520 at bats. Kevin Youkilis showed his solid eyes by drawing 77 walks, although that was down from his 91 in 2006, he still had an OBP of .390. The dilemma is to put the OBP man in the 2-hole, or the contact man in the 2-hole. CBS has Pedroia batting 2nd and Youkilis batting 6th, which works fine for me at this point, as long as Pedroia can put up similar numbers. Pedroia will have to see pitches for Ellsbury to run on, and keep his strikeout totals down to be successful. If not, Youkilis should be batting in the 2-hole and get on base for Big Papi and Manny.
Overall, the lineup will look like this:
- Jacoby Ellsbury-CF
- Dustin Pedroia-2B
- David Ortiz-DH
- Manny Ramirez-LF
- Mike Lowell-3B
- Kevin Youkilis-1B
- J.D. Drew-RF
- Jason Varitek-C
- Julio Lugo-SS
And the rotation:
- Josh Beckett
- Daisuke Matsuzaka
- Tim Wakefield
- Jon Lester
- Clay Buchholz
Final Analysis: I feel that the lineup has improved from what it was last year with the addition of Jacoby Ellsbury into it, and, add into that a fitter and Money Motivated Manny (from this point known only as Triple M) and a healthy David Ortiz, and this lineup should hit with the best of them. The bullpen remains virtually the same, although first half Okajima and second half Okajima are vastly different.
The rotation, of course, is a concern. I do not expect a Cy Young season out of Clay Buchholz or Jon Lester, nor do I expect Wakefield to remain healthy all season, or Daisuke to be a 20 game winner. I expect this rotation to, simply, get the job done. It will have its good days and its bad days beyond Josh Beckett, but the potential can't be ignored. However, if Beckett is down for a long stint, this team will be in dire straits.
I also feel that the AL East has improved. No one should sleep on the Toronto Blue Jays, and, dare I say it, the Tampa Bay Rays. And of course, there's the Yankees, whose second half record put them back into contention and got them very close to a division title, closer than people realize. All-in-all, I expect another contending season from the Red Sox. They enter as the team to beat, not only in the AL East, but in the entire MLB.
Projection: 94-68 record, AL East Division Title-Finishing 1 game ahead of the New York Yankees in a memorable race to the last week of the season