Friday, April 01, 2011

Friday Sox Report: Opening Day Edition

I think I'll try to do a weekly update on the Red Sox this year. We'll see how long I stick with it.

It's Opening Day (Opening Day for me is when the Sox first toss the ball out there for real) and there is much reason for optimism in Red Sox Nation. Despite the fact that lots of people are picking the Sox to do well (usually enough to give pause -- how often is that consensus right?) I am going to agree with them simply because Boston experienced a horrid season of injuries last year and still finished up with 89 wins and were in the running with a week or so to go in the season. Assuming that last year was an outlier -- Pedroia, Youkilis, Ellsbury, Martinez and Cameron missed an average of 88 games to injury last year and much of the pitching staff spent time on the DL.

And if reverting to something resembling a mean on the disabled list would be enough to inspire optimism, the offseason signings of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzales should be enough to have warmed even the frostiest heart. Gonzales is going to mash in Fenway. He was a stud in San Diego, and PETCO is the worst hitter's park in the game. Crawford meanwhile steps into a better lineup in Boston and is just reaching what should be his peak years. The irony of last year's team is that while they went in preaching the virtues of defense, with cynics wondering where the offense would come from, they ended up having an incredibly potent offense despite some of the lineups Tito was forced to put out there and despite their supposedly weakened situation. This year's team could conceivably bring the team back to its 2003-2005 offensive apex when they were historically good.

The biggest concern is likely with pitcing depth both in the starting rotation and at the back end in the bullpen. In the pen papelbon had his worst year last year and every save opportunity seemd like a misadventure, even when he prevailed. Fortunately Paps is in his contract year, so he has every reason to excel, and they have Daniel Bard and former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks in the wings. Barring some sort of epic season from Papelbon this is likely his last year in a Sox uniform as it would be uncharacteristic of Theo and the rest of management to break the bank for a closer.

On paper the starting rotation looks as if it could be exceptional. but there are some cracks. Lester and Buchholz should continue to improve, though whether they will be top-5 in the Cy Young voting good again remains to be seen. But Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett, and John Lackey all disappointed last year. For all of DiceK's potential he is simply maddening, nibbling rather than being aggressive, and as a consequence rarely getting much past the 5th inning. there have been some promising signs this spring (and last fall) but most Sox fans need to see progress when it counts to believe it. Beckett too has been frustrating since his first couple of years in uniform, putting up mediocre numbers and having a hard time avoiding injuries great and small. It felt like a panic move when they extended him last year when he was struggling. He needs a big year to validate the contract and to avoid being the priciest fifth starter in baseball. Lackey too disappointed, though as the season progressed he seemed to get a bit better. Maybe the pressure of the first year in a Sox uniform got to him. Whatever it was, he needs to improve. Ageless knuckleballer Tim Wakefield returns as well but he is at the stage in his career where he is better seen as a stopgap than a regular starter, though reports of his demise have proven premature in the past.

The season starts against Texas, here in the Lone Star State, and were it not for an unfortunate foot injury that's kept me on my own version of the DL the last ten days I'd be getting up there this weekend. But I'll be watching here at home and obviously will hope that the Red Sox get out of the gate strong and keep it rolling. Once again the AL East will be beastly. The Blue Jays and Orioles are no slouches. It seems a long time since Tampa was a laughingstock and even after some of their offseason losses have likely become "perennial" contenders, though they have to hope they continue to replicate their farm system success. Then there are the Yankees. I suspect that they have loved being discounted by just about every pundit. yes, they did not have the offseason they had hoped for, largely because they put all of their eggs in the Cliff Lee basket and they never hatched. but something tells me that the demise of the Yankees has been greatly exaggerated. they will be there in September when postseason berths are being allotted.


Rich Holmes said...

Well, 159-3 ain't too shabby. New England fans should remember a certain Pats team not too long ago that started the season 0-2 which included a 31-0 opening day pasting by the Bills. 14 regular season wins later and an epic run through the playoffs that ended with the Lombardi Trophy in Foxboro and those early season bumps were a distant memory.

It's remarkable that with the injuries the Sox had last year that they most likely would have been a playoff team if Lackey (yes, Lackey) had a solid year as opposed to sub-par. Given the extent of the team's injuries, playing the AL East no less, it's almost not believable. I was as impressed with Francona's managing job as any year since he's been with the team. With all of the different personnel, he essentially managed two different major league teams and 3 AAA teams.

So here we are. If I'm a betting man, I say that the fire in Beckett gets him back somewhat close to where he was when he was at his unstoppable, playoff form, and that coupled with a healthy lineup is enough to win the AL East. I also think we're going to see Dice-K oscillate from decent to awful to forgettable and be traded close to the deadline for some middle relief support and a couple of young prospects. in short, I just think he is a major puss. If I'm wrong and he's not only healthy but reaches the potential everyone thought he once had, coupled with a healthy Beckett, the Sox could win the division by 10 games. The bats are going to be fun to watch. But, it's October pitching that wins championships. Lester is a stud, and I can see him being the next October Pettite, being lights out in those critical game 3's when the series is tied and turning the tide of an entire series.

I'll save my comments on the Yanks for another day. I find it borderline ridiculous that one solid inning by Joba on opening day has people proclaiming that the middle relief has no holes whatsoever. Great start for Texeira, which just means his 3-68 streak will be in May instead of April.

It's a long, long season, my friend. I'm hopeful that many more BBQ sauces will be sent to NC from TX than vice versa!

Chester Cheetah said...

argh... beisbol es aburrido.