5 Boston Red Sox Who Must Bounce Back in 2012
The Red Sox held a nine-game lead in the American League Wild Card race at the beginning of September. But, a 7-20 record in the season's last month meant that it was the Tampa Bay Rays who were celebrating the final berth to the 2011 playoffs.
A lot has changed for the Red Sox since that dreadful night.
Terry Francona resigned as the team's manager and switched places with former ESPN analyst Bobby Valentine, who was hired by the team on December 1. Jonathan Papelbon, Marco Scutaro and Jason Varitek, all key contributors last season, are no longer with the team.
Newcomers—especially Andrew Bailey and Cody Ross—will be important to the Red Sox finding success in 2012. But there are returning players who must step-up, too.
Here are the top five players that must improve on their 2010 efforts if the Red Sox want to return to the playoffs.
5. Andrew Bailey
ERA - 3.24
WHIP - 1.10
Saves - 24
Bailey did not have a bad season in 2011 with the Oakland Athletics, but it was the worst of his three-year career. Part of the reason for Bailey's struggles may have been a result of surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow after the 2010 season, followed by more elbow and forearm issues in 2011 that kept him out until May.
In total, Bailey has pitched only 90 innings over the last two seasons. During his rookie season, in 2009, Bailey pitched 83 innings.
The pressure will be on Bailey this season, as he replaces Papelbon, who despite blowing the lead in last season's final game, was a fan favorite during his seven years in Boston.
Prior to last season, Bailey's career ERA was 1.70 and he had a WHIP of 0.90.
Like the Red Sox, Bailey's biggest struggles in 2011 came in September, when, despite converting all six save opportunities, he posted a 5.40 ERA in 8.1 innings pitched.
The Red Sox appear to have a very strong rotation this season, but they will need Bailey to step in and fill the void left by Papelbon's absence. The talent is there, but Bailey must return to the pitcher he was prior to the injuries.
4. Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Average - .235
OBP - .288
HR - 16
RBI - 56
Offense has never been a strong point of Saltalamacchia's game. According to Beyond The Boxscore, his defense was not a strong point last season, either.
Despite the addition of Kelly Shoppach, Saltalamacchia will be counted on to be the starting catcher for the Red Sox this season. Unless he improves offensively and defensively, his time as the starter could be short-lived.
Saltalamacchia's 16 home runs in 2011 were a career-high, but so were his 119 strikeouts. Plus, his .288 on-base percentage was the lowest in his career.
Varitek was a great leader on the field and in the clubhouse for the Red Sox, which helped mask his offensive struggles. Saltalamacchia doesn't have the same history and leadership skills that Varitek had, so he will have to be more productive offensively.
Offense from the catcher position has been non-existent for the Red Sox for quite some time now. With questions at both corner outfield spots (while Carl Crawford recovers from left wrist surgery) and on the left side of the infield, the Red Sox can't continue to hide the offensive problems at catcher. If Saltalamacchia doesn't improve, a chance will be given to Shoppach. If he can't do it, then Ryan Lavarnway may be back up to Boston much sooner than the team wanted.
3. Cody Ross
J. Meric/Getty Images
Average - .240
OBP - .325
HR - 14
RBI - 52
In 2007, Ross burst onto the scene with the Florida Marlins by hitting .335 with 12 home runs, in limited action. He followed that up by hitting 46 home runs over the next two seasons.
Ross was traded to the San Francisco Giants late in 2010 and was a big part of their World Series title. However, last season was not so kind to Ross, especially after a calf injury forced him to miss nearly the first month of the season.
Despite the fact that Ross only hit .240 last season, his on-base percentage has actually improved in each of the last two seasons. Ross also saw his walks increase and strikeouts decrease last season—it was the first time that Ross struck out less than 100 times since becoming a full-time player.
When Crawford comes back from injury, the Red Sox will have to decide between Ross and Ryan Sweeney as to who will become the full-time right fielder. There is no doubt that Ross, who will make $3 million this season, is the leading candidate at this point—but he will have to prove his worth on the field during Crawford's absence.
2. Kevin Youkilis
J. Meric/Getty Images
Average - .258
OBP - .373
HR - 17
RBI - 80
Although Youkilis may have the most unique batting stance in the majors, he has always been very successful at the plate—at least, until last season.
Like Ross, Youkilis' on-base percentage was very good last season, despite a major decline (49 points) in his batting average. However, like his batting average, Youkilis also saw a major decline (38 points) in his on-base percentage from previous seasons.
Although it is hard to imagine Youkilis struggling this season like he did in 2011, there is no doubt that his play must improve.
Last season was also the first time that Youkilis was a regular third baseman, the weaker of his two positions (first base).
While there is nobody on the roster that presents the same skill set that Youkilis does, it would not be a surprise to see the Red Sox look for a replacement in the offseason if the struggles continue. Remember, Youkilis recently turned 33 years old.
Once again, Youkilis will be counted on to bat cleanup in the Red Sox lineup, behind MVP candidate Adrian Gonzalez. Like last season, Gonzalez should present multiple opportunities for Youkilis to drive in runs. If Youkilis can do that, the Red Sox could score a lot of runs this season.
1. Carl Crawford
Darren McCollester/Getty Images
Average - .255
OBP - .289
HR - 11
RBI - 56
Crawford's salary this season will jump $5.5 million from last season, whether or not his play in 2011 warranted it.
It surely didn't.
Last year, Crawford hit for career lows in batting average and on-base percentage. He also only had 18 stolen bases, which was easily the lowest total in his career.
After a very rough April, in which Crawford only batted .155, there was hope that a very positive May would propel him to a strong finish to the season. However, a hamstring injury suffered on June 17 resulted in Crawford missing the next month and he was never able to get back on track.
Despite the struggles last season, Crawford is still a very good baseball player, with the potential to be one of the best corner outfielders in baseball. If he can find his form again offensively and move back to batting second in the lineup, Crawford could shatter his previous career high of 110 runs scored.
Don't expect Crawford to suffer through the struggles he faced last season. But, if he does, the Red Sox will end 2012 the same place they ended last season—watching the playoffs from home.