We all know how 2008 worked out. So close, yet so far. Though, in many ways, 2008 never had the feel of a championship year for the Red Sox.
Maybe it was the sting, for the unlucky lot of us who happened to be Patriots fans, of Super Bowl XLII. Maybe the clubhouse just didn't seem as united as before.
So, going into 2009, will the Red Sox put up another exciting year, but lack the longevity to go all the way? Even with the additions made to the squad in the offseason, will the Red Sox have it in them for another run? Here are the five biggest problem areas for the team going into spring training.
Many MLB fans shutter when they hear these three words: World Baseball Classic. Last time around, the Red Sox sent a number of players to the Classic and it took them months to look like themselves (remember 2006 Timlin?).
Currently, the Red Sox have 16 players on the 2009 rosters (when you exclude Lowell). Many of them are minor leaguers, but when names like Daisuke, Jason Bay, Ortiz, and Youkilis appear on the roster, Red Sox fans should be concerned about how the 2009 season will work out.
Ortiz, playing in 109 games, put up worrisome numbers in 2008. Hitting 23 homers and batting in 89, Ortiz has signaled that something is wrong. He has been rehabbing throughout the winter and still hopes to play in the World Baseball Classic this spring.
But how will his knee respond? And can he return himself to the form that has defined his career with the Red Sox? Without a confident and effective Ortiz, there is a gaping hole in the Sox formidable line-up. Which David Ortiz will Jason Bay/Youkilis be protecting in the 2009 roster?
Though they provide the best improv drumbeats next to the Stomp!, the Red Sox bullpen is always a question mark. Which Okajima will appear this year (he's also on the WBC potential roster)?
Though ranking seventh in bullpen ERA last year, Red Sox pitching always tends to surprise or underwhelm. Last year's issue was bullpen depth.
This year, with some B-rated additions, that issue seems to be addressed. However, will the Sox bullpen return to 2007 form? Has the league figured out Papelbon? The bullpen is often the most underrated aspect of the game and can kill a team down the stretch.
As the late, great, Donald Rumsfeld so eloquently said, "There are known knowns. These are the things that we know."
Rummy may have been referring to the possibility of some devastating injuries in 2009 for the Sox when he said, "there are known, unknowns... that is to say, there are things we know, we don't know."
This, my friends, sums up some major health questions concerning the Red Sox last year:
Mike Lowell's hip, David Ortiz's head/shoulders/wrists/knees/toes/knees/toes, Beckett's arm, Papelbon's arm, and of course, J.D. Drew's whole body. Usually most players come in to the season feeling pretty healthy, but the 2009 Red Sox may be defined by players who just can't stay healthy.
Last year the world, and most appropriately Tampa Bay, was stunned when a team of upstart punks stole the Red Sox year. Can the Rays carry that momentum over to this year? They remained very healthy over the year and did not lose much of their core.
Also, what about them Yankees? C.C. Sabathia and Burnett have never really been able to shut down the Red Sox. Texeira, on the other hand, was a devastating lost for the Sox. However, when you look at the Yankees pitching and lineup, do they really scare you? They just seem so old.
Either way, the additions the Yankees made and the youth of the Rays cannot be overlooked. Both teams have the potential to take even more wins away from the Sox in 2009. (PS...sorry for the old picture.)