2008 MLB Preview: Boston Red Sox

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2008 MLB Preview: Boston Red Sox

Manager: Terry Francona
Arrivals: 1B Sean Casey, RP Matt Miller, RP David Aardsma, RP Dan Miceli, RP Dan Kolb, RP Jon Switzer, P Michael Tejera
Departures: P Matt Clement, RP Brendan Donnelly, RP Eric Gagne, 1B Eric Hinske

Offseason grade: B-

 

Starting rotation

The bad news: Curt Schilling's health is up in the air.

The good news: The Red Sox have Clay Buchholz, who if you remember, threw a no-hitter last year.

So, Red Sox fans who are still stung over the Super Bowl loss, don't fret about Schilling. Buchholz is more than capable to fill in for an injured Schilling. In fact, Buchholz may be a better option than a guy like Schilling, Tim Wakefield, or even Jon Lester.

That doesn't mean that those pitchers aren't good, though.

In 24 starts in 2007, the 41-year-old Schilling still was able to post a 3.87 ERA, even throwing a complete game shutout. 

He's lost a lot of velocity and will have to win on cunning and guile, but Schilling is a smart enough pitcher to do just that.

While Wakefield saw his ERA climb to 4.76 in 2007, he still won 17 games with his dancing knuckleball. He may still have another decent season left in him, but he will need some good run support to win 17 games again this year. With this Red Sox lineup, though, that's not that big of a problem.

If Lester makes the rotation, he should be a suitable back-end starter. Boston is high on him despite the fact that his career ERA is 4.68 over 144.1 innings, but given a full year without health issues, he should settle down and pitch well.

Daisuke Matsuzaka could be primed for a breakout year after a full season to adjust to major-league hitting. Along with Josh Beckett, Matsuzaka will give the Red Sox a dominant 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation.

Beckett put up monster numbers in 2007 after struggling mightily in 2006, a year in which Beckett served up 36 home runs and finished with a 5.01 ERA.

There's no reason to worry that Beckett will go back to the struggles of 2006. When you switch from the NL to the AL (especially the AL East), it'll take a little while to adjust.

Another Cy-Young contending season should be expected from Beckett.

Overall, though, I'm not as big on this rotation as I am with other teams. Beckett and Matsuzaka should turn in big seasons and Buchholz could be dominant if given the chance, but guys like Wakefield, Lester, and Schilling can't be characterized as sure bets.

They'll get their wins, though, because Boston's lineup will score for them. And, in the end, you can't make the playoff without winning pitchers.

Starting rotation grade: B+

 

Bullpen

The Red Sox have the most dominant closer in the game today in Jonathan Papelbon to shut things down in the ninth inning.

Just look at the stats: 37/40 saves, 1.85 ERA, 84 strikeouts, 15 walks, and a 0.77 WHIP over 58.1 innings. 

Yeah. He's good.

Setting up Papelbon is a dominant combo of Hideki Okajima and Manny Delcarmen/Mike Timlin. 

Okajima had a "tired arm" late in the season which affected his performance in September and into October (namely, the World Series in which he gave up two home runs over 3.2 innings), but should be back and successful this year. 

Okajima may have the most unhittable changeup this side of Johan Santana, and his fastball/changeup combination is what led him to the 2007 All-Star game. What I personally can't get over is how he aims the damn thing. Click this link if you don't know what I'm talking about. 

That head motion throws a whole lot of hitters off.

Delcarmen finally came into his own last year, throwing 44 innings and compiling an ERA of just 2.04. Along with Timlin, the Red Sox have two very good right-handed arms to set up Papelbon.

Timlin, yes, is still around, and he's still having success into his 40's. He threw 55.1 innings in 2007 and posted a solid ERA of 3.42, and there's no reason to think he'll finally break down in 2008.

Kyle Snyder, a former starter who had limited success with the Royals earlier in the decade, finally put together a good season as a reliever for Boston last year, throwing 54.1 innings with a 3.81 ERA. Snyder is a good long-relief and early-inning option if the Red Sox need to hold a team's lead.

You'd think Javier Lopez and his sidearm motion would be perfect for a LOOGY role, but when you take a look at the splits, Lopez's ERA was higher against lefties (3.15) than righties (3.05) in nearly the same amount of innings (20.0 vs. lefties, 20.2 vs. righties). Either way, Lopez is a pretty decent middle reliever.

Julian Tavarez could round out the Red Sox bullpen, but if he does, he's nothing more than a mop-up man or source of emergency pine tar.

Boston's bullpen improved by the old "addition by subtraction" idea when Eric Gagne left. This is a solid group that should hold most of the leads this team gives them.

Bullpen grade: A-

 

Lineup

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The Red Sox have an excellent balance of exciting young talent and season veterans to make their lineup one of the better ones in baseball.

I'll start with the younger players. Kevin Youkilis is 29 and really is starting to look like the Greek God of Walks. Youkilis' OPB was .390 last year and he is one of the keys to this Red Sox lineup if he finds himself hitting in the second spot.

Hitting ahead of Youkilis or could be Jacoby Ellsbury, assuming he beats out Coco Crisp for the starting centerfield job. Ellsbury turned heads in his short amount of time with Boston last year—especially in the playoffs, when he hit .360 over 25 at-bats.

Ellsbury is a good bet to really blossom with Boston this year. He's an excellent hitter who knows how to get on base very well in addition to being a smart base runner.

Dustin Pedroia, however, could unseat either Ellsbury or Youkilis from the leadoff or No. 2 spots in the order. Pedroia burst onto the scene last year, hitting .319 with an OBP of .380. He's an excellent fit in either of the spots in the Red Sox order.

Boston really can't go wrong with any combination of Ellsbury/Pedroia and Youkilis Pedroia/Ellsbury to start their lineup off. If Youkilis gets dropped in the order, his RBI could go through the roof and the Red Sox won't lose anything with Pedroia hitting there. 

Again, they can't go wrong in picking the two players to set up the powerful middle of the order.  

David Ortiz once again put up monster stats last year, posting an OBP of a staggering .445 while hitting 35 home runs and driving in 117 runs. If he can avoid knee problems, expect another MVP-worthy season from Ortiz in 2008.

Despite an oblique strain that cost him nearly a month, Manny Ramirez's production was significantly down from his usual numbers in 2007. Ramirez hit just 20 home runs and drove in 88 runs while hitting .296–by far his worst numbers since becoming a starter with Cleveland in 1995.

Ramirez should bounce back this year and hit upwards of 30 home runs (in the process hitting the 500 home run plateau, which he only needs 10 to achieve) while hitting around .300 and driving 100 RBI.

Nobody saw the drop-off in production from Ramirez coming last year—but if you want my pick for a player who almost certainly will see a drop-off in his production from 2007 to 2008, it's Mike Lowell.

Say what you will about Lowell feeling comfortable in the deep Red Sox lineup, but I don't think it's realistic to think he'll duplicate his .324/21/126 stats of a year ago.

That's not to say he won't be productive, but a return to his career average of about .280/20/80 is a good place to start. In fact, I think he'll hit a bit above those averages, but his 2007 numbers? Not gonna happen.

JD Drew and his massive contract should be mildly productive (of course, not productive enough to justify that contract. Yeesh. You want proof the Red Sox are the new evil empire? How about the ridiculous money they threw at Drew?) again in 2008, but he's not going to put up great stats. 

Most catchers see their offensive production drop after the age of 32, and Jason Varitek is no Jorge Posada-like exception. However, Varitek's strength never was his hitting—it was his ability to manage a pitching staff. Whatever offensive production he has is just an added bonus.

Finally, the Red Sox have Julio Lugo to round out their lineup.

Lugo turned in a magnified brutal effort last year, hitting .237 with an OBP of .294. However, this lineup is deep enough that they really don't need Lugo to do any more than trot out to shortstop every day and field his position.

Lineup grade: A

 

Bench

Doug Mirabelli is one of the better backup catchers in the game today despite barely hitting above the Mendoza Line last year. He's an excellent defensive catcher who is a good option to fill in for Varitek when the need arises.

The addition of Sean Casey gives the Red Sox a good bat off the bench and a solid first baseman in case something happens to Kevin Youkilis.

Alex Cora provides good defense at all the other infield positions and is a suitable backup infielder.

Assuming Crisp gets traded, Brandon Moss or Jonathan Van Every will be Boston's backup outfielder. Both are inexperienced at the MLB level.

Bench grade: B

 

And that, ladies and gentlemen, concludes my preview of the Boston Red Sox...

Wait for it...

The new Evil Empire of baseball.

Yes, I said it. Boston has replaced New York as the evil empire of baseball.

While Boston may not have an owner who is a jerk (basically, a Steinbrenner doesn't own them), I dislike the Boston Red Sox more than I dislike the New York Yankees.

Maybe winning breeds hatred and the Red Sox have won two championships to the Yankees zero since 2001.

Or, maybe it's because I'm from the Midwest and am sick of the Red Sox getting the majority of baseball coverage on ESPN.

Maybe it's Bill Simmons.

Maybe it's Chris Berman's fault. Ask any White Sox fan and they'll tell you that Berman was horribly biased towards the Red Sox in the 2005 ALDS—which 1) made me really despise Boston and 2) made it even sweeter when the White Sox wiped the floor with the Red Sox.

It's not that I hate the players on the Red Sox. But you know what? During those Evil Empire years of the Yankees, I didn't hate their players. 

Face it, Red Sox Nation (a phrase that makes me puke in my mouth a bit), you're the new Evil Empire.

Your team goes out and spends ridiculous amounts of cash (see: Matsuzaka, Daisuke and Drew, JD), gets all the media attention, and has fans that travel well, creating an obnoxious environment at "home" games for teams around the country.

That's just how I feel. If I'm the only one, I'll shut up.

Anyway, I probably should, because this is a team preview, not an article about how much I hate Boston sports. I'll write that one later.  

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