"Around the Horn" is going to be a series of articles where I preview every MLB team going into the 2009 season. I'll also take a look at some of the biggest questions for each team.
Today, we'll look at the Boston Red Sox, who hope to contend in the American League East, which has become Major League Baseball's power league.
This was a team that really did not need to fix anything and had few holes that needed filling. But they made some small, low-cost moves which definitely improved their pennant chances.
1. Can everyone get healthy?
The main reason why the Sox did not go the World Series was health. Not to take anything away from the Rays, but look at everyone who went down—Mike Lowell, David Ortiz, J.D. Drew, Josh Beckett, and Sean Casey, who went down before the playoffs.
Even some of the players that they signed have injury problems. Then, Mark Kotsay goes down after he signs. Hopefully, the offseason gave the returning members a chance to rehab and the new guys in Beantown are 100 percent.
2. Who will be the new Manny Ramirez?
Antics aside, Ramirez's bat will be missed. You can't say that was not a factor late into the season. But, the Sox have some good players to step up.
Jason Bay has 20-plus home run potential, but the Red Sox need to figure out who that permanent No. 4 hitter is this season. It's great to move people in and out, but you need to have your guy in there.
3. Will 1-2-3 continue to dominate?
Yes, the Yankees went out and bought a great rotation. However, the Red Sox already had one.
Jon Lester had a breakout year in 2008, and Josh Beckett will be well-rested from his grueling 2007 campaign.
The only real concern is Daisuke Matsuzaka. He throws a lot of pitches and gets into jams, but with runners on and runners in scoring position, he continually gets out of these jams.
I would personally like to see him calm down, but if he can pitch his way out, who needs him to?
4. Can 'Tek shake it off?
Jason Varitek had a horrible season last year and went through a long contract signing, but he ultimately got what he wanted.
So, now we need to see some improvement. I'm not saying he has to put up MVP numbers, only a little step upwards.
Yes, a lot of teams are willing to overlook bad numbers if a catcher is that good with pitchers but there is a limit.
Varitek needs to get his groove back, if only to prove he was worth all the worry in the offseason.
5. Who wins the shortstop battle?
The Red Sox have confirmed it—Julio Lugo and Jed Lowrie will fight it out for the starting shortstop position.
This will be a good one, because where one is the strong, the other is weak. Lugo is much faster than Lowrie, and speed at the bottom of the order is a great weapon.
But if Lugo is not hitting, his speed is no good. Lowrie is much better defensively than Lugo and his 16 errors last year. But maybe Lowrie is better off the bench, so he can roam the field.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out.
This team is absolutely a playoff threat but has potential to be a World Series threat, too.
The main and only main problem is health. If everyone goes down again, their chances for a title go down.
They have great pitching depth, with Smoltz coming in late, and Clay Buchholz and Justin Masterson waiting for the call to close.
That pitching depth alone makes them a dangerous, dangerous team.
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