*From Protect the Plate
It was business as usual in 2008 for the Boston Red Sox, who will more than likely go down as the team of the decade. At 95-67, Boston had its 11th-straight winning season and won the Wild Card before falling to the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Championship Series. Once icons of the offense, Manny Ramirez was traded away midseason, and fellow slugger David Ortiz failed to hit 30 home runs and drive in 100 for the first time since coming to Boston. Instead, it was scrappy 5'9" second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who went on to win the AL MVP, and Kevin Youkilis who led the Bo-Sox. After some minor tweaks to the roster, the Red Sox hope to advance to the ALCS for the sixth time in seven years.
IMPRESSIVE TROPHY CASE
In just two full seasons in the majors, Pedroia has an MVP, a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger and was named Rookie of the Year. He led the AL in runs (118), doubles (54), was tied for the lead in hits (213) and was just two points away from winning the batting title (.326 average). It's safe to say Pedroia is well on his way to becoming a Boston icon.
With at least nine Major League ready starters, the Red Sox have enough starting pitching to make any franchise drool. Josh Beckett suffered through injury issues all year, but still managed 12 wins and a team-high 172 strikeouts. Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched his way out of trouble all season, finishing with 18 wins and a 2.90 ERA, which ranked third in the AL. John Lester followed Dice-K, ranking fourth in the AL with a 3.21 ERA. Tim Wakefield had his lowest ERA (4.13) since 2003 and lowest WHIP (1.18) since '02. Veterans Brad Penny and John Smoltz join the staff after injury-plagued seasons. Jason Masterson may return to the bullpen after striving there in '08 and fellow youngsters Buchholz and Bowden will likely be in Triple A just in case someone breaks down.
BOLSTERING THE BULLPEN
Already boasting a dominant bullpen headlined by closer Jonathan Papelbon, the Red Sox added Takashi Saito and Ramon Ramirez to the mix. Saito, the former Los Angeles Dodgers closer, has a 1.95 ERA, .091 WHIP and 81 saves in three big league seasons. Ramirez posted a 2.64 ERA in 71 appearances with the Kansas City Royals in 2008.
Jason Bay, who was acquired in the Ramirez trade, will play his first full season in the AL after hitting .293 with a .897 OPS in 49 games with the Red Sox last year. The free agent to be has three 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons (including 2008), and Boston will look for the same kind of production this season. He has played at least 145 games in each of the past four seasons.
Former stalwarts Ortiz, Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek enter the season as question marks. Big Papi suffered a wrist injury that led to a .264-23.89 line that was his worst since coming the Boston in 2003. Lowell, 35, is coming off hip surgery after seeing his average drop 50 points and his OPS drop 81 points last year. Varitek, 36, hit just .220 in '08 and has hit just .238 since the start of the 2006 season. Throw in J.D. Drew, whose injury history is the stuff of legend, and it's safe to say the Boston offense has some injury concerns.
Jacoby Ellsbury led the AL with 50 stolen bases, and is 64-for-76 (84.2 percent) in stolen base attempts over his career (including postseason) ... No Red Sox hitter slugged 30 homers, as Kevin Youkis led the team with 29 home runs ... Jed Lowrie, who will battle Julio Lugo for the starting shortstop job, didn't commit an error in 49 games at short last year ... Boston has the fewest errors (85) in all of baseball since 2007 ... The Red Sox led the MLB with a .358 on-base percentage and ranked third in runs scored.