The fact that the Boston Red Sox have recently won two World Series either disguises their problems or means the start of a long string of victories over the next few years.
The staff is by far their best strength, with Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Clay Bucholz, Jon Lester, and Tim Wakefield, plus Jonathon Papelbon as closer. The lineup does have some problems as well. Fortunately they have a hitter-friendly ballpark.
Sports Illustrated and ESPN both predict Boston will finish second.
Beckett is consistent and at his prime age of 28 he is very capable of winning 20 games for consecutive seasons barring an injury.
Dice-K learned American tendencies and, despite his high ERA, he found a way to win games. Still, he will never be worth what Boston paid for him. (A total of $100 million counting their price to talk to him.)
Jon Lester is coming off arm surgery and supposedly his arm is feeling good. Tim Wakefield, although inconsistent, wins games with an average of over 13 wins per season the last three years.
Clay Bucholz, who pitched a no-hitter last year in his second start, is a young threat on the mound as well.
Jonathon Papelbon pitched like a Hall of Fame closer last year. He had an under 2.00 ERA with 37 saves and .77 WHIP. Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen, and Javier Lopez all had under 3.20 ERA while pitching in at least 40 games last year. Their holes at bullpen are the rest.
Julian Tavarez, although a good vet, has steadily declined the past three seasons. Last year his ERA went above 5.00.
Mike Timlin's age also seems like a problem. You wonder how much longer he can pitch at the same level.
David Aardsma rounds out the bullpen as a 27-year-old. In his rookie season, he had an ERA barely over 4.00, but last year he pitched only 25 games.
The hitting supports Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, both of whom are over 30. Also above 30 are six of the nine players projected in the starting lineup. That's the bad news.
The good news is that Fenway Park is a hitter's park. Also good is that Pedroia and Ellsbury can be slowly put into the starting role with good reserve infielder Alex Cora and part-time outfielder Coco Crisp giving them rest. J.D. Drew, Kevin Youkilis, and Mike Lowell are all a threat to hit .300 this season.
The Red Sox are a good team, but in hitter-friendly Fenway Park the pitching won't carry the team like they need it to.
I predict the Red Sox will reach 88-90 wins, but a wild card at best is what they will get in the very competitive American League East.