When the Red Sox won the Series in 2004, many people assumed that this was the team that Theo and the gang were content with.
With the likes of Mueller, Millar, and Doug Mientkiewicz, this rowdy group of cowboys had just enough skill and luck to be World Champions.
Then the offseason struck, as key vital members of the Championship running season were let walk.
Youngsters such as Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Dustin Pedroia, and Jacoby Ellsbury came into the light, as the foreseeable future of the Red Sox, allowing the Nation to be at ease, and never to miss a beat against the recently, surprisingly tough and crowded American League East.
Led by the bats of the Jason Bay, JD Drew, Kevin Youkilis, and resurgent captain Jason Varitek, the Red Sox are first place in the east.
Surprisingly enough, they took claim without the bat of the mighty David Ortiz.
Much like Carlos Delgado's excruciating slow start last year, Ortiz fell into quite possibly the biggest slump of his career—no not just as a member of the Boston Red Sox, but of his entire MLB career. He didn't hit one single home run in his first 149 at bats, which totaled an astounding 40 games.
While that first home run came as a sight for sore eyes, he continued to slump, leading to his drop in the order.
Maybe it was hitting knowing that Manny wasn't behind him. Maybe, as some suggest, he was simply old and worn out, but he looked like a charity case to outsiders of Red Sox nation. He was cheered after a fly to the warning tracks, and given standing ovations at mere at bats.
However, it wasn't for the fact that we as Red Sox Nation felt bad for him. We believed in him.
He was out savior, our Papi.
If not for him, we would not have captured the titles in 2004 or 2007.
Maybe he wasn't hitting. Maybe he wasn't fielding. But to Red Sox Nation, he was as good as ever. He still had it, and was not going to let it go.
Ortiz doubters soon got the shoe, as something clicked, and he exploded for five more home runs. Displaying his bat speed, he boosted his average a quick .20 up in a mere week.
While he is on pace for a rather unspectacular season, his presence and leadership is what makes it possible for the Sox to again, capture the championship. Even at his worst, he remains the nucleus.
Moving on to the rest of the Red Sox.
Behind the Plate
Jason Varitek/George Kottaras
Both Tek and Kottaras have been pleasant surprises for the Red Sox.
Up to this point, Varitek was accumulated 10 HR, 25 RBI, and a mere 41 strikeouts. All after people had written him off as over the hill, he has come back with the fire and intensity of a rookie looking to prove himself for the first time.
The Captain has also led possibly the best rotation in baseball, and has served as an excellent mentor for second year man George Kottaras, who has caught Wake's knuckle like a pro.
With Wakefield's standout season so far, credit must be given to Kottaras, as catching Wake is one of the most demanding tasks in baseball.
Mike Lowell/Kevin Youkilis
Perhaps the most consistent people on the whole Red Sox roster, Youk and Lowell again are in the process of turning in above average seasons for the Sox this year.
After being named 2007 World Series MVP, Lowell proved that he was much better than just a throw in for the trade of Josh Beckett and Hanley Ramirez. But he was not done, as his defense, and his power, 10 HR 41 RBI, has proved that he is no where near being done.
Youk on the other hand might be in the process of turning in his best year so far, after coming in third in AL MVP voting last year, he is batting a solid .316. He is showing an astounding amount of pop, which is evident of his slugging percentage, which leads the majors with .585.
His 12 HR and 40 RBI in just 197 at bats go a long way in showing that Youk is just hitting his stride, as arguably the best first baseman in the country.
Nick Green/Jed Lowrie/Julio Lugo/Dustin Pedroia
Out of this pack, the scout who discovered that Nick Green still had it deserves the mid season MVP for the Red Sox to this point.
Green’s quiet and calm disposition, as well as his defense and bat has people talking about the best shortstop Boston has seen since the likes of Nomah!
While he led shortstops in errors, leading fans to call for Jed Lowrie, he kept his head down, trying to contain his feelings inside of him, and not allow Red Sox nation to get to him that much. He succeeded.
With his batting average of the more than respectable .293, and his defense, which has gotten people remembering the good ole days with Pokey Reese covering the ground, Green has found a home who is accepting him much like a son in law.
Jed Lowrie has played in all of five games up to this point, and while he is looking to go in as soon as a week. With Green and Lugo’s bats both hot, his place looks to be in jeopardy at this point.
Speaking of Julio, his batting average is a surprising .300, and while he is sitting until Green cools down (if that’s possible), his willingness to come off the bench has been commendable.
Jason Bay/Jacoby Ellsbury/JD Drew
This tripod of outfielders has been one of the most dangerous in all of the major leagues, not just in the batters box, but also on the field.
It starts with the young and potential that Jacoby Ellsbury possesses. With Ellsbury’s wiliness to steal and set up runs (his 29 stolen bases ranks him second in baseball, behind the Ray’s Carl Crawford), and his defense (one career error) Jacoby has set himself in position to be the next Tori Hunter.
While he has yet to bring one back from over the Green Monster, that remains on his to do list, I doubt he will disappoint.
He is the kind of team player that you want, as his drop from the leadoff spot has merely made things more interesting for him. He has yet to disappoint from his break out ’07 season.
In the outfield corners lay veterans Jason Bay and JD Drew. Perhaps the most laid back of the Red Sox, they go about their business of hitting and fielding as a true professionals.
While they have fun and show their passion for the game, they also keep their cool. Well at least mentally. Not physically, as they have combined for 27 HR, and 98 RBI, numbers that excite Red Sox nation.
As for true professionalism and character, Drew goes another yard, as he has never been ejected from a game.
Mark Kotsay/Rocco Baldelli
Mark Kotsay and Rocco Baldelli have never been huge, monster players. They were brought in to support the role players, and for that they have more than contributed.
With Baldelli’s unique heath condition, he remains unable to be a long term role player, but he has hit three homeruns in a mere 66 at bats.
Kotsay, on the other hand has been inserted as a huge defensive upgrade, and his arm remains one of the strongest in all of the American Leagues.
While the Sox’ bench may not contain the most depth, it allows the starters more time, while giving these guys more reps then they normally would.
Josh Beckett/Daisuke Matsuzaka/Jon Lester/Tim Wakefield/Brad Penny
This rotation contains some of the biggest names in baseball, and so far, they have yet to disappointed. Beckett and Wakefield have combined for 17 wins thus far, while Penny has an impressive 6-2 record. Those are the main three at this point, the ones that have kept the Red Sox atop the East.
Now to the others.
To put it nicely, Matsuzaka has been horrible.
He has posted a 1-5 record, and was placed on the DL for shoulder tightness. His impressive performance in the World Baseball Classic is what has Red Sox nation talking, and some say that Dice K really values the WBC more than the Sox.
As for Lester, his record really doesn’t tell the true story behind his true 2009 season. He has been very dominant as of late, becoming the first lefty in the past 25 years to record back to back double digit strikeouts. When he is on, he is nearly unhittable.
While this rotation hasn’t been at its best, or even that close, The Red Sox need to be happy that they can capture the AL East without the help of their $150 million dollar man.
What if Dice-K was a respectable 6-3? Matsuzaka has proven that he can be dominant and a winner, as he was 18-2 last year.
Once he regains his stamina, he will be a key contributor to the Red Sox, and only make them better.
Manny Delcarmen, Jonathan Papelbon, Takashi Saito, Justin Masterson, Hideki Okajima, Ramon Ramirez, Daniel Bard
This has not only been Boston’s strong point, it has been its most consistent group of their players.
The name that sticks out to people is Papelbon.Arguably the greatest closer in baseball.
He has not disappointed thus far, saving 16 games out of 17, and posting a 1.80 ERA. His fastball has always been mid to upper 90’s, but it seems very alive as of late, topping out at 98 mph.
Surrounding Papelbon comes set up man Hideki Okajima, posting a 2.61 ERA and winning more and more of the Faithfull’s hearts over.
Next in the bullpen comes Takashi Saito and Manny Delcarmen, posting ERA’s of 2.59 and 2.25, respectively.
Next comes flamethrower Ramon Ramirez, posting an amazing 1.95 ERA, 20:11 Strikeout to walk ratio. Coming over from the Dodgers in the offseason, he has yet to blow a game, and his commanding fastball, along with his dominant changeup freezes batters, before putting them away.
Finally, Daniel Bard. This flame throwing righthander is new to the bullpen this year, but has certainly not disappointed in his hype, as he boasts a 2.92 ERA, a 15:12 strikeout to hits ratio.
All of these pitchers post ERAs of sub 3.00, and help the best bullpen in baseball to be in fact the best bullpen in baseball.
All in all, this bullpen is the best in baseball, and every one of these guys would be first class, No. 1 guy’s from the bullpen on any other team.
As I come to the end in what is now my longest piece of writing so far for Bleacher Report, I think back to years such as 2003, where Red Sox Nation believed for so long.
And then with one swing of the bat, Aaron Boone, the most unreal Yankee, swatted us back to Boston.
However, Red Sox Nation continued to believe. When we have rosters in Boston like we do now, there is no stopping us.
The Red Sox remain as anti-Yankees, many of the players not willing to bolt from Boston for more money, (Damon?)
This year has been superb for both the Red Sox as an organization and the fans.
So thank you Red Sox, and Red Sox nation will continue to support!
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