The 2010 season for the Boston Red Sox was riddled with injuries and inconsistency. The club struggled to an 89-73 record and a third place finish in the competitive American League East.
The Sox front office looked to revamp their rosters, and create a buzz around Boston, with an offseason spending spree. With the additions of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford the Red Sox will enter 2011 with the highest payroll in all of Major League Baseball.
It is only natural that a payroll of that magnitude comes with serious expectations. By many peoples count the Sox are the pre-season favorite to with the American League pennant. But pennants aren't won on paper and they certainly arent won in the off-season.
If the Red Sox expect to make a run at a World Series in 2011 then they will need a lot of production and even more luck. However, if they are able to mesh everything together then they could stand to be the most dangerous team in the entire league.
This list is not to say these players are the best players on the Red Sox. Rather it is a realization that if the Sox are to win the World Series then these players are going to have to play a prominent role.
Without further delay here are the ten most important Boston Red Sox for the 2011 World Championship run.
I know combining these two is cheating but they actually have very similar jobs in 2011. The Sox will look to Scutaro and Lowrie to solidify the shortstop position and the bottom half of the order.
Apart this may be too much to ask of either of these guys but together it is entirely possible with tempered expectations. Most probably believe the Red Sox will get limited, inconsistent offensive production from the catching duo of Jason Varitek and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Scutaro had his typical steady season last year in Boston to the tune of a .275/11/56. He played the majority of the season but is also 35 years old.
Meanwhile, Lowrie rebounded nicely from an assortment of injuries to finish strong for the big club. In fact his .287/9/24 post All Star break caused grumblings for Lowrie to be given a shot at the everyday job at short.
Manager Terry Francona is already on record as saying Scutaro is the starting shortstop for 2011 and that should come as no surprise to anyone. It makes sense especially considering Lowrie's ability to play any infield position. However, expect him to fill in admirably and often for the aging Scutaro.
If the Red Sox want to regain the form of their winning ways these two will have produce out of the shortstop position.
Lackey had an underwhelming first season in Boston after eight productive years in the Angels organization. He finished 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP.
Lacky's ERA was over four for the first time since 2004 and his WHIP was the highest of his career. A slight drop off was expected after the move to the offensively heavy American League East, but not one quite so drastic.
It was not all negative for Lackey as he managed to stay mainly healthy, pitching 215 innings, and he finished the year strong with a rising K/9 rate after the break.
The Sox know they could have struggles filling the fifth starter slot, thanks to an extremely inconsistent Daisuke Matsuzaka, and a suddenly aging Tim Wakefield.
For the Red Sox to contend they need Lackey to be a bulldog and an anchor for the back of the staff.
Pedroia is not on this list because his production for the upcoming season is in any question, but instead because he needs to be on the field.
The scrappy second baseman missed 87 games throughout the latter half of last year. When in the lineup Pedroia's production was on course with the rest of his career.
In just over 300 at bats he recorded 12 HR and 9 SB. But Pedroia has to be a part of the final months of the season because he has become the face of the Boston Red Sox.
His all out attitude has made him a fan favorite and he has been the driving force of the team for several seasons.
If fully healthy Pedroia is the perfect number two hitter between Ellsbury and Crawford, and could make a run at his numbers from his 2007 AL MVP campaign.
Some may not seen Buchholz as an individual that is one of the most important Red Sox championship chances in 2011. After all, he is not technically the staff ace, but is fresh off a coming of age season with a 2.33 ERA.
Buzhholz is also a highly touted talent and just 26 years of age. However, there are signs that there could be a slight regression for the Texas hurler in 2011.
He had an alarmingly low strikeout rate of 6.29 K/9 that does not coincide with any of his previous stints in the big leagues or his dominant minor league track record.
Most Red Sox fans would agree that Lester is far more of a sure thing than Buchholz which is why Buchholz's season may be all the more pivotal.
If the Sox want to compete with the other American League powers, and hopefully the likely NL champion Philadelphia Phillies, they will need Buchholz to play a strong second fiddle to Lester in 2011.
The Red Sox front office was put in a difficult position this offseason when it came to the contract situation of their iconic designated hitter David Ortiz. Just last April many people, including the Sox brass, thought Ortiz was finished when he ended the first month of the year with a .143 batting average and 1 homerun.
But Big Papi finished the year strong and at the end of the day was sitting with a line of .270/32/102 and a new contract.
Ortiz's spot in the order is not yet set in stone but he will likely hit sixth between Kevin Youkilis and J.D. Drew. With the quality of hitters 1-5 in the order Ortiz could bat often with RISP and see a heavy helping of fastballs.
If all goes well for Ortiz he could see an even bigger increase in his RBI total in this coming season. However, he also has to avoid a brutal early season slump like he has had the past two seasons.
If Ortiz still has some power then he will be in the perfect spot to help the Red Sox to a 2011 title.
Ellsbury is yet another 2010 Red Sox starter that had an overly disappointing 2010 season.
He played in just eighteen games due to three DL stints from reoccuring rib injuries. Even when he was in the lineup he was often slated in the bottom third rather than his traditional lead off spot.
Things got so bad that some of the Fenway Faithful even called into queston his toughness and his desire to play through pain.
In 2011 Ellsbury will be back in center field where he belongs and hopefully this will bring him back to better days. The addition of Crawford but his exact spot in the batting order slightly in limbo but it appears he will move back to the leadoff spot.
If Ellsbury is able to remain healthy in 2011 he could put up monster numbers for the Sox. His top notch speed makes him a constant stolen base threat and a candidate to lead MLB in runs.
Ellsbury is also a gold glove caliber center fielder so hopefully he will rebound nicely in 2011.
The Sox lineup is at its best when Ellsbury is slated at the top so they hope he takes the job and runs with it (literally) from the beginning of the year.
Like it or not Papelbon will be back protecting ninth inning leads for the Sox in 2010. After a difficult 2010 season, much of Red Sox Nation called for the young flame-thrower Daniel Bard to take the reins.
However, after avoiding arbitration and agreeing to a contract, Papelbon will get first crack. He posted career highs of a 3.90 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP, and had a disappointing eight blown saves.
Some silver lining for Papelbon could be that, with the slight exception of BB/9, his ratios stayed pretty much the same.
There is little doubt that the Red Sox could survive at closer without Papelbon but that is not what is up for debate. Instead the point is that Papelbon means a good deal to the Red Sox chances at a 2011 championship.
His true significance lies in the fact that if he pitches well the Red Sox bullpen can remain a strength. However, if Papelbon were to pitch poorly his it would require Bard or Jenks to be pulled from their setup roles and could create holes in the pen.
Crawford is definitely being called upon to offer a different dimension of the Red Sox team in 2011. His stats do not jump out like a typical three hitter but that is likely where he will fall in the batting order.
His stolen base totals could be limited, but he hit three for the Rays for much of last year and still tallied 47 SB. This also does not mean his speed will not be utilized, as he will likely score a serious amount of runs hitting in front of Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis, and David Ortiz.
Crawford also comes to Boston fresh off his first Gold Glove season and, what appears to be, little downside.
Obviously his style of play makes the possibility for injuries more likely, and he is moving from a small market team to the over analyzing Boston media. However, he has been in the AL East his entire career and none of these drawbacks seem to be major concerns.
If Crawford's speed is able to spark the heart of the Sox lineup then they could be one of the highest scoring in the MLB and a legitimate title contender.
One could argue that Beckett can do more than any other Red Sox player to boost the teams stock in the coming season. It doesn't take much to realize that the former ace must improve on a disappointing season that came off of a significant contract extension.
Beckett's 5.78 ERA and 1.53 WHIP were by far the highest totals of his career. He did show some improvements after the break, but in reality the season might as well have been a wash.
Beckett will be 31 in May and all signs seem to indicate that a return to his 2007 Cy Young worthy season are unlikely. However, for the Sox to at least have an adequate rotation he needs to return to the 2008-2009 levels that settled in south of 4.00 ERA.
Part of the reason Beckett is so vital also has to do with the fact that once the playoffs begin there are few pitchers with a comparable track record. He has been the leading force for two World Series Champions, including the 2007 Boston Red Sox.
During this 2007 playoff run in particular, Beckett went 4-0 and didn't give up more than two earned runs in any of his starts.
If Beckett can contribute a solid regular season and dominant postseason it will go a long way towards a 2011 championship.
The Red Sox have lacked a true pure hitter in the middle of their order since Manny Ramirez moved on to Mannywood in 2008.
Once Gonzalez's contract extension is made official he will be signed to the biggest contract of any Red Sox player since Manny Ramirez. In part this is because in 2011 the former number one overall pick is expected to have the same presence in the Sox lineup as Ramirez did during the 2004 and 2007 championship seasons.
This is not to say these two are completely similar. After all Ramirez was an erratic fielder, with a volatile personality, while Gonzalez is an assuming two time Gold Glove winner. But if Gonzalez's bat can bring the same magic to Fenway then the Sox could be in for a special 2011 season.
Many expect a spike in Gonzalez's overall numbers because he is surrounded by a stronger lineup and he is moving to the greener pastures of Fenway Park from the cavernous PETCO Park.
Although if his numbers do stay the same as in San Diego few Sox fans will be mad. Over the past four season Gonzalez has averaged a .284 batting average, with 34 home runs, and 104 RBI.
There is some concern over Gonzalez's off season shoulder surgery. He is expected to be ready to begin Spring Training but shoulder injuries can often affect a hitter's power numbers. Gonzalez will also have to adjust to the nature of the big market Red Sox.
However, if Gonzalez's swing translates positively to Fenway and he able to thrive in the Boston limelight he will be the biggest reason the Red Sox return to glory with a 2011 World Series Championship.