On paper, the Boston Red Sox have the best and most complete team in the American League. To back up such a declaration, however, many of their prime talents must bounce back from a slew of injuries.
Last season, the team was held back as baseball’s version of the Portland Trail Blazers, a power built to seriously contend yet decimated by broken bones, surgeries and sickness.
Speedy outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury broke four ribs, sidelining him for most of the season. Former league MVP Dustin Pedroia underwent foot surgery, shortening his season. First baseman and now current third baseman Kevin Youkilis missed his fair share of games with a thumb injury that ultimately required surgery.
Utility infielder Jed Lowrie suffered from mononucleosis. Catcher and captain Jason Varitek broke his foot. Shortstop Marco Scutaro hurt his neck and right shoulder.
Two players they brought in this offseason, slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and offensive-minded catcher Jared Saltalamacchia, also dealt with injuries in 2010. Gonzalez’s shoulder was in such bad shape it needed surgery, while Saltalamacchia needed his thumb stitched up.
All eight are expected to be ready for spring training. Lowrie has recovered and could compete for the starting shortstop job, but question marks surround the other seven. They are all certainly gifted, but the injuries sustained could linger. Rotating, diving, and stealing bases could be troublesome for Ellsbury, whose ribs were battered so badly colliding with Adrian Beltre that he missed 144 games.
Throwing and gripping the bat could force grimaces out of Youkilis, while Gonzalez could sport the same expressions following through at the plate. Similarly, Varitek and Saltalamacchia may have difficulty pushing off their repaired feet in attempts to cut down potential base-stealers.
Putting this pessimistic outlook aside, if these eight return to full health by season’s start, look out. Boston would have everything necessary to compete: speed, power, a solid bench, the right mix of veterans and youth, a talented rotation and a bullpen stocked with relievers who have experience pitching in big games.
Their offense has the potential to be particularly frightening. Boston could construct its lineup in many ways. No matter how they do so they will feature the speed of Carl Crawford and Ellsbury, the brilliant all-around hitting of Pedroia, and the pop of Gonzalez, Youkilis, David Ortiz, and J.D. Drew.
Pedroia could hit fifth, with Ellsbury and Crawford being the table-setters. Or Pedroia could lead off with Ellsbury hitting ninth. The possibilities are endless—as long as Crawford doesn’t end up leading off, something he admittedly hates.
Their starting rotation is perhaps their biggest question mark. Still, many teams would undoubtedly love to have their staff. It is headlined by young arms Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester, a duo that combined to win 36 games last season. What the other three pitchers have to offer is a bit hazy. Jon Lackey was up and down. Daisuke Matsuzaka was as well, while former Cy Young award winner Josh Beckett was awful and oft-injured.
Pitching wins championships, as the saying goes. This saying has rung true over the years, exemplified in the San Francisco Giants winning of the World Series this past season. Boston would definitely love to see their starting five excel, with the latter three finding their grooves after disappointing campaigns.
Yet, with so many offensive weapons at the Red Sox's disposal, it can be presumed, perhaps dangerously, that not much pitching will be needed if the bats are at full strength.
“Once we can get all those guys out there at the same time…that will be a pleasant sight,” General Manager Theo Epstein said to Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald. Remaining out there together for the duration of the season could mean big things in 2011 for the Red Sox.