Spring is almost here. Okay, not really. A good portion of the country is currently covered in snow. But it is just around the corner. And with spring comes the baseball fan's favorite thing to hear after a long, cold, baseball-less winter: Pitchers and Catchers report.
The truck full of equipment pulled out of Boston on its way to Florida yesterday. It reads, "First Stop Fort Myers, Next Stop The Series." With those expectations in mind, let's look at the 2011 team's chances of reaching that goal.
We'll go by position numbers, which means we start with No. 1 at pitcher and add a "10" for the DH position.
- Here's how the rotation should look like come Opening Day:
- Jon Lester (19-9, 3.25 ERA, 225 Ks)
- By far the Red Sox most consistent starter, he pitched 208 innings in 32 games in 2010, and was a legitimate candidate for the Cy Young. Barring injury, this success should continue and he is the absolute ace of this staff.
- 2011 prediction: 23-6, 2.75 ERA, 250 Ks and the AL Cy Young
- Clay Buchholz (17-7, 2.33 ERA, 120 Ks)
- Last season he continued the pattern of improvement he's shown since he started getting serious playing time in the majors, look for that trend to continue in 2011.
- 2011 prediction: 19-7, 2.33 ERA, 220 Ks
- Josh Beckett (6-6, 5.78 ERA, 116 Ks)
- Beckett had a terrible year last year. He spent a good period of time on the DL and had an ERA over five for the second time in his career. Good news for Red Sox fans, the first time was in 2006 and Beckett turned in a 2007 that was arguably his best season ever.
- 2011 Prediction: 19-8, 3.50 ERA, 215 Ks
- John Lackey (14-11, 4.40 ERA, 156 Ks)
- I'm going to chalk last season's performance up to being in a hyper-competitive division for the first time in his career. He's always hovered around 14 wins but the last time he lost 11 games, he went 19-9 with a 3.01 ERA the next season. If he manages another 14 wins next season and cuts the losses down a little, he'll be the perfect fourth starter for the Red Sox.
- 2011 prediction: 16-7, 3.45 ERA, 240 Ks
- Daisuke Matsuzaka (9-6, 4.69 ERA, 133 Ks)
- Dice-K really hasn't had a good season since 2008 when he went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. Every other year he's been over four with his ERA. Good news is he's the fifth starter, so the team isn't leaning on him to win 15+ games this season. He has won an average of 44 percent of his games since joining the Red Sox, and if he can preform just above average and win half his games, no one would complain.
- 2011 Prediction: 11-11, 4.40 ERA, 145 Ks
- Last season the bullpen was terrible. They finished the season with a 4.24 ERA, and a record of 19-23. Papelbon had an okay year, but not his normal dominance, and the core of relievers was disappointing in general. Look for veterans like Okajima, Ramon Ramirez to bounce back from dismal seasons, Felix Doubront and Daniel Bard to continue to grow, and the additions of Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler will help the 'pen rebound.
- 2011 Prediction: Papelbon returns to his more dominant form (though his 2010 season wasn't as dismal as some of the other relievers) and the 'pen will once again be serviceable (AKA, above .500)
- Jon Lester (19-9, 3.25 ERA, 225 Ks)
- Here's how the rotation should look like come Opening Day:
- This year should be Jarrod Saltalamacchia's year to shine. If he can stay healthy and get his bat going, he'll be an excellent offensive catcher and under the tutelage of Jason Varitek, should be a whiz at handling the pitching staff. And if he doesn't, Jason Varitek is more than just your average back-up catcher. I think Salty will really start to come into his own and his batting average will go above the Mendoza line.
- Jason Varitek will start the season as the back-up catcher, but still the Captain. Don't discount how important this is especially since there's a new pitching coach this year. He may only bat .230 and he may not be able to throw anyone out at second, but he's still important. Since Terry Francona took over the team in 2004, they have only missed the playoffs twice: 2006 and 2010. Both years Varitek spent time on the DL. And he's caught a league record 4 no-hitters. Dice-K's almost no-hitter last year against the Phillies? Victor Martinez played first base and Jason Varitek was behind the plate. That is not a coincidence.
- Adrian Gonzalez is the prize the Red Sox have been trying to get for years. They had to give up a few prospects to get him, but the farm is deep, and the Red Sox are hoping their initial investment will pay off huge. And it should. Adrian Gonzales has been a fantastic hitter, averaging 32 homers and 100 RBIs since joining the Padres in 2006. Imagine what this guy could do in Fenway park, which has ranked 7th since 2006 in runs per game as opposed to Petco Park, which ranked 29th in the same period.
- And if Adrian gets a day off, it's not a big deal to shift Kevin Youkilis back over to first and stick Jed Lowrie at third.
- 2011 Prediction: Adrian will be Going-Going-Gonzo! Look for an increase in home runs and RBIs around May/June. It will take him a few weeks to really get adjusted to playing in the AL East. Projected stats: 40 HR, 135 RBI, .348 batting average.
- Second base was an issue in 2010 because Dustin Pedroia was hurt. He's the little spark plug of the Red Sox, the angry, hyper-competitive, boastful little team leader. He gives 100 percent every game, no matter what. And as long as he can bounce back from foot surgery in 2011, there's no reason to think he'll be anything other than the person he was before a bizarre foul ball broke his foot. He's going to do anything he can to help his team win. Remember last year, him taking grounders on his knees? I think Pedroia is in for a great season. And if he starts off slow, Jed Lowrie can always back him up.
- 2011 Prediction: another All-Star season, starting off slow but finishing with .320 batting average, 20 HR, 65 RBIs and plenty of runs scored.
- Kevin Youkilis left the Red Sox in August with a bizarre hand injury. He was healed by October, but the Sox were done by then, so I don't think his injury is going to play a big part in 2011. I think we are really going to see Youkilis' power come out in 2011. And we already know he's fantastic at third, and if he needs a day off, Jed Lowrie can step in (do we see a running theme here? Lowrie is going to be busy even if he's not starting).
- 2011 Prediction: 30 HR, .308 batting average, and 95 RBI.
- Shortstop is the only position this season where there's really any controversy. Marco Scutaro is coming into camp as the Red Sox shortstop and barring injuries or a truly dismal Spring Training, he should remain there. But he's got Jed Lowrie riding his tail, because if he can't do it, Jed can, and then Scutaro will be the back-up for when any of the rest of the infield needs a day off. Not a bad problem to have, really.
- 2011 Prediction: Marco Scutaro, recovered from the nagging injuries of 2010, will hit .285 with 15 homers and 60 RBIs.
- 2011 starts with another new face in left field, and it's a much safer place now that Adrian Beltre isn't at third to break any more left fielder's ribs. Carl Crawford is certainly an upgrade from the Hermida-Nava-Reddick-whoever-is-healthy 2010 version of left field. Between him in left and Jacoby Ellsbury in center, the Red Sox might get to 100 stolen bases in 2011, isn't that a wild idea? Plus we don't have to worry about trying to pick him off, a huge relief for the catchers. Crawford will also enjoy being supported by the Fenway Faithful instead of booed, and join the legendary ranks of Red Sox left fielders. It's not everyday you get to stand in the same spot as Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, and Jim Rice, and play their same position.
- 2011 Prediction: 15 HR, 90 RBI, 55 stolen bases, and hits .302.
- Jacoby Ellsbury returns to the field after a very disappointing 2010 season where he played only 18 games. His backup was also hurt and played in only 48 games. Hopefully both Jacoby Ellsbury and backup outfielder Mike Cameron will be back 100 percent in 2011. If they are, Ellsbury should continue to develop as a hitter, maybe even hit for power, and Cameron will continue to be the steady, quality backup the Red Sox need for the long season. Ellsbury is young so rebounding from his rib injury shouldn't be a problem, and he should be back to stealing bases in April.
- 2011 Prediction: hits .307 with 15 HR and 50 RBI with 75 stolen bases
- Old Faithful J.D. Drew maintains his spot in right field. J.D. is always good for a few bouts of vertigo, a hammy, and a back injury during the season but he is also one of the best right fielders fielding percentage wise in the league and when he gets hot his bat is a beast. This might also be his last season, and I think Drew is one of those guys who will want to go out with a ring and a bang. And there's a slew of minor league guys and Mike Cameron to take care of the times Drew is hurt or needs rest.
- 2011 prediction: .250-.285 (depending on how many hot streaks he has and how long they last), 27 HR, 65 RBI. Nice, solid season.
- When the Red Sox signed Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, Big Papi was celebrating. For the last two years the offense has been on his shoulders, and when he struggled in April it was all anyone seemed to talk about. Now the talk will be on the new players, especially since Papi will likely be batting 5th or 6th, all the pressure will be off. I love Papi and I think he has another two or three decent years left in him and without the pressure his bat should be fierce.
- 2011 Prediction: Papi will hit .289 with 35 HR and 116 RBI.
I look for the 2011 batting order to shape out like this:
Ellsbury, Pedroia, Crawford, Gonzalez, Youkilis, Ortiz, Drew, Saltalamacchia, Scutaro.
As for the Red Sox lofty World Series goals? They are extremely viable. Two of the scarier pitchers in baseball, Cliff Lee and Doc Halladay, are with the Phillies in the National League.
Yankees ace C.C. Sabathia is recovering from knee surgery and lost 30 pounds over the offseason, that will certainly help his knees but changing your body that much is going to affect your pitching. Pettitte retired, and their rotation after Sabathia isn't exactly frightening. Plus, the Yankees are getting a little older.
They are still a good lineup but age will eventually start to catch up with them. New York will definitely be competition, but if the Boston lineup holds up and the pitching staff rebounds a little, the Red Sox can take them.
The Rays are another matter. They are reloading this year, dumping most of their expensive players in trades or with free-agency, but it would be foolish to overlook them. Joe Madden has a talent for getting quite a bit out of young, inexperienced players. I look for the Rays, Jays and Orioles to put up more of a fight this year than most people think.
I am superstitious and don't like to make predictions of the World Series in February, so I'm just going to end by saying the Red Sox have a good chance of getting there and winning. They have the talent, the rotation, and Epstein has plugged some of the holes in the bullpen to keep them from losing games late. It's certainly not a pipe dream, and with a little bit of luck, it could be a reality.