Boston Red Sox: 10 Bold Predictions for the Team's 2011 Season
When it comes to Major League Baseball, it’s difficult to be a knuckleball Nostradamus when so many uncontrollable factors factor into your predictions.
Whether it’s a pitching staff plagued by injuries or a set of super slumps latching onto your middle-of-the-order stars, a team can go from playoff contender in the preseason to underachieving underdogs by September.
But, like all couch GMs, I have my own bold set of prophetic thoughts for my team, so move over meteorologists, because here’s my 2011 Boston Red Sox forecast.
Beckett Will Not Bounce Back
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I want him to, I really do, but his erratic tenure with the team does not fill me with the warm and fuzzies of a possible dominant season just on the horizon.
Whether it’s his back, blisters or the built-in excuse of a preseason concussion now in his back pocket, I cringe at the thought of his massive contract extension that will keep him with the Sox through the 2014 season.
And I know the sports pundits continuously talk about his inner “fire” and “competitive nature”, but if that translated to winning, than where did it go in 2008 and 2010?
Dice-K Will Be Closer to a No. 2 Starter Than a No. 5
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Anyone who is a Red Sox fan can tell a tale about sitting through a Daisuke Matsuzaka start, crouched at the edge their seat, biting nails to the bone as the Dice Man loads the bases with no outs and then somehow gets out of the inning with barely a scratch.
Yes, he’s frustrating. Yes, he walks a lot of batters. And yes, he has pitched with a modern-day mullet. Yet somehow, somewhere deep inside, the voice of Rob Schneider screams out, “You can do it!”
Now that he’s pitching at the back of the rotation and with so much media hoopla surrounding new acquisitions Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, the pressure is off Dice-K. He will still drive you crazy, but don’t be surprised if he finishes the season with 15 wins.
Ortiz Will Find His Bat Speed and Have Best Season in Four Years
For the last two years, Red Sox fans have been declaring David Ortiz dead. I have often expected Terry Francona to hold a press conference, announcing that Big Papi was sent to a “farm” where he could “run."
Sure, he’s had some rough starts to the season the last two years, but guess what, so has Mark Teixeira down in New York and nobody is suggesting he be benched.
Papi still hit 99 RBI in 2009 and reached the three-digit mark last year with 102. With more meat to the lineup in the form of Gonzalez and less pressure to turn it on right away, I expect a carefree Ortiz to return to 2007 form, though with ten less home runs to his stat line.
Ellsbury Will Outrun Crawford on the Base Paths
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It was an exciting race in 2009, watching Jacoby Ellsbury and Crawford duel it out on opposing AL East teams, as they both ran all over pitchers from Camden Yards to the Rogers Centre.
In the end, Crawford finished 10 shy of Ellsbury, and while there has been a lot of talk about the former Ray's speed coming to Boston, there’s also been a lot of forgetting about Ellsbury’s after a dismal 2010 season spent injured and inactive.
If he can stay healthy and get on base, expect Ellsbury’s speed to outrun Crawford’s.
Bard Will Be the Closer by the Trade Deadline
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The Sox made a lot of bullpen improvements and upgrades in the offseason, and I expect that tinkering to continue well after the first “Play Ball” is announced.
With Jonathan Papelbon in the final year of his contract, plenty of teams in the running are going to come sniffing around Yawkey Way for a closer to help them in the postseason. With nobody expecting Pap to be with the BoSox after the book is closed on the 2011 season, don’t be surprised when GM Theo Epstein pulls the trigger on a trade that will bring value to his departure.
When that happens, Daniel Bard will be ready to take the reins on the closing role.
Gonzalez Will Hit 47 Home Runs
I have done the math forwards and backwards, side to side and over and under. I have tracked algorithms, bat-to-ball speed ratios and batter history with an emphasis on mapping acute, obtuse and right angles.
All of my research points to Gonzalez hitting exactly 47 home runs.*
*Note: None of that is true. Other than looking at Gonzalez’s batting history and placing said batting history in Fenway Park, the number 47 is a total guess, BUT, a pretty solid one, if I do say so myself.
Lowrie Will be Starting SS by May
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Everyone can agree that Marco Scutaro did a solid job for Boston last year. He’s a gamer, never complains and filled in nicely at the top of the order when Ellsbury went down.
However, when Jed Lowrie came back after a LONG injury run, he showed why he and his bat were a sparkle in the eye of the front office. If he can carry that pop into 2011 while keeping himself off of the DL, he should have no problem ushering Scutaro back to his utility-man role.
Salty Will Become a Star
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The man with the longest surname in the history of baseball was once a hot catching prospect before holes in his game (particularly his inability to throw the ball back to the pitching mound) revealed themselves in the Majors.
Now with the Sox, Jarrod Saltalamacchia has a big mitt to fill with Victor Martinez swinging stick in Detroit. Grossly underestimated, he’ll find his bat in 2011, contributing to an already potent offense and finding his comfort in a full-time role.
He’ll become a hit in Boston, not necessarily for his hitting itself, but because Sox fans love a good nickname, and what better nickname is there in the 2011 lineup than Salty?
Wakefield Will be in the Rotation Sooner Than Later
Injuries happen, and while I’m not suggesting the 2011 team will face as much adversity as they did in 2010, players are still going to go down.
Tim Wakefield, a star in the mind of Red Sox fans everywhere, can still make hitters look silly, so when one of the final five needs to sit out a few starts, the knuckleballer will be there, rounding out what is expected to be the last season in a long and commendable career.
Sox Will Win Division but Lose Season Series with Yanks
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I understand the pitching has a lot of question marks attached to it, but underestimating the New York Yankees is no way to start a season.
With plenty of players who can hurt you in their lineup and a knack for making big, newsworthy moves prior to the trade deadline, the Bronx Bombers are still going to, and a quote Charlie Sheen here, “bring it.”
I do think the Red Sox have what it takes to sit atop the division come September, but I also expect the Yanks to still give us trouble. New York may win the battle, but Boston will win the war.