The Boston Red Sox have not won 100 games since Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr and (he's better than his brother Joe) Dominic DiMaggio were playing for Joe Cronin in 1946.
This season will be different. Solid offseason additions by Theo Epstein join an impressive returning cast for the 2011 Red Sox team. On paper, this might be the best team the Red Sox have had—ever.
This team will end the streak of double-digit winners and move into the immortal group of 100-game winners.
The Boston Red Sox were not a bad team last season. In fact, they were quite good, finishing just out of the playoffs at 89-73. The Red Sox return a starting rotation featuring a proven ace in Jon Lester and an up-and-coming ace in Clay Buchholz.
In addition, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield have proven throughout their careers that they can be dominant pitchers at times. If two of them put it together this year, the Sox will have one of baseball's best rotations.
The Sox also have hitters returning—like David Ortiz. Despite concerns that he has aged in recent years, he still had 30+ home runs and 100+ RBI last season.
The Red Sox were injury-plagued last year—to say the least. Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Josh Beckett all missed significant time with injuries.
Besides the two big offseason additions, the Sox will be adding healthy players—at least for the beginning of the season until the injury bug has the opportunity to hit.
Short of switching training staffs, there are few fixes for a team getting hurt. The Red Sox just have to hope the baseball gods smile upon them more kindly this season.
Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford were not only the best free agents on the market this offseason, but they appear to be the best for years to come.
Crawford gives the Sox versatility in the field, at the plate and on the base paths. Gonzalez gives the Sox the bat in the lineup they have missed since Manny Ramirez's departure.
The Red Sox jumped at the opportunity to get two elite players and have arguably the best lineup in the game right now.
Despite his "struggles" last season (he still saved 37 games), Jonathan Papelbon is one of baseball's best closers.
The controversy some fans are creating between Papelbon and Daniel Bard is more a testament to Bard's success than a shot at Papelbon.
This season, the Sox have reloaded their bullpen adding a former closer (Bobby Jenks), an experienced middle reliever (Dan Wheeler) and a converted starter (Tim Wakefield will likely come out of the bullpen to start the year) to solidify the middle innings and get the Sox to the eighth when Bard and Papelbon can take over.
Jacoby Ellsbury was injured for the majority of last season. Ryan Kalish led the team in steals with 10. This season, the Sox will add at least 100 steals between two players—Ellsbury and Carl Crawford.
And that's a conservative estimate. Crawford has led the league in steals four times in his career, Ellsbury twice. In 2009, Ellsbury had 70 steals, while Crawford had 60. That kind of speed will be scary for opposing pitchers and catchers.
It will also make the Sox outfield a difficult spot for balls to land.
Daisuke Matsuzaka came to the MLB from Japan to much acclaim. He has yet to live up to expectations, but this spring it appears he might be putting it all together. While spring numbers are often irrelevant, if Matsuzaka continues pitching the way he has in his last few starts, it is good news for the Red Sox.
Josh Beckett was injured last season. Throughout his career, he has had injury problems. But for the superstitious out there, Beckett's numbers are definitively better in odd-numbered years (like 2011) than even-numbered years.
John Lackey is another pitcher who struggled last year compared to the rest of his career. He had his highest ERA since 2004 and lost more games (11) than any other Red Sox pitcher. This spring, he says he feels fit and ready to return to better pitching.
The Sox have a potent heart of the order. After the speed guys lead off the game, some combination of Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz and Adrian Gonzalez will form a modern-day murderers' row.
All four of these guys are significant run producers when healthy, and Ortiz and Gonzalez have consistently proven themselves to be among the best power hitters in the game.
Every great team needs a guy who can handle all the egos and command a clubhouse full of different personalities. The Red Sox have one of the best in the game.
Terry Francona came to the Red Sox in 2004 and immediately led them to a World Series after trading the face of the franchise. Francona is in charge in Boston and the players know it.
In order to win 100 games, the Sox have to avoid slumps at all costs and maintain chemistry over the entire 162-game schedule. There is no better-suited man for the task than Terry Francona.
Successful teams pull together—often through practical jokes and other displays of youth. Think about the "Idiots" in 2003. They set the stage for the 2004 miracle, which never would have happened if guys like Kevin Millar didn't keep the clubhouse loose.
This year, the Red Sox have players like Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, who have been known to race one another for bragging rights (Youkilis won).
The Sox also have players like Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard who have never been to a World Series before and want it more than anything. The Sox youth will help them not take the season to seriously and stay loose enough to make a run at 100 wins.
Balance between youth and experience is an essential part of any dominant team. The Sox have proven leaders, starting with Jason Varitek, who have been World Series champions before and can show the rest of the team how to win.
Beckett, Varitek, Wakefield and Ortiz have all played in multiple World Series. This team will not run across anything it hasn't seen before until it reaches triple digit wins.
The AL East is the best division in baseball. The Yankees are one of baseball's best teams every season. The Rays added Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon to add to their supporting cast. Even Baltimore could become competent this season with the addition of power hitters like Mark Reynolds.
In order to win 100 games, the Red Sox have to maintain their intensity all season long. The level of competition will not allow them to relax and will push them on to victory.