The "Texas Red Sox Massacre" of this past weekend was not the opening series that Red Sox fans had dreamed about since December. Buchholz surrendered almost half as many home runs as he did all of last season, Lester made it clear that he knows which month this is and Lackey's ERA is now sitting just north of 22. The bullpen wasn't much better, as every reliever pitched and only Reyes, Albers, and Jenks failed to surrender a run. Still, serious concerns at this point are unnecessary- the team is bound to win at least a game before the season is out.
In all seriousness, though (opening series notwithstanding) the Red Sox look loaded. The additions of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez make the lineup borderline ridiculous, and GM Theo Epstein also significantly improved on last season's greatest weakness, the bullpen. But, as with any team, some questions linger. Here are five entities on whom the team is, to one degree or another, crossing its fingers.
David Ortiz: No one knows exactly how many productive years the beloved slugger has left in him. In the past couple campaigns, he has ended the season with more-than-acceptable numbers but has had to overcome sluggish starts to do so. This year, without much spring-training attention focused on him, he tallied with two home runs in the opening series—one off a lefty, no less. It would be good for him to maintain this fast start.
John Lackey: Last season, especially the first half, was often difficult for him. But in the end, he led the staff in quality starts and achieved a post-All-Star break ERA below four. This year (ignoring his first outing), with no new adjustment to the AL East and with a better bullpen behind him, there seems to be a decent chance that his consistency improves, although he'll still likely be overpaid.
Dice-K: Perhaps the biggest enigma of all, if he could recapture his form of 2007-2008, the team would benefit greatly from it. His spring training results after altering his between-start regimen were encouraging, but too small a sample size to judge anything from. Realistically, and despite the past hype and promise, he is a fifth starter, one of the better ones on the league—and anything beyond that is a pleasant surprise.
As anyone who was even half paying attention knows, last year's Red Sox had terrible injury luck. Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Mike Cameron, Jason Varitek, Jed Lowrie, and (the now-Tiger) Victor Martinez all missed significant time with a variety of ailments that included pretty much everything except smallpox. Adrian Gonzalez (with the Padres) and Marco Scutaro played through notable issues of their own. The only positive was that none of this extended into 2011.
This year, among position players, the fortunes of Pedroia, Youkilis, Gonzalez, and (to a lesser degree) Ellsbury are most important. Things seem to be going well thus far, with Gonzalez and Ellsbury looking especially encouraging. Perfect team health is too much to ask for, but reasonable good luck seems almost cosmically owed after everything that went wrong in 2010.
Despite frustrations along the way, he's had incredible potential for years. Last season he finally put it all together, posting the team's lowest starter ERA since Pedro. Advanced metrics predict a regression, which is almost unavoidable given how incredible he was in 2010. But with his talent and poise, the fall may not be far. One more excellent year will cement his place (with teammate Jon Lester) among the game's top young arms.
If the Red Sox have one weak spot in the lineup, it's undeniably the catching position. "Salty", a former top prospect who struggled for a time with the Rangers, was unmistakably handed the job this offseason when Theo elected to let Victor Martinez depart and go unreplaced. Early signs have been mixed—a tremendous spring training counterbalanced by a horrid showing against his former team in Texas. Saltalamacchia's potential is still there, but it seems to be now or never for him.
For this wild character and former shut-down closer, 2010 (beginning with his unfortunate 2009 ALDS appearance, really) was easily the toughest year of his career. He set personal worsts in categories including ERA, ERA+, runs allowed, home runs allowed, WHIP, and BB/K.
With free agency beckoning at the end of the year, and with Daniel Bard and Bobby Jenks looming as potential closer replacements, Papelbon should be as driven as ever to redeem himself.
If he struggles, though, he may find Terry Francona's leash to be shorter than he'd like.
Unsurprisingly, Beckett tops this list. Like Papelbon, he had an avert-your-eyes, career-worst 2010. Unlike Papelbon, he's signed through 2014 at almost seventy million dollars total. He mentioned the goal of 100 team victories in spring training, but he may be the single most crucial piece in determining whether that's plausible. Beckett recovering his form of 2007 (or even 2009) could go a long way toward Boston's World Series hopes.