Boston Red Sox: Why the Sawx Might Not Be All They're Cracked Up To Be
To say that expectations for the 2011 Red Sox were high would be quite an understatement. A vast majority of baseball fans and experts picked the Red Sox to win the World Series, but who could blame them?
GM Theo Epstein put together a team that could easily win 100 games in a season, with a lineup that looks more like an All-Star team than anything and a pitching staff loaded with talent.
But the start of this season has been miserable for the BoSox. An 0-6 start marred by poor hitting and mental mistakes has led many to believe that this is an overrated club. It is still early, and there is plenty of time for change.
Following a big weekend series win over the Yankees, the Red Sox do have some restored confidence, but here are some reasons why the Red Sox could severely disappoint this season.
Where's the Magic?
It felt different in 2004, didn't it? There was a mystique around the Red Sox. Sure, they were talented. But it almost seemed like divine intervention when Boston stormed back to take the American League from the Yankees, then swept St. Louis in the World Series.
Even in 2007, the Sox still seemed to have that something special. There were little guys—Bobby Kielty in '07, Dave Roberts in '04—who came up big time in big situations.
But this year, on this stacked roster, it seems like the magic is gone. There are pricey free agent pickups like Carl Crawford and John Lackey, the hard-nosed vets like Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis and the question marks like Jarrod Saltalamacchia Salty and J.D. Drew.
Not that magic has a whole lot to do with a team's success, but this team just doesn't give off the same vibe of likability and intrigue as the 2004 or 2007 teams did.
Again, team chemistry has a very limited effect on performance, but it's worth looking at. This offseason, the Red Sox added Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to the team. Both of these players came from small markets where they were the top dog.
Crawford essentially called his own shots in Tampa Bay. Gonzalez was a fixture at first base in San Diego. Now that they've both been brought into this stacked lineup, how will they react? What about teammates?
Will Crawford mind being slid up and down the lineup? How does Kevin Youkilis really feel about being pushed to third base?
If things continue to go awry on the field, tempers could start to boil over in Beantown.
Had Adrian Gonzalez not spent the past several seasons in one of baseball's worst hitting parks in San Diego, he could easily have hit 40-45 home runs per season consistently. He now plays at a hitter's paradise at Fenway Park.
Gonzalez is a gap hitter more than he is a home run hitter. His power is best to the opposite field or the left-center field gap. Unfortunately for him, there is no eight-foot wall in left field at Fenway. Gonzalez will get his fair share of extra-base hits, but how many will be home runs?
How will he respond to the excellent American League pitchers? Probably pretty well. So far it's been a great start for Adrian. But if he loses his power and starts hitting more balls off the wall than over them, can the Sox count on Youkilis and Ortiz to drive him in?
The Catching Dilemma
For years, Jason Varitek was the Red Sox catcher. His combination of offensive prowess and handling of the pitching staff made him an invaluable piece of the dominant Red Sox teams throughout the 2000's. But with him not having played more than 110 games since 2009, Boston turned to a young gun, Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
He of the long last name has been less than stellar so far in 2011. His .182 average is bad enough, and his 41 percent strikeout rate is not much better. But perhaps the most disconcerting part of Salty's start has been how Boston's pitchers have fared under his direction.
With a miserable start to the season, he must improve both his offensive and catching performance if he truly is Varitek's heir apparent.
Remember when a Red Sox lead late in a game was safe? Remember when Jonathan Papelbon meant game over? Those were the days.
This year's Sox bullpen has a lot of new names and is perhaps the weakest part of this team. From the failed run of Dennys Reyes to the struggles of Dan Wheeler and Daniel Bard, a late lead no longer instills confidence in the constituents of Red Sox Nation.
Not even Jonathan Papelbon, one of the game's most feared closers, is as intimidating as he used to be. Coming off his worst season where he seemed eerily hittable, Papelbon has been decent so far this season, but whether he can return to his slam-the-door closer form remains to be seen.
A strong bullpen is crucial to a strong season, and until the Red Sox relievers hit their stride, one cannot get too confident about this team.
Pitcher A: 20-7 record, a 3.27 ERA, 4.85 K/BB ratio, and 0.76 home runs per fly ball.
Pitcher B: 6-6 record in two-thirds of a season, a 5.78 ERA, 2.58 K/BB ratio and 1.41 home runs per fly ball.
Obviously, the more desirable pitcher to be at the top of a rotation is Pitcher A. But what if I told you that this was the same player three years apart?
There's something wrong with Josh Beckett. In 2007 (the first stat line presented) Beckett established himself as an elite starter. Combining an excellent fastball with an increasingly effective curveball, Beckett led Boston to the World Series.
But last year, Beckett's fastball had a negative value, and his curve was barely positive. His command has seen a noticeable drop-off. In his first start of 2011, there were few encouraging signs. His start last night, however, showed an incredible return to form—maybe Pitcher A has returned.
But if he pitches like Pitcher B, the Red Sox staff might not be so hot.
The Other Starters
When the Red Sox' starting pitchers are at their best, there may only be one or two better rotations in all of baseball. The imposing quintet of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey has all the makings of an elite rotation. But so far this season, none of them have been in top form.
Lackey especially has been horrific to start the season. Buchholz has a 7.20 ERA through two starts. Despite the infancy of this season, it appears that Lackey will be a liability in the rotation and that some of the other starters still have some rust to knock off.
The starters should be fine, but the early signs do not look that promising.
Consistency is something that Red Sox hitters pride themselves on. From year to year, one can expect a constant stream of runs from the Boston lineup. But will some of Boston's better hitters have down years?
So far, the only returning Sox starter that has looked sharp is Dustin Pedroia. Kevin Youkilis (.125), Jacoby Ellsbury (.156) and Carl Crawford (.152) have all struggled out of the gate. Granted, all of these men are professional hitters with the ability to turn their fortunes around in an instant.
When everyone is hitting, though, this lineup is baseball's best. But if the struggles continue for any of these players, Boston will be missing an integral part of its lineup.
A Grain of Salt
With everything said, I want to make this very clear—the Red Sox are baseball's most talented team, and I was one of the many who picked them to win the World Series at the beginning of the season. The Red Sox may have had a poor start to the season, but writing off this team now would be like pulling a pitcher after one hit allowed.
There are holes in this team, however, as mentioned in the previous slides. As elite as this team could be, they could also fall flat on their faces and prove to be a disappointment.
Things are looking up for the Sox after a crucial series win against the Yankees, but their ultimate direction remains to be seen.