High expectations during the offseason have put tremendous pressure on the 2011 Red Sox, to not only win the division, but make it to the Fall Classic. With a key injury to their No. 3 starter, Clay Buchholz, the Red Sox face an uphill battle.
Here are some bold predictions for the stretch run in August and September.
After the worst start to a season in his career, John Lackey has been pitching like the Lackey of old, his last six starts. Winning his last five decisions, he has made fans partially forget about his historically bad first few months.
Since the All-Star break, Lackey has not lost in six outings and has lowered his ERA by 70 points. Most fans pointed to his opponents as the answer to why his was pitching so effectively, as he earned wins against Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Seattle and Kansas City.
However, his strong performance against CC Sabathia and the Yankees last night, shows that Lackey has not just been feasting on bad offenses. He has been pitching like the John Lackey we were used to seeing for the Los Angeles Angels.
With two months to go in the season, and Clay Buchholz injured, John Lackey will prove that he is worthy of the No. 3 spot in the rotation and put fans at ease when thinking about the Red Sox playoff rotation. Lackey will end the year with close to 15 wins, not bad for a No. 3 starter.
David Ortiz's resurgence has been a surprise to many this season, and the fact that he has not slowed down is a greater surprise. The past few seasons, Ortiz has got off to horrible starts, calling into question whether or not the Red Sox should still have him on the roster. But with midseason charges, he has shown why he still belongs as the DH for the Red Sox.
This season, Ortiz started the All-Star game as the DH and put up huge numbers in the first half of the season. His pace has slowed after the All-Star break but his numbers have continued to be very solid for his age.
However, with all of his success this season, fans cannot forget his age and the miles on his knees and body. Ortiz has not had a great season from start to finish in quite a few years, and there are concerns about his contract situation.
EspnDeportes.com first reported that Ortiz is unhappy with no contract offer or negotiations with the Red Sox thus far. Ortiz signed a one-year, $12 million deal with the team and is reportedly looking for a multi-year contract. The Red Sox don't appear as though they will negotiate in the middle of a pennant race, which could prompt bigger issues with the Red Sox' Big Papi.
If the contract situation lingers on, look for the age and temper to show from Ortiz, resulting in a drop off in production for the DH.
Jacoby Ellsbury has proven his naysayers wrong this season by putting up huge numbers out of the leadoff spot for the Red Sox. His combination of speed and power have been breathtaking to watch, and his Gold Glove-caliber play in the outfield make him an instant candidate for MVP.
Ellsbury's teammate, Adrian Gonzalez, has gotten most of the attention for MVP, which he deserves by leading the league in batting average and runs batted in. But many could argue that Ellsbury has been the most valuable to the Red Sox. He has more home runs, out of the leadoff spot, than Gonzalez and will lead the league in stolen bases. His ability to change the game with speed is something that few players can do, and must be taken into consideration when talking about Most Valuable Player.
Most questioned Ellsbury's toughness and stamina as he missed essentially the entire 2010 season because of injury. Ellsbury has showed that he can be an everyday player and still put up huge numbers.
Ellsbury's contract is up soon, and if the Red Sox are smart, they will sign him before he demands MVP-type money on the market. That is what kind of player he has turned out to be.
With JD Drew mired in a season-long slump, Josh Reddick has stepped in and has been everything the Red Sox had hoped for and more. His batting average hovered around .400 for weeks, and he is still hitting close to .350. Meanwhile, Drew is set to start hitting off a tee after being placed on the 15-day DL with a shoulder injury that many are calling "mysterious."
Hurt or not, Drew was not performing before the injury. While he still played a great defensive right field, his average was hugging the Mendoza line. His even-keeled demeanor turns off many fans and makes him seem like a ballplayer that just doesn't care. Drew was signed to a mega contract in 2007 and thus far, has not lived up to the money Theo Epstein threw his way.
However, Reddick is not a proven major leaguer yet and hasn't been playoff tested. On the flip side, JD Drew has been in multiple postseasons with the Red Sox and has played some clutch baseball when needed. Drew came up huge for the team in the 2007 ALCS against the Cleveland Indians, including a clutch first inning grand slam.
With Drew playing for a new contract, there is no way he can perform like he did pre-DL and hope to land with another MLB team next season. His motivation to get a new contract, coupled with the playoff experience, will force Terry Francona to put him in RF to start the 2011 postseason.
Following the Winter Meetings in December, the Red Sox were a shoe-in to win, or at the very least, be in the World Series. However, games still needed to be played, and after a 2-10 start, the Red Sox chances of making the Fall Classic seemed distant. But as the season wore on, they started playing like the team everyone expected, and the expectations started to be at an all-time high once again.
The Red Sox will make the playoffs, almost assuredly, barring major injuries. They will even make the American League Championship series, but they will not win.
If one team in the American League is equipped to beat the Red Sox, it is the Texas Rangers. With a stellar offense, good pitching and a dynamic bullpen, the Rangers are looking like a better team then they were last year when they went to the World Series.
The Rangers are playoff-tested and their offense just might be better then the Boston Red Sox. Their starting rotation has shut down the Red Sox this season, and once they get to their bullpen, the game is over. Texas picked up two lively arms at the back end of the bullpen to go along with Neftali Feliz whose stuff is seldom equaled.
The Red Sox are only in year one with this "super team" that they have assembled. There will be more chances in every other year they have this core group of players together, but unfortunately for Red Sox fans, this year just isn't the Red Sox year.