Boston Red Sox: 7 Bold Predictions for the End of the Season
At the time of this column's publishing, the Red Sox are one half game up in the Yankees for the AL East division lead. They are currently sporting the second best record in all of baseball. They only trail the Philadelphia Phillies and their pitching rotation made up of superheroes.
That record indicates that the awful start the Sox had at the beginning of this season was an aberration. Totally a thing of the past. Not even a blemish anymore. In fact, I think I'm the only who even mentions that it happened anymore. I'll stop talking about it.
Wait, I lied. I'm going to mention it one more time.
For anyone to have predicted the Red Sox would start out the season 0-6, improve that to 2-10, and finish off April with an 11-15 record, would have been harped by the Nation for making such a bold prediction.
I'm a glutton for punishment. Here are seven more bold predictions.
Carl Crawford Will Carry the Team in September
Carl Crawford was not the worst free agency signing of the Theo Epstein era. That distinction belongs to either John Lackey or Jeremy Giambi.
That said, the man called "The Perfect Storm" has been more of a tropical depression.
He's been getting on base at a rate of .285. That's terrible, especially for a guy who was hired to be a nuisance on the base paths. He's OPSing at a rather pedestrian clip of .679. He's also striking out way more than he ever had before in his career.
When one doesn't get on base, one doesn't score. His base running runs above average, a stat Crawford has always excelled in, are approaching career lows. There doesn't look like there's any reason to say what I'm about to say, but like several Doritos commercials have told me, it's important to be both bold and daring.
Crawford is going to turn it on at some point in September. He just has to. He's a freakazoid talent with the ability to break out. We've seen him do it a few times this season.
While Crawford just hit .155 in the month of April (which is a big reason why his season long batting average is not even 100 percentage points higher now), he hit .304 in May. He was hitting a respectable (in accordance with his career average) .278 in June until he went down with a hammy strain.
When CC was placed on the DL, it looked like he was getting back into the swing of things. Injuries can derail a hot streak like one wouldn't believe. Now that it's September, it's time for Crawford to the world aflame with his bat and his feet. Like we thought he would.
Jason Varitek Will Take over the Brunt of the Catching for Playoff Preparation
Like the Red Sox as a whole did at the beginning of the season (shut up, Corey!), Jarrod Saltalamacchia looked like Quadruple-A catcher; a player too good for the minors, but not quite major league caliber. His line of .206/ 0 HR/ 6 RBI for the month of April was deplorable.
When April showers turned into Mayflowers (see what I did there? Pilgrims!), Jarrod found his stroke. The batting average was still down, but he hit four homers in the month which isn't bad at all for a catcher. June was a great month for Salty seeing as he had a .945 OPS. He's cooled off a tad in the past two months, but for anyone to have expected more out of Salty this season should cool their jets: he's been pretty good. His defense has improved greatly too.
While Salty is a young catcher that's still trying to better himself by laying off of curveballs in the dirt (which is his kryptonite), the captain and oft-used platoon Jason Varitek is approaching the end of his career. We don't know if this will be his last attempt at ring number three, but it's at the very least one of his last.
Tek has been a bit of a surprise in his own right. His 2011 OPS (.767) is only four points lower than Salty's (.771). He's shown that he can get around on the occasional fastball. An encouraging sign considering that the guy looked like he swinging a totem pole for the past two seasons.
Since Tek has a lot more playoff experience than Saltalamacchia and isn't really any worse than Jarrod is, expect to see Jason start more games. He'll probably get more starts in October too since Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz (fingers crossed) are more comfortable with Varitek behind the plate.
The job will be Jarrod's next season.
Big Papi Will Establish Himself as a Worthy MVP Candidate
Ortiz is on fire right now. He hit an exceptional .411 in August, and has hit at an incredible .545 clip the last seven days. Papi is in the midst of a 15-game hitting streak, the longest of his Red Sox career...which is weird.
For a guy who is as big a name as Ortiz is, his performance has been ballyhooed mostly under the radar. When pundits point out the MVP candidates on the Boston Red Sox, the only names typically mentioned are Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Adrian Gonzalez. Ortiz has better power numbers than Gonzalez, a better average than Pedroia, and he gets on base more Ellsbury does.
Since Ortiz is a DH, his WAR is "only" at 4.1. This is below Ellsbury's 7.7 WAR (second in the bigs, bee-tee-dubs), and Pedroia's 7.4. Adrian Gonzalez finishes third in the group with a 5.7. All three of those players are considered the Gold Glove favorites at each of their positions.
Keep this in mind: the people who vote in the MVP race don't even know WAR exists. They think it's a topic reserved for the Middle East. If Papi keeps this torrid pace going in September, who knows what will happen in the hardware races.
Josh Reddick's Slide Will Continue
I have always thought that Josh Reddick could be a quality major league outfielder. He has a great swing, and there's a high ceiling for both average and power. He can be a bit shaky in the field at times, but he shouldn't cost the team too many games with his play in right field. He also gets huge bonus points for not being J.D. Drew.
Sadly, Reddick has regressed in a big way. Since hitting .406 in June, Josh has seen his average fall every single month. His July average ended up being .280 and his August performance garnered him a lack luster .208. His power seems to have been completely sapped too. He slugged .488 and .338 in June and July respectively.
Unless Drew comes back and performs like a $14 million a year outfielder should, and he won't, Reddick will keep his position in right. Unfortunately, he'll continue to plod along. I hope I'm wrong.
Clay Buchholz Will Come Back and Provide a Real Boost to the Rotation
Josh Beckett and Jon Lester are a formidable playoff 1-2, but the third pitcher in a playoff rotation is often an x-factor. Clay Buchholz is expected to return at some point this month and he didn't waste too many bullets in the arm this season. He could very well be fresh and ready to go once he gets off the shelf.
Clay is a young pitcher, but he's proven his worth at this level of play. A guy with a changeup like his should be expected to perform well in the playoffs when every batter is so jacked up on adrenaline that they are swinging for the fences all the time.
There wouldn't be too many pitchers better than Clay at the three spot. He'd certainly be better than what the Yankees would have to offer. The only team out there that could beat Boston in the third starter department would be Philadelphia, and we wouldn't need to worry about that until the World Series anyway.
Jacoby Ellsbury Will Wrap Up the AL MVP Race
Jose Bautista has been the best baseball player on the planet this season. Too bad his team sucks.
2011 has been a year of redemption for Jacoby Ellsbury. Members of the media, for reasons I don't quite understand, thought Jacoby quit on the team last season. In reality, doctors and trainers botched his rehab from freak rib injuries. He quit on nobody.
We now see why Theo didn't buy into the crap that people said about Ellsbury. The kid could play and he was still getting better. Man, did he get better.
He's got an outside shot to be a 30-30 leadoff guy, an incredibly rare occurrence. He is also a spray hitter and has the speed to beat out infield dribblers. There's practically no way to defend against Jacoby Ellsbury.
Speaking of defend, have you seen his defensive sabermetrics this season? They're unreal. It's what will put him over the top against Curtis Granderson in the MVP race.
Dustin Pedroia is known for having fantastic Septembers, so he's still got a legitimate shot to win the biggest award in Major League Baseball for the second time. But if Jacoby keeps on keeping on, he's going to have to get a bunch of new shelves for trophies this offseason.
The Theo Epstien to the Cubs Rumors Won't Go Away
It seems unthinkable that the boy from Brookline would ever leave his favorite team's side. However, baseball is a business...especially for GMs.
Theo hasn't indicated his next move one way or the other, but put yourself in his shoes for a second. How amazing of a legacy would it be for one GM to end two curses? The Cubs have waited for a title much longer than the Red Sox ever did, so their anguish is without compare.
If Theo were to rescue them too, he'd practically be Jesus.
The talk won't die down until Theo goes to Chicago or Theo asserts he's staying put.