2011 Boston Red Sox: 5 Keys for the Sox to Win the American League East
Although the Red Sox began the 2011 season with an embarrassing three-game sweep at the hands of the Texas Rangers, the Sox still have plenty of time to validate the media’s enormous expectations and secure a playoff spot.
However, in order to emerge victorious from a competitive American League East, the Sox must step back from the spotlight and focus on winning each individual game.
With a healthy and rejuvenated group of veterans, two superstar free agents acquisitions in Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, and a newly bolstered bullpen, the Sox are loaded with talent and can compete with any team in the league.
Nonetheless, it remains to be seen if the Sox can combine their enormous talent with the camaraderie and focus it takes to win the division.
Forget About Expectations
It seems that nearly every baseball analyst from Boston to Los Angeles tabbed the 2011 Sox to win the World Series, and several of the team’s new players competed like they couldn't forget about those massive expectations for one moment.
Star left-fielder Carl Crawford is batting just .182 on the season and went hit less in the Sox first two games, while new catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia was a combined 0-10 in the Rangers series.
As Saltalamacchia explained, “I was over-aggressive, but I've just got to slow it down, see the ball a little bit. I've got a long ways to go. I'm not going to judge my season on 10 at-bats.”
In order to put their early-season woes behind them, the Sox must adopt Saltalamacchia’s patient attitude and remain positive. As long as the team stays focused on the game at hand and accepts that they are not playing for a World Series title in April, the Sox will stay competitive in the AL East.
Emphasize the Importance of Pitching
Often overlooked in the attention surrounding Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez this offseason was the Red Sox veteran pitching staff and revamped bullpen.
Although they had a poor showing in Texas, the 2011 Sox are returning two of the top pitchers in the American League in Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. In addition, both Josh Beckett and John Lackey are looking to rebound from subpar years, and Daisuke Matsuzaka has the capability to find success in the fifth spot of the rotation.
Also, with the acquisition of former closer Bobby Jenks and the development of flamethrower Daniel Bard, the Sox bullpen should be able to close out games with relative ease. If Jonathan Paplebon proves unable to retain the closing job, the Sox now have two capable replacements in Jenks and Bard.
The Sox pitching staff is critical to the team’s success, but as long as the rotation stays healthy, the staff should remain one of the better groups in the American league.
Injuries proved the main culprit in the Sox collapse last season, but this year’s team is determined to stay healthy.
With leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury back at full strength after rib injuries that kept him out for all but 18 games last season, and MVP candidate Kevin Youkilis successfully recovered from a thumb injury that sidelined him in early August, the Sox homegrown stars are finally healthy again. I
f the Sox starters can remain healthy over the course of the season, the team should have no problem putting runs on the board with one of the fiercest lineups in the league.
Play Error-Free Defense
Although the Sox run-prevention strategy proved unsuccessful last season, the team’s new additions will certainly strengthen an already solid defense. With Gold Glovers Adrian Gonzalez at first base and Carl Crawford in left field, the Sox defense should provide an added edge to an already tough offensive team.
Nonetheless, defense often makes the difference in close games, and the Sox need to stay strong on the defensive front if they hope to win a pennant race that will most likely come down to a few games.
Win at Home
With one of the most passionate fan bases in the country and almost 700 consecutive sellouts at Fenway Park, the Sox should not be at any loss for motivation this season.
The fervent Fenway Faithful, coupled with Gonzalez’ expected power surge in Boston, should make for an impressive home record.
In addition, the Sox recent struggles have been on the road, and the team is looking forward to a special opening day series at home to regain their swagger.