Tuesday, March 4, 2008
30 Teams in 30 Days: Boston Red Sox
A look back: It was a great year to be part of Red Sox Nation in 2007. After falling behind 3-1 to the Cleveland Indians in the ALCS, Boston dug in deep to pull out three straight wins, then swept Colorado in the World Series to win its second crown in four years. After a year like that, the Red Sox are still loaded with veteran talent and home-grown young players, meaning that the road to the title goes through Beantown until someone says differently.
Positives on the field: Boston looked weak at second base last year, but Dustin Pedroia stepped up and filled the role nicely. The Red Sox think Jacoby Ellsbury can do the same thing at center field this year. Mike Lowell resurrected his career, J.D. Drew was a decent piece, and Boston’s bashers, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, continued to do what they do best. The Red Sox can slug with anyone, and the shape of Fenway Park gives them another big edge.
On the pitching side, Boston’s Big 3 became two when Curt Schilling tore his arm apart. He opted against surgery, but the earliest return for him is in July. That means Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz will have to step in and perform well if Boston is to keep itself ahead of challenges from New York and Toronto. But Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka are strong pitchers who give the Red Sox a great 1-2 punch. The bullpen is outstanding, anchored by Jonathan Papelbon and Hideki Okajima.
Negatives on the field: What if Boston’s wrong? Ellsbury is not a backup with a year or two under his belt, he just shined on baseball’s biggest stage. What if he just caught lightning in a bottle? If he wins the job in the spring and Boston trades Coco Crisp, the Red Sox are in trouble if Ellsbury can’t show he wasn’t a flash in the pan.
The same holds for Lester and Buchholz. Both will have to be ready to be strong enough to keep the rotation among the best. If one or both falter, the AL East is thrown wide open to the Sox’s challengers.
Outlook: Boston should be able to hold things together. The bullpen is basically lights out once a Red Sox starter hands them the game. The order is strong enough to hit with anybody, including the Yankees. With better pitching than New York and better hitting than Toronto, it’s Boston’s division to lose.
One interesting stat could prove fatal to the Red Sox in October: In this millennium, no defending World Series champion has won a game in the next year’s postseason. Only the 2002 Arizona Diamondbacks and 2005 Red Sox even made the playoffs, and both were swept in the first round.
Projected finish: 1st in AL East, lose to Indians in ALDS. Season opener is March 25 against the Oakland Athletics in Japan. Red Sox home opener is April 8 at Fenway Park against Detroit.
Spring base: City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Fla. The team plays all over the state of Florida during spring training, as it is about the same distance to the Tampa Bay teams as it is to Florida’s East Coast.
Fan of the team?: Check out Over The Monster, a Red Sox blog.
Come back tomorrow: A different shade of Sox become the subject, as the road trip goes to the South Side of Chicago and takes a look at the White Sox.
My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Stewart Copeland.