2009 BOSTON RED SOX PREVIEW
The Boston Red Sox were very successful in 2008. Despite finishing as the runner up in the AL East with a 95-67 record, the Sox qualified for the playoffs as the wild card. Even better, Boston managed to defeat the Angels in the first round before falling in seven games to the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALCS.
Like usual, the Red Sox are loaded up for another run this season. They return the vast majority of their team from last year and have brought in a few more players to boost their chances in the AL East arms race. While the Sox didn’t come remotely close to spending the money that the Yankees did this offseason, they should certainly be considered a serious threat to bring home the AL East crown.
The Red Sox have excellent starting pitching and their rotation is all but set entering the season. Ace Josh Beckett (12-10, 4.03 ERA, 27 starts, 174 IP in 2008) had a bit of a down year last season but is one of baseball’s best, especially in crunch time. Young star Jon Lester (16-6, 3.21 ERA, 33 starts, 210 IP) and Japanese hurler Daisuke Matsuzaka (18-3, 2.90 ERA, 29 starts, 167 IP) complete an excellent trio atop the rotation. Veteran Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield (10-11, 4.13 ERA, 30 starts, 181 IP) is virtually injury proof and has lost none of his effectiveness with baseball’s toughest pitch. Rounding out the rotation will be free agent signee Brad Penny (6-9, 6.27 ERA, 17 S) from the Dodgers. Penny was an All-Star in 2006 and 2007 and could be a major pickup for the Sox if he can regain his form. Also an option is youngster Clay Buchholz (2-9, 6.75 ERA, 15 starts), who struggled last season but has a world of potential. Remember, he threw a no-hitter in the closing days of the 2007 season. Boston has a great starting rotation which surely has the capability to lead the team to an AL East title.
Boston’s bullpen is also very deep. Jonathon Papelbon (2.34 ERA, 41 Saves) is one of the best young closers in baseball and is a very intimidating presence in the ninth inning. Setting him up will be a very solid bullpen, highlighted by Takashi Saito, Hideki Okajima, and Manny Delcarmen. Former Red Sox great John Smoltz should also provide a midseason boost for the Sox and they have the best bullpen in the division.
The Red Sox return a veteran infield, led by defending AL MVP second baseman Dustin Pedroia (.326, 17 HR, 83 RBI, .376 OBP, 20 SB). First baseman Kevin Youkilis (.312, 29 HR, 115 RBI, .390) is one of the best in baseball and will be paired on the infield corners with 3B Mike Lowell (.274, 17 HR, 73 RBI, .338 OBP). Both will provide the Sox with a lot of power. At shortstop, Jed Lowrie (.258, 2 HR, 46 RBI, .339 OBP) and Julio Lugo (.268, 1 HR, 22 RBI, .355 OBP) will provide an effective defensive platoon and score plenty of runs, though neither has any pop. Meanwhile, the Red Sox are awaiting an answer from longtime Captain Jason Varitek on a contract offer. If Varitek turns the Sox down, their only other option is Josh Bard (.202, 1 HR, 16 RBI, .279 OBP in 57 games). Either way, catcher looks like a position that the Sox will have to expect subpar offensive production this season after Varitek’s struggles in 2008. Another major contributor will be Designated Hitter David Ortiz (.264, 23 HR, 89 RBI, .369 OBP), who is coming off of a down season by his lofty standards. Expect Big Papi to bounce back with a very good year. Despite the offensive inadequacies at both catcher and shortstop, Boston still has a great infield.
The Red Sox have a potentially lethal outfield. Leftfielder Jason Bay (.286, 31 HR, 101 RBI, .373 OBP), who was acquired in the Manny Ramirez trade, was excellent after arriving from Pittsburgh and also plays excellent defense. In center field, Jacoby Ellesbury (.280, 9 HR, 47 RBI, .336 OBP, 50 SB) should continue to develop into one of the best young leadoff hitters in all of baseball while rightfielder J.D. Drew (.280, 19 HR, 64 RBI, .408 OBP) should also be a force. Former Rays star prospect Rocco Baldelli should be the primary backup and if he has truly put the strange injury issues that have dogged him for years behind him, he could be a very solid contributor as well. This is one of the top outfields in the division.
The Red Sox will field one of the best teams in Major League Baseball this season. Their starting rotation is deep, their bullpen is strong and they can score a ton of runs. While their archrivals from the Bronx loaded up this offseason, Boston stood firm with their own talented array of stars. Expect the Red Sox to win between 90-100 games this season and win the top-heavy American League East, though they could find themselves in a very difficult race with the Yankees and the Rays.
By Ben Burrows
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