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2011 Boston Red Sox Predictions

2011 Boston Red Sox

With Major League Baseball’s opening day looming just two weeks away (March 31), it’s time for my 2011 Boston Red Sox predictions. Following an offseason highlighted by the signings of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, I think that NESN has said it best with their slogan for the Sox 2011 campaign — “We’re all in.”

The Offense — Contrary to popular belief, the Red Sox had plenty of offense last year — they finished second in MLB in runs and slugging percentage. This year’s offense is that much more dynamic — Carl Crawford essentially gives us a second Jacoby Ellsbury on the base paths, in the body of a much better hitter. A left-handed Adrian Gonzalez should bring Fenway’s right field fence to its knees, Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia are just hitting the stride of their primes, and David Ortiz is  coming off a good season. There will not be a more fun offense to watch in baseball, with the Sox combination of speed and power.

The Pitching — Critics like to poke holes in the Red Sox pitching staff. I look at it like this — John Lester has been just about as good as anybody the last few seasons. Clay Bucholz has finally lived up to his potential, following a 17-7 season with a 2.33 ERA. And my Red Sox pleasant surprise of the year is going to be John Lackey — I’m expecting a big season out of him. Clearly frustrated with his performance last year, Lackey arrived at camp 15 pounds lighter and ready to roll. I’d look for 16-10 or so out of him this year. That leaves us with the Red Sox perennial question marks — Daisuke Matsuzaka and Josh Beckett. These guys both have fierce stuff, but get lit up more than your average patron at a Grateful Dead concert. Who knows what to expect out of these guys — if either of them give us a season substantially over .500 we can consider it a bonus. As for the pen, Papelbon is obviously a bit of a question mark. No pitcher has ever saved 35+ games in a season to more criticism. The likes of Daniel Bard and newcomer Bobby Jenks should help sure up the closing roll.

The Question Marks — The Sox have 3 questions marks in my eyes. The first is middle relief, where the Sox did do some substantial offseason work. That said, I’m not as sure of the bullpen as the rest of Boston seems to be. I am always leery of relievers — a few closers aside they are usually just pitchers not good enough to be starters. I’m not predicting anything terrible here, I’m just not quite sure who is going to emerge as the backbone of the middle relief crew.

The second question mark I see is the shortstop position, which I consider to be the 3rd most important position on the field. I’m not buying into Jed Lowrie, and I never bought into Marco Scutaro. I was a big Nick Green fan myself and saw big things for him. Even so, every team has to have a weakness somewhere and I don’t think this is a big deal.

The biggest question mark in my eyes, by far, is at the catcher position. Jason Varitek is valuable in his leadership and the experience he brings working with the pitching staff, but he’s a glaring weakness in all other ways and likely won’t be able to play too many games. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is young, unproven, and inexperienced — not what you’re looking for in the catcher of a World Series contender. I think that the Sox will miss Victor Martinez much more than any player that they lost — Adrian Beltre included.

2011 Season Prediction – I’m not going out on a limb here at all, but I think the Red Sox will meet the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series. While the Phillies’ starters are undoubtedly superior, I think that the Red Sox offense will be dynamic enough to score the runs needed to beat a lackluster Phillies offense. I hereby predict that the Red Sox will win the 2011 World Series — and don’t call me a homer — I predicted that the Yankees would win the last two seasons.

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The Red Sox Player Missed Most

Bill Hall

By Thalia Bardell, howiGit Contributing Writer, Boston, MA

I’ve made it pretty clear by now that I don’t think this off-season could have gone much better for the Red Sox – I may or may not have called my father after midnight in the middle of the week to inform him that we had landed Carl Crawford. His response – grumble, “great,” click – whatever, he goes to bed at 9:00pm these days. That said there is one player that I’ll be missing come April. Bill Hall.

Psych! I bet you thought I was going to say Adrian Beltre – No, I’m all about Youkilis at third base and prefer not to have Sox left fielders systematically taken down over the course of the season. Surprised? Yeah, me too – because I spent the entirety of last season ripping on Bill Hall. His name became an adjective; you totally blew something, you “Bill Hall’d” it – how’d the interview go? Oh man, I Bill Hall’d it. It’s similar to the expression “I dropped the ball,” because it seemed throughout the course of last season that all Bill Hall did was botch routine plays. In reality, he didn’t play that badly – it’s hard to catch the ball all the time when you’re playing every single position on the field – at the same time. That’s an exaggeration, but at times it felt like Bill Hall was the only healthy player on the Red Sox squad. The night he came in and pitched a 1-2-3 9th inning (the only pitcher that night to do so) I felt like David After Dentist: “Is this real life?”

Upon hearing that the Red Sox had not resigned Bill Hall for the 2011 season I felt oddly disappointed about it – my initial reaction was: How could we not resign this guy! He was our entire team! Obviously resigning Hall wouldn’t make sense for the Sox or Hall himself but hindsight is 20/20 and the reason I hated on him so much is because he was stepping in for players whose shoes were hard to fill. When you’re used to Dustin Pedroia, Bill Hall is just not going to cut it, even if he plays solidly. I didn’t know what I had with Bill Hall ‘till he was gone and now that he’s the regular second baseman for the Houston Astros he’ll probably bat .356 or something, rock Hideki Okajima every time he faces him, and I’ll start hating on him all over again.

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Daisuke Matsu-Sucka?

Daisuke Matsuzaka

By Thalia Bardell, howiGit Contributing Writer, Boston, MA

The Boston Herald’s Red Sox Blog published a story entitled  “How Daisuke Might Pitch When He’s Not The Story,” in mid-February  — when I read it I was skeptical. Daisuke was described as arriving at Spring Training “tanned and relaxed.” Tanned, alright, but relaxed? I haven’t seen Daisuke look relaxed since he showed up stateside in ’07 – every time he’s on the rubber he gets that weird eyebrow crinkle where he looks like he’s about to cry, and he’s  always sweating, no matter the season. I’m at the game in a layer of Under Armor and he’s out there sweating. The point the story made was now that Daisuke is not at the center of both Japanese and American media attention he will finally have the chance to be a normal pitcher.

Consider this — Daisuke’s spring training ERA is 10.80 — if this is “normal” then we’re in for along season. Granted he’s only had two outings and it is just spring training, but Clay Buchholz has only had two outings and his ERA is zero. I’m in Ft. Myer’s now and had the (not-so-great) pleasure of watching Daisuke pitch on Saturday afternoon against the Florida Marlins. The man got lit up. Fine, he was working on his off-speed pitches, Saltalamacchia says his curveball looks better than ever, and the Dice himself was unconcerned with the start, but I’m stillsitting out there watching him give up seven runs in an 11-2 loss. Honestly, I don’t care if Daisuke feels good, because I don’t feel good about the perceived “best team in baseball” getting embarrassed by the Florida Marlins.

The Herald can write what they want about Daisuke, if people want to project that this year he might get back to the brief dominance he achieved throughout his ’08 season with the Sox that’s fine with me, but in a pitcher I appreciate consistency. (To those who are thinking, brief! He went 18 and 3 that season! I say for the amount of money are paying this guy I should get a couple more of those kinds of seasons before he earns the adjective “dominant.”) This is why my favorite Sox are Lester and Buchholz, even Lackey, who although not dominant last year came out to the mound with consistent stuff for every start and, arguably, just didn’t get enough run support. If you like a pitcher that dazzles once every five starts then Daisuke is your man, but I prefer dependable performance to the occasional sparkle. So while the Herald waits around for “tanned,” “relaxed,” “new look Dice-K” to show up to Fenway park, I’ll be sitting on my hands waiting for his damned contract to run out. Is it 2013 yet?

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Joba (Chamberlain) the Hutt

Joba Chamberlain

By Thalia Bardell, howiGit Contributing Writer, Boston, MA

Boy, could this Red Sox off-season get any better? Theo Epstein makes moves to sign Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. Cliff Lee decides to take his talent to the National League, Andy Pettitte retires, and now Yankee reliever Joba Chamberlain shows up to Spring Training looking, well, a little doughy. Of course, the Yankee organization does not want to focus on the weight, but General Manager Brain Cashman did say that Chamberlain was, “obviously heavier” and gave no indication as to whether the pitcher weighed in above or below the number suggested for the beginning of Spring Training. Chamberlain says it’s all muscle, but I say cue the Joba-the-Hutt jokes because if he’d been getting ripped in his bi’s and tri’s Cashman wouldn’t have called him “heavier,” he would’ve called him “fitter.” It’s not the weight that really matters – that’s just another excuse for me to rip on the Yankees — but  rather the question of preparedness. This extra weight around Joba’s middle suggests that perhaps he spent a little too much time watching pod racing and not enough time busting his butt at the gym. He didn’t work as hard in the off-season as he could have, or even should have, as a player who struggled last year and who’s future with the Yankees is up in the air. If I had something to prove I’d do my best to show up to Spring Training with a Situation style six-pack.

Like John Lackey – ok, he doesn’t have a six-pack – but he did arrive in Ft. Myers looking pretty svelte. Perhaps he wants to prove he can live up to the hype that he fell a bit short of in 2010 – that he’s worth the $82.5 million contract the Sox gave him. Whatever it is, something lit a fire under Lackey’s butt and instead of joining Joba at the buffet he amped up his cardio routine and lost about 15 pounds for the start of the 2011 season. This was at no urging from the Red Sox staff – now that’s taking some initiative. So really what I’m saying here is that the Red Sox look much better than the Yankees coming into 2011. No literally. We’re better looking. So what if the Yankees have Alex “the popcorn eater” Rodriguez at the hot corner? They’re down Pettitte’s cheekbones and we’re up a Jon Lester, a Clay Buchholz, and a newly slim Lackey. I say, bring it Yanks, because baseball is life and the same saying applies: “When you’re hot you’re hot and when you’re not you’re not”.

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Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon Sign with Rays?

Manny Ramirez Rays

I say……good for them! I don’t like this move because it obviously makes the Rays much more competitive than they would be without these guys. That’s a very solid lead-off hitter and an all-time great clean-up hitter. Sure, they are old, but I don’t want to hear it. Both of these guys are great players and have plenty left in the tank, although Manny is also an all-star head case. It’s good to see that the Rays aren’t simply dumping all of their players and are making moves to remain competitive in the AL East.

Both players signed one year deals, Damon for $5.25 mil plus incentives and Manny for $2 mil. In my book, both of those deals are straight up bargains. You can’t tell me that signing Manny Ramirez to the Red Sox for $2 mil wouldn’t have been a great move. Well played, Rays.

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Dustin Pedroia Versus Robinson Cano

Dustin Pedroia Versus Robinson Cano

Last week we briefly got into a little spat over the question of who is the better second baseman: Boston’s Dustin Pedroia or New York’s Robinson Cano. After our previous looks at David Ortiz versus Alex RodriguezTom Brady versus Derek Jeter, Tom Brady versus Peyton ManningMichael Jordan. versus Kobe Bryant, and Luke Harangody versus Shelden Williams, I couldn’t resist. So here it is….

I’ll start by saying this: Robinson Cano was a rookie in 2005, whereas Pedroia was a rookie in 2007 (Can0 is 28, Pedroia is 27). Given his past two seasons, you’ve got to give the edge to Cano. That said, for comparison’s sake, I think it’s much more fair to compare the first 4 seasons of each player’s career. Cano’s numbers popped in his 5th season, and Pedroia’s were beginning to pop last year until he was sidelined with an injury. A look at the first 4 years of each players career might be enlightening in telling how good each of these players could end up being.

Dustin Pedroia (2007-2010) – .307 AVG, 16 HR, 76 RBI, .374 OBP

Robinson Cano (2005-2008) – .304 AVG, 17 HR, 87 RBI, .336 OBP

Those numbers are adjusted 162 game averages for sake of comparison, and needless to say they are pretty damn similar. Let’s look at other accolades earned during that time:

Dustin Pedroia (2007-2010) – 2007 World Series Champion, 2007 Rookie of the Year, 2008 All-Star, 2008 AL MVP, 2008 Golden Glove, 2008 Silver Slugger, 2008 League Leader in runs (118), hits (213), & doubles (54), 2009 All-Star, 2009 League Leader in runs (115), 2010 All-Star

Robinson Cano (2005-2008) – 2006 All-Star, 2006 Silver Slugger

Pedroia clearly wins in this department by a landslide. Why is this, given their similar statistics? A great question. The common sentiment seems to be that Pedroia’s play had a bigger impact on his team. He certainly has displayed more leadership early in his career than Cano has. That said, he’s going to have a tough time keeping up with Cano in terms of power numbers, although he was off to a great start least year. Regardless of who you prefer, these are probably the two best second baseman in baseball. This will be an interesting rivalry to watch develop, that’s for sure.

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2011 World Series Predictions — Cliff Lee to the Phillies

Cliff Lee Phillies Trade

It’s beginning to look a lot like Chrrrrristmasss — well at least in Boston and Philadelphia. The Phillies shocked everybody yesterday, signing Cliff Lee to a 5 year $120 million dollar deal that instantly gives the Philadelphia the best starting rotation in baseball. I see this as a major setback for both the Yankees and the Rangers, as the Ranger have lost and ace and the Yankees have lost the best left-handed arm they could have gotten to help combat Boston’s new left happy line-up. This does mean, however, that New York will have deep pockets to sign nearly every other available player they want — and you know they’ll pull a big trade out of their hat sometime next season. All of that said, I think this move immediately makes the Red Sox and the Phillies the favorites for next season — I’ll predict here and now that they meet in the World Series. Let’s take a look at their starting rotations for 2011:

Phillies: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt

Red Sox: John Lester, Clay Bucholz, Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, John Lackey (Tim Wakefield)

Those rotations could create some fantastic pitching match-ups, but I think the Red Sox have a serious advantage offensively. That said, the average Philadelphia starter is a better pitcher and the Phillies have the advantage of playing in the National league — meaning the Red Sox won’t have nearly the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the Phillies rotation, as they would, say, the Yankees. Still, I believe that Boston’s chances of beating the Yankees in a 7 game series went up substantially with the Yanks missing out on Lee.

Lee’s move to the Phillies certainly was a surprise, and I can’t help but speculate on why he chose the Phils. He seemed to be happy in Texas, where he pitched the team to the World Series. The Yankees offered him crazy money and a chance to play in a huge market for a serious contender. His reasons for passing the Yanks by could have been the quality of life issue he raised, or it could simply have been the fact that he’d have to share a division with the Red Sox. Lee must have seen the Phillies’ rotation, wanted to get in on the action, and realized a playoff birth was more of a guarantee in Philly than anywhere else. His career numbers will likely be much better in the NL than the AL East, suggesting that he may have been concerned about his legacy. I’m sure his true reasons had something to do with getting a chance to win and his family’s quality of life — maybe his family has friends in the Philly area, who knows.

Regardless, the 2011 season should, without a doubt, be a competitive one.

Sox in 7 games.

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