Last Five Seasons:
2010: 89 – 73 (3rd AL East)
2009: 95 – 67
2008: 95 – 67
2007: 96 – 66 (WS Champs)
2006: 86 – 76
Runs Scored: 818 (2nd, AL to NYY)
Runs Allowed: 744 (11th in the AL, but considering where they play, it was 6th if you adjust for the park)
After a lack-luster start in April, the Red Sox started rolling in May and June, at which point everyone started getting dinged up, including Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron, Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, and J.D. Drew (which, frankly, was expected). Bill Hall turned into an everyday player, Darnell McDonald was forced into the lineup, and Mike Lowell’s body finally gave out having to play as often as it did. Even Tim Wakefield went down with a back injury. The Red Sox played near .500 the rest of the way, but with both New York and Tampa playing lights out in July and August, the Red Sox weren’t really in the race despite almost making it to 90 wins.
The Red Sox made few mid-season moves of any consequence, other than putting people on the DL.
On paper, as good a rotation as can be found. Jon Lester is an ACE; a lefty in Fenway with a 3.25 ERA and 19 wins who strikes out more than a batter an inning and keeps the ball in the park. Clay Buchholz earned 28 starts and was even better in terms of runs saved (34 to 26.5), but Lester really had the better stuff and pitched 35 more innings. John Lackey took a while to get started, but still won 14 decisions and pitched 215 innings. Daisuke Matsuzaka only made 25 starts, but had a winning record. Josh Beckett, on the other hand, made 21 awful starts and finished with a 5.78 ERA. He needs to move off the fastball and find another out pitch. Tim Wakefield made 19 starts, got swatted around more than usual, and won just four games. He’s not retired yet, but the league may retire him anyway.
The same five return for 2011, and Wakefield may not have a spot on the roster. I don’t think Buchholz will match his 2010 rate, but Beckett could be better if healthy. I don’t expect improvement from the three or five spots (Lackey or Matsuzaka) and worry what would happen if a key starter went down to injury.
Like Josh Beckett, Jonathon Papelbon was more hittable than in previous years, finishing with a 3.90 ERA. He walked more batters than usual and just had days where it didn’t work for him. I think he’ll be fine, but 8th inning stud Daniel Bard could get some save opportunities if needed. Hideki Okajima fell off a little in 2010, as did Manny Delcarmen. Guys like Scott Atchison, Ramon Ramirez, Dustin Richardson, and Scott Schoeneweis didn’t really move the needle. On the other hand, Lester, Lackey, and (down the stretch) Buchholz didn’t need more than two innings of help most nights.
Still, the Red Sox brought in a bunch of guys to help out for 2011, including Bobby Jenks (not really a closer), Matt Albers, Dan Wheeler, and Alfredo Aceves to shore up the pen, which should make it slightly stronger than in 2010.
Last year, Victor Martinez proved he could still hit and Jason Varitek proved he could still catch. On the other hand, Varitek can’t hit much, and Martinez should be a DH. So, for 2011, Martinez will get to DH in Detroit, and the Red Sox imported Jarrod Saltalamacchia to be the primary starter. Salty was acquired for prospects in July, 2010 but didn’t play much. And, he comes to Boston as a question mark. He has a great work ethic, but hasn’t ever really been a dominant hitter. And, last year he was sent to AAA because he couldn’t make the throw from behind the plate back to the pitcher. Let’s hope he’s got this behind him now…
Offensively, this will be a slide – maybe 25 runs – but defensively (unless Saltalamacchia falls off on his game) it could be a minor improvement.
The infield was anchored by third baseman Adrian Beltre, who had his best season in Boston, hitting .321 with power, and fielding his position as well as just about anybody. Shortstop Marco Scutaro didn’t miss many games, but he didn’t make many plays in the field, made quite a few errors, and his batting fell off to league average levels. The other half missed half the season – Dustin Pedroia only played in 75 games and Kevin Youkilis missed 60.
Youkilis produces a run a game and can still field. He will be moving off of first base to take over third as Beltre signed a free agent deal with Texas. And, Adrian Gonzalez was aquired from San Diego (albeit after shoulder surgery) to play first base. A healthy Gonzalez is a world class hitter and fielder, and if Pedroia plays 140 games, this unit will generate perhaps 15 more runs than they did in 2010. If Scutaro struggles at the plate this year, it might be time to dig into the minors for glove wizard Jose Iglesias. Jed Lowrie backs everyone up in 2011.
The outfield of Ellsbury, Cameron, and Drew hardly ever played together, so it was a patchwork crew of guys like Jeremy Hermida, Bill Hall, Ryan Kalish, Darnell McDonald, Daniel Nava, and Josh Reddick.
This should change as the Red Sox signed Rays left fielder Carl Crawford for 2011. Ellsbury will be back, hopefully staying in the lineup and batting in front of the boppers, playing center. He’s the wild card of this group, not being an especially good defensive centerfielder, and having lost much of the season to build on his offensive tool set. Drew returns to play as many games as possible in right, with Cameron and McDonald around to pick up games and innings as needed. If Ellsbury can return to form, and having added Crawford, the offense could improve by 50 runs, easily.
David Ortiz is still around, having generated 98 runs of offense with a 32 – 102 – .270 campaign. He’ll still play, but he might get a day off from time to time against a tough lefty with Cameron on the bench. I don’t see Ortiz repeating 2010, but at least the Sox have options.
Down on the Farm:
AAA Pawtucket’s featured outfielders already got a shot, those being Ryan Kalish and Josh Reddeck – both are mid-level power decent bat types and don’t have jobs in Boston just yet. Among the pitchers, Michael Bowden keeps getting calls to the Red Sox, but hasn’t been able to stick and probably is looking forward to free agency.
Pitcher Felix Doubront made eight solid starts for AA Portland, earning a trip to Pawtucket. After another eight good starts, he was in Boston for a few outings and didn’t look overmatched. I don’t see him making the roster in April, so expect the lefty to start in AAA for 2011. Anthony Rizzo is a potential power source, having hit 20 homers in Portland after being moved up from A+ Salem. Just 21, he may start at Pawtucket, but his route to the majors is also blocked.
Salem featured pitcher Stolmy Pimentel, who has decent command but needs a little seasoning. Infielder Oscar Tejeda hit .307 in Salem, with decent power and some speed. Ryan Lavarnway showed power and command of the strike zone and should start the year at AA Portland.
The Red Sox are the consensus pick to win the AL East and possibly the World Series. It’s hard to argue with the logic. By my methods, I see the offense improving by perhaps as many as 40 runs, and the pitching holding steady. The defense will be stronger in the outfield, and the only hole will likely be short and catcher. With 860 runs scored, and about 740 runs allowed, that puts the Sox around 93 wins. It’s fewer than many others have predicted, but still enough to edge the Rays for the division crown.