What am I to make of the Sox chances this year? I’ve been pondering this question for a few months now, but since baseball season is now officially upon us, I’ve got to put something down in writing, something to make my thoughts “official.”
Having been a Red Sox fan during the frustrating ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, I remain skeptically enthusiastic. I like the pitching on this team, though I’m not as high on the starting rotation as some. There are still many questions. Will Josh Beckett, coming off an injury plagued season, be able to regain the ace-level stuff he had in 2007? Will the remarkably resilient John Lester bounce back from the shit-load of innings he pitched last year, or will we see residual fatigue hamper his effectiveness? Will Dice-K be adversely affected by pitching in the WBC, and even if not, will he be a more efficient pitcher than in ’08? Is Tim Wakefield truly ageless, or will the years of flinging the knuckler finally catch up to him? Is the fifth starter spot truly filled with the combination of Brad Penny/John Smoltz/Clay Bucholz?
The wrong side of a few of those questions may eliminate the Sox pitching advantage.
However, I have fewer questions regarding the bullpen, which I believe will be very effective this year.
So that gets us to the offense. I think we can be confident in just three of our position players’ offensive production. Jason Bay, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis should be good — but will they be great? Maybe, but the odds are that none of these three will match their 2008 numbers. But they will not have to if Mike Lowell, David Ortiz and J.D. Drew have solid seasons. Jason Varitek will have a better season than last year — if he doesn’t, he may not even be the starting catcher by the end of the season. Jed Lowrie will be solid, but not spectacular. But the key to this season is going to be the lead-off hitter. If this team is going to be playing in October, their offensive MVP needs to be Jacoby Ellsbury. He’s the spark that will light this offense. If he can be the player we glimpsed at the end of ’07, I believe the Sox can play deep into the fall. If he is not, Theo Epstein will have a longer off-season to contemplate why he gave Drew such an idiotic contract.
The bottom line: I am cautiously optimistic about this season, but I think the Sox could finish anywhere from first to fourth. That’s just the reality in today’s A.L. East.