These are strange days for your Boston Schizophrenic Sox. One day they are getting swept by the lowly Orioles . . . the next they look like world-beaters against the Anaheim Close To Los Angeles In California Near Baja Angels. One day (actually, most lately) Big Papi looks more lost than Kate and Sawyer . . . the next he’s swatting home runs again. One day, arms like Beckett and Lackey are getting worked over like a fat hooker in Bangkok . . . the next they look like the guys the Sox expected when they threw truckloads of money at them this spring.
There’s no telling what you’ll get when they step onto the field.
The only thing that’s for sure is it is a long, long season. Over the past 15 years, the Red Sox have won a lot of April championships . . . just two of which translated into World Series rings. We know they have a greating starting rotation. The bullpen arms will most likely come around. And they should score more runs with that lineup. Maybe not a ton . . . but more than they’re getting now. As the season progresses, they’ll be in the hunt. We know the Yankees will be there, too. The big question looming — the monster in the closet — is: Just how good are these Tampa Bay Rays?
Finally . . . FINALLY . . . the 2010 season is upon us. This means it’s also time for that futile exercise that is predicting the upcoming season. Like most of us, I can sometimes let out a hardy “BOOYAH!” when picks go right; more often, I’m left scratching my head saying “Didn’t see that one coming.” But for some reason, it is still fun. So, here are this year’s brilliant picks:
2. Red Sox (Wild Card)
5. Blue Jays
The great thing about this season is almost every division is wide open. Our own AL East is no different, and I could easily see each of the top three teams winning the division. At the end of the year, the top three teams might only be seperated by a few games . . . and although I see the wildcard coming from this division, that parity might make it otherwise. The Yankees have it all — good rotation, bullpen, and a fearsome offense led by two titans in A-Rod and Texeira. New York has the inside track. Expect the Rays to have a bounce-back year, ala the 2007 Indians and 2009 Rockies. They have a good rotation, and I expect a breakout year from David Price. They have a good line-up, featuring Longoria emerging as one of the game’s best players and Carl Crawford playing for a contract. And they have youth on their side. I originally penciled them in as second-place, but . . . . . I just can’t help but love the Red Sox rotation. They have a good bullpen, and I think their offense will be better than expected (although fans will hate how much Cameron strikes out), but their rotation is out of this world. Sure they have Beckett and Lester, and they added Lackey. But remembering how good Daisuke was at the end of last year, I see a very good season in store for him. And, given Buchholz’s age and development, this will likely be a breakout season for him. Given that, I can’t put the Sox at third. But this could go a number of ways. No matter what, it is sure to be exciting.
2. White Sox
The Twins always find a way to win, and with two superstars in Morneau and Mauer entering the prime of their careers, they are downright scary. Even with Joe Nathan going down, the Twins should handily win this division, but – again – probably fall short in October.
One of those wide-open divisions, a case can be made for any of these teams. But, at the end of the day, I still think the Angels — even though they no longer have Lackey and Guerrero — have too much overall talent. The Mariners have a GREAT pitching staff, especially if Erik Bedard comes back strong, which I think he will. But overall, I don’t see them hitting enough. The Rangers can hit, and they had some young pitchers step up last year, but will they step up or step back in 2010. I think they’ll step back. The A’s have a good young staff, but they’re not there yet.
2. Marlins (Wild Card)
The Phils have had a good run, and adding Roy Halladay was a master stroke. Expect them to win again, and Halladay will be dominant in the NL (he’s my pick for Cy Young this year). The upstart Marlins will challenge the Phils, and certainly be in the Wild Card hunt. They have excellent young pitching and good young bats, led by Hanley Ramirez. The Mets remind me of the Red Sox during the final days of the Dan Duquette regime — the ingredients are good, but the soup is bad.
Each year it seems I pick the Cardinals to tumble, and they almost always prove me wrong. This year, they look to be far and away the most well-balanced, talented team in the division. The Reds have an exciting young team and will surprise people, ala the 2007 Rockies and 2008 Rays. The Brewers have offense, but I’m not a believer in their pitching. The Cubs? Whatever . . .
One of those wide-open divisions, the only certainty is the Padres will finish dead last. Other than that, anyone can win the division. The Rockies have a ton of young talent, and Ubaldo Jimenez is ready to emerge as one of the game’s best pitchers. The Dodgers may have the most talent in the division, but I’m not sure about their soup (see the Mets). The Diamondbacks should have been much, much better last year. A young team that went to the NLCS in 2008, expect a bounce-back year if Brandon Webb is healthy. This could be a dangerous team. The Giants have good pitching, but not much else.
Red Sox over Phillies
Yep, call me a homer. But, like I said, I love the Red Sox rotation, especially if Daisuke and Buchholz step up as I think they will. Of course, I also said I wouldn’t be surprised if they miss the playoffs. BUT . . . if they do make it to October . . . I see that rotation carrying them all the way, even past the improved Phils.
Reports are that the top free-agent pitcher on the market — and longtime Sox nemesis — John Lackey took a physical with the Red Sox this morning, which could be a precursor to a deal.
If true, it’s an interesting move, and honestly one that I didn’t see coming. Given the depth of the Sox rotation, I didn’t believe they’d spend money on a big free agent pitcher this offseason, preferring instead to tweak their offense and save money for next offseason, when the team has some big decisions to make.
Signing Lackey will give the Sox an amazing starting rotation, with the front four being Beckett, Lackey, Lester and Matsuzaka — who, if he is anything like how he finished this past season, could next year be that amazing pitcher we’ve all been waiting for.
But this move could also set off an interesting chain of events. One of the most interesting ideas I’ve heard is that bringing in Lackey could give the Sox the flexibility to move Clay Bucholz, thereby possibly making a deal possible with San Diego for Adrian Gonzalez.
Another thing is what will now happen with Roy Halliday. Toronto NEEDS to move him this offseason. With the Sox out of the running, does that mean Halliday is headed to the Bronx, or – if they lose Lackey – will the Angels make an aggressive push to land him? Should be interesting . . .
A report in yesterday’s Boston Globe said the Red Sox are currently shopping Mike Lowell, and may even be willing to pick up half of his remaining salary. Obviously, this looks like they are laying the groundwork to deal Lowell immediately once they are able to work out a deal with San Diego for Adrian Gonzalez.
But I wonder if the Sox feel so uncomfortable by Lowell’s health issues these last two seasons and by his rapidly vanishing range at third base that they feel they need to replace him at third next year regardless of whether they land Gonzalez or not. I’m certainly leaning that way. It looks like Lowell’s days in Boston are over.
Also, I know I’ve said this before, but with the free-agent frenzy ready to kick into high gear next week I’ll say it again: I have a really bad feeling about this off-season. The most cause for concern is the vision of Jason Bay in pinstripes.
Face it, it makes all the sense in the world for the Yankees to go after Bay. They are at the end of both Damon’s and Matsui’s contracts. Getting Bay would be a huge upgrade for them. Even more, by signing Bay the Yankees would be dealing a CRUSHING blow to their rivals, the Red Sox. I really don’t see how this doesn’t happen.
If this does happen, you can all but kiss next season goodbye. Even with Bay, the Sox needed to upgrade their offense. Should they sign Gonzalez, but lose Bay, they are essentially only breaking even. Not to say that Gonzalez and Bay are equal; they aren’t. Gonzalez is a premier offensive force. But the Sox offense needs both those bats to compete with the Yankees. Signing Matt Holliday to replace him isn’t the answer. The way Boras is talking, he would cost too much. Plus, his Colorado years and his early season slump in Oakland leave a lot of questions as to what kind of hitter he really is.
Should the Sox lose Bay, 2010 is a rebuilding year.
As a Red Sox fan, it’s been a tough October. But tonight’s match-up featuring ol’ pal Pedro Martinez against the hated New York Yankees is easy to get excited about.
It certainly conjures up memories of glory days gone by. For Sox fans — in fact, for all “baseball” fans — the Pedro Martinez era in Boston was immensely exciting. Pedro provided us with arguably the greatest stretch of pitching in baseball history, and along the way left us with enduring memories — many against our most-hated rival, the New York Yankees. It’s impossible to forget him drubbing Roger Clemens in Game 3 of the 1999 ALCS. Or his 17-strikeout, 1-hit gem in New York; or his epic battle with Roger Clemens in 2000 that ended with Trot Nixon swatting a game-winning homer. Or the Zimmer game. Or his great performance in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS that unfortunately gets overshadowed by Grady Little’s all-time absentee-management moment.
Now that our 2009 Sox have been swept aside in the playoffs, Sox fans have worried we’d be stuck watching the Yankees waltz to a championship. Now, after Cliff Lee’s amazing performance in Game 1, we see our old hero — Pedro Martinez — stepping up in a spot where he can slay the Yankees once again. We know he isn’t the same pitcher he once was. But maybe . . . just maybe . . . he can recapture that magic for one more night.
I’ll certainly be watching to find out.
In the words of Mark McGwuire: “I’m not here to talk about the past.”
Let’s, for a moment, forget that ALDS with the Angels ever happened. Instead, let’s bring hope back to Red Sox Nation and talk about the future . . . unless the Sox fail to bring back Jason Bay. Then forget about hope and save yourselves, cuz this ship is sinking. So, let’s take a look at issues the Sox face this winter.
JASON BAY – The Red Sox absolutely, positively NEED to bring back Jason Bay. Rarely will I say the Sox “need” anybody. But the fact is the team’s weakest link this year was its offense. If the Sox lose their best offensive player (Bay), they likely won’t be able to make the offensive upgrades they need next season. The free agent market for bats this season is especially thin (forget Matt Holliday, the most overrated bat out there). And if the Sox land a good bat in a trade – like Adrian Gonzalez – but lose Bay, they’ll be swapping bats rather than making a significant offensive improvement next year (which would be keeping Bay and getting a Gonzalez). What scares me to death is there is no reason the Yankees won’t let Johnny Damon walk and instead throw a ton of money at Bay – which improves the Yankees offense AND hurts the Red Sox. This scares me.
JONATHON PAPELBON – I’ve been shocked at the number of people clammering to trade Paps since his blown save the other day. Sox Nation needs to get a grip. As I’ve said before, every great closer has blown big games (Rivera, Eck, Hoffman, Gossage). What makes them great is their ability to brush it off and come back. Papelbon has shown he can do it. Why would you mess with that? Did we learn nothing from the Closer By Committee fiasco that started the Theo administration in early 2003? It takes a certain type of mentality (or craziness) to be a closer, and Paps has that. Bard has great stuff, but we don’t know if he has the mental toughness to be a closer. He could instead be the next Billy Koch. That being said, the promise of Bard does give the Sox flexibility should it take dealing a Papelbon to bring a bigtime bat like Adrian Gonzalez in return.
ADRIAN GONZALEZ – In case you haven’t yet noticed, I want the Sox to back the truck up to land San Diego firstbaseman Adrian Gonzalez. He is a young, dynamic bat that could help this offense. And San Diego will be hiring a new GM (Jed Hoyer?) soon who will likely be looking to stock up on young talent. Slot A-Gonz into first, move Youk to third and . . .
MIKE LOWELL – He’s been a great player for the Sox for these past few seasons, but his best years are well-behind him. Injuries make him unreliable and limit his mobility in the field. If the Sox can find a better bat, they need to move on. The only way I see Lowell staying in that situation is if he was a platoon DH with . . .
DAVID ORTIZ – Undoubtedly my favorite baseball player of all-time. So it pains me to say this. I know he came back big in the second-half, and had impressive numbers as a result. Still, how many meaningful times did Papi come through this year against good pitching. Not many. He wasn’t a factor in the playoffs, and didn’t look like there was any hope he could be. Papi will never again be the great hitter he once was, and I’d say it was time for the Sox to move on, EXCEPT . . . tell me where the Sox are going to get another DH to replace him given how weak the free-agent market is. Assuming they keep Bay, the Sox are going to need to find a home for a new bat, and that will be in either Lowell’s or Ortiz’s slot. Given Lowell’s health issues, I wouldn’t be surprised if they dump Lowell, keep Ortiz at DH this year, and then try to replace him after next season.
JASON VARITEK – It’s hard to watch cornerstones of the 2004 championship team like Papi and Tek age and have their skills diminish. At this point, everyone has to accept that Tek is done. Even, probably, Tek. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him retire this offseason (but in some way that keeps that $3 mill option). At this point, I’m not sure the Sox offense can afford to have him as the backup catcher.
Sure, the Red Sox offense looked pathetic last night. Extremely pathetic. But this was a case of the Sox running into a talented pitcher who was as good as he could be. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the other team.
The reaction to Game 1 results is always overblown, especially in a short series. When the Sox took Game 1 against the Indians in 1998, fans talked of a sweep. Three games later, the Sox were eliminated. Twice this decade the Twins have taken a Game 1 against the Yankees; both times the Yanks easily won the series.
You can’t help but like the Beckett – Weaver matchup tonight. If the Sox take it, they’ve earned a split and gained home field advantage. Then the Angels have to try to win at Fenway — not easy for them. Of course, should the unthinkable happen, then it WILL be time to panic.