(NOTE FROM GREY: Last week I sent out feelers to the top baseball team blogs to see if they would be generous enough to write a quick preview for their favorite team. So over the course of the next two weeks, mixed in with your daily fantasy info, you will get some of the most astute, in-depth coverage of teams around the major leagues for the upcoming 2008 season from the people that know these teams best. Each post will include a link to their site, please take time to visit these bloggers’ sites, because these posts are truly the tip of the iceberg for their team knowledge. Now enjoy the 2008 Boston Red Sox preview.)

If you had asked me a month ago, did I think the Boston Red Sox could win a World Series again in 2008, I probably would have said yes. And why not? The Sox kept the core of the 2007 World Championship Team (unlike 2004, when Pedro, Johnny Damon and Derek Lowe were allowed to leave…) and did not keep themselves so crazy busy running around in the off-season that they are exhausted (OK, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy WAS semi-amusing…) and, with the exception of some of the starting rotation being a little older (Tim Wakefield and Curt Schilling are both 41 years old) it is basically the same team (Doug Mirabelli notwithstanding…)And then all hell breaks loose–and Curt Schilling is out at least until the All-Star Break, if not forever, Josh Beckett throws a warm up pitch last weekend and comes up lame, Coco Crisp hasn’t played in nearly two weeks because of a groin injury, and Julio Lugo just started playing after missing more than a week with back problems of his own…

And yes, most of these are normal occurrences that happen during the spring, and if the Sox had another 2 weeks of Spring Training, like everyone else (except for Oakland) it probably would not have the same urgency. But since the Sox are looking at a 17-hour plane ride this Wednesday, plus playing their 1st two games of the 2008 campaign a little more than a week from now, its a huge deal, especially the Josh Beckett injury. Fortunately, he has started a rehab program to get him back into the rotation as soon as possible. Also, with the beginning of the season structured as it is, the Sox can go with a starting rotation of 4 for some time…hopefully enough time to get Josh back 100%.

That being said, here are my thoughts with regard to the 2008 version of the Boston Red Sox:

Needs to Improve: JD Drew, Julio Lugo, Coco Crisp, and Manny Ramirez: JD Drew (not including the Grand Slam in the post season) and Julio Lugo were abysmal last year. Yes, Drew managed to stay healthy (relatively speaking) and he is a very good right fielder (sorry, Trot), but Julio Lugo is even worse than advertised (19 errors, .968 fielding % and a 237 BA with 8 homers). Supposedly he had some sort of flu-thing going in the off-season in 2006 that caused his downturn in ’07–we’ll see. Coco has never really lived up to the hitting hype he had with Cleveland, although he did make some spectacular plays in CF. Manny, coming off one of the worst seasons of his career (.296 with 20 homers), is supposedly all focused and coming off the best off-season training ever.

Can they repeat: Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Mike Lowell, Hideki Okajima, and Josh Beckett: Everyone knows the story about Dustin Pedroia–Horribly awful in April (batting .179, and everyone is screaming for his head) he then goes on the a hot streak for the rest of the year, (.317 with 8 homers) including the post season (where he played with a broken hamate bone in his hand) and wins Rookie of the Year. Kevin Youkilis, his 1st year all year at 1st base, breaks the record for error-less games at 1st, and wins his 1st Golden Glove, also has his best year at the plate (.288 with 16 homers), Mike Lowell, (can you believe he was the “take him or you can’t have Josh Beckett” guy?) ANOTHER career season with 120 RBI’s and a .324 BA.

Then we have Josh Beckett (20-7, 3.27 ERA), the only 20 game winner in all of MLB last year (and the only 20 win season of his career), should have started the All-Star Game, and you always felt surprised when he was on the mound and the Sox lost–he was as much of a lock as anyone could be in baseball…except for Okajima. Everyone thought the Sox signed this guy to keep Daisuke Matsuzaka company! He ends up surpassing Daisuke, going 3-2 with 2.22 ERA–and completely baffling hitters with his odd delivery…

Can they maintain: Jacoby Ellsbury, Big Papi, Jon Lester, Tim Wakefield, Mike Timlin, and Jonathan Papelbon: Jacoby Ellsbury only played 33 regular season games with the Red Sox in 2007–and managed a .353 BA, 3 homers, and to steal 9 bases–he then gets into 7 games in the post season when Coco Crisp became a black sucking hole in the batting order, and proceeds to hit .360 on the big stage. He can’t possibly sustain THOSE kinds of numbers over 162+ games in a full season–can he?

Only Big Papi can hit .332 with 35 homers and be considered to have a “off year”. Dealing with the pain of a bad knee pretty much all season, David Ortiz hopes to put up more Papi-like monster numbers this year, as he is 100% recovered from him off-season knee surgery… Jon Lester, a year removed from his cancer ordeal, and winner of Game 4 of the 2007 World Series, Jon has said he has more strength and focus this year, and wants everyone to forget he is “the guy who had cancer”. He has a 4-0 season last year; with some flashes of brilliance. If he can reduce the “nibbling” around the plate, punish the strike zone, and stop getting himself into the high pitch counts, he will be better than just a #5 starter…

Everyone forgets that Tim Wakefield was kicking some serious butt last year before being felled with shoulder issues that kept him off the post season roster. Tying his highest win total (17) Wake chews up innings–and last year was no exception. He started 31 games and threw 189+ innings in 2007. Now that his shoulder issues are behind him, I expect Wake will give the Sox exactly what he always does–and anchor in the rotation–and 12-15 wins–and about 200 innings…Mike Timlin just turned 42, is going into his 6th year with the Sox, says this is his last year, and has made more than 1000 appearances. This guy has NOTHING left to prove. And while he always seems to let that inherited runner score, there has been many times when he has been on that mound, and you just KNEW no batter was going anywhere–except back to the dugout…

Speaking of keeping people in the dugout, is it possible Jonathan Papelbon can get BETTER? Everyone was so sure he would be in the starting rotation at the beginning of last year, until he wasn’t. And being careful with him actually worked, and he excelled in 2007, when he had 37 saves and a minuscule 1.85 ERA…and this year he has added a 3 pitch, a slider to his repertoire…

The Wild Cards: Curt Schilling, Manny Delcarmen, Clay Buchholz: Will Curt pitch ever again? He is on the infamous “rest and rehab plan” and only time will tell if it was the way to go. Manny Delcarmen has flashes of brilliance, and some say, some of the best pure stuff in the bullpen. If he can he harness that, he will be a force to be reckoned with. Clay Buchholz was shut down at the end of 2007 with shoulder fatigue–but in the off-season he added 10 lbs. of muscle and trained to be able to handle a full season of pitching. Can he be the phenom everyone hopes he can be?

Players in a class of their own: Jason Varitek: ‘Tek will never be a force at the plate (.255 with 17 homers in 2007. But behind the plate is entirely different story. His preparation and attention to detail has earned him the respect of pitchers, catchers and players all over major league baseball. No one is better than handling a staff mixed with veterans and rookies alike–NO ONE…without him, Sox don’t win–nuff said.

Everyone else: The mix of bench players (Alex Cora, Sean Casey, Kevin Cash, et al) and the bullpen guys (Kyle Snyder, Julian Tavarez, Javier Lopez, et al), will play a huge part in how rested, loose and focused the rest of team is. The backup guys need to get it done as well, whether its giving rest to a player in need of a day, or stepping up when someone goes down with an injury.

Making predictions with regard to how teams end up when its all over is usually not my thing–162 games is a LONG time. Anything and everything can happen–and usually does. Despite that, I do think the Sox will be in the mix again come the post-season. But there are a lot of very good teams out there (Cleveland, Tigers, etc) so by no means do I feel its a forgone conclusion the Sox will get the World Series.

But I am hoping…

Boston Red Thoughts
Red Sox Commentary from a Red-Headed Boston Fan in Yankeeland

  1. Thanks Christine for the post!

    What are your thoughts on Dice-K? Do you see him improving, repeating, maintaining, or a wildcard?

    As a Yankee fan, I’m finding this to be the most interesting year for Yanks-Sox starting pitching ever. The prospects are exciting and the ‘aces’ are anything but sure things (I don’t think Beckett and Pettitte get more than 25 starts)….

  2. Hi Rudy:

    I KNEW I was forgetting someone! :-) Probably an unconscious thing on my part, as Daisuke is a tough one to put into any one place–But I would have to say he will improve. He is too good of a pitcher not to. He was 15-12 with a 4.40 ERA last year, which is pretty much what I wanted/expected to see out of him, with the transitioning to American baseball/culture/etc. With all of that behind him (and a new son) I can see him winning a couple more, going deeper into games, and mixing up that extensive arsenal of pitches he has…I can easily see a 17-8 3.52 ERA for him in 08…

    Thanks for your comment!

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