Boston Red Sox 2010 preview

The remixed Red Sox will feature new starters at five of the eight defensive positions, as compared to opening day 2009. And they could look even more different in 2011, as David Ortiz, Josh Beckett, Jason Varitek and Mike Lowell all are in the final years of their contracts. In addition to the new faces this season, there is a new approach. Actually, it is a return to an old approach: defense and pitching.

The Red Sox won the John Lackey pursuit, and Daisuke Matsuzaka could wind up in the bullpen.
The Red Sox won the John Lackey pursuit, and Daisuke Matsuzaka could wind up in the bullpen.

Three questions

1. Do they have enough offense?
The same question was asked when Boston traded Manny Ramirez in July 2008. But Jason Bay filled in admirably, outproducing Manny from that point through the 2009 season. Bay is gone now, and the team didn’t sign a run producer to replace him. Instead, the Red Sox put an emphasis on run prevention with the acquisitions of center fielder Mike Cameron, third baseman Adrian Beltre and righthander John Lackey. It would help if the move to hitter-friendly Fenway Park revived Beltre’s bat and if Cameron chipped in with 20-plus homers.

Still, the Red Sox seem content. "Our goal is not to have the most prolific offense, although we wouldn’t complain if that turns out to be the case," Red Sox manager Terry Francona says. "Our goal is to try and win the most games possible in a very difficult division. We feel like we potentially have a very strong pitching staff, and if our defense plays up to its capabilities our staff should be even stronger."

2. Who will be left out of the rotation?
Clay Buchholz went 7-4 with a 4.21 ERA after replacing the injured Tim Wakefield in the rotation in the second half of 2009. His time has come. But it is easy to forget that Wakefield was 11-3 with a 4.31 ERA and was named to his first All-Star team before injuring his back. Francona has stated that he doesn’t want to use Wakefield in relief, and Wakefield doesn’t want to be a spot-starter. The key to the equation could be Daisuke Matsuzaka, who hid an injury at the start of last season and finished with a 5.76 ERA. If he struggles again, Dice-K could be bullpen-bound.

3. Will Big Papi homer before June?
Although Ortiz rebounded to finish with 28 homers and 99 RBIs, he didn’t homer until May 20 (in his 164th plate appearance of the season). While Ortiz’s final power numbers were respectable, his .238 batting average and .332 on-base percentage were his lowest for any season in which he played at least 90 games. There is little doubt that Varitek and Lowell, two other solid veteran leaders, are in decline. With the offense perhaps already a bat short, Ortiz must prove he can recapture some of the magic that once made him arguably the best clutch hitter in the majors. He will have extra incentive to do so in a contract year.

Projected lineup

1. LF Jacoby Ellsbury: Led MLB with 70 SBs, A.L. with 10 triples.
2. 2B Dustin Pedroia: 233 runs over past 2 years lead MLB.
3. C Victor Martinez: 41 RBIs, .912 OPS in 56 games with Red Sox.
4. 1B Kevin Youkilis: .413 OBP, .961 OPS were career highs.
5. DH David Ortiz: 27 HRs, 78 RBIs after June 6 led A.L.
6. RF J.D. Drew: 24 HRs were most since 2004 (31).
7. CF Mike Cameron: 20-plus HRs, 140-plus K’s past 4 seasons.
8. 3B Adrian Beltre: .179 AVG, 0 HRs in 56 career ABs at Fenway.
9. SS Marco Scutaro: Career-best .379 OBP with Jays ’09.

Projected rotation

1. RHP Josh Beckett: 10-1, 3.59 ERA at home last season.
2. LHP Jon Lester: 2.31 ERA after May 30 was 4th-best in MLB.
3. RHP John Lackey: 5.75 ERA in 9 regular season starts at Fenway.
4. RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka: 8.23 ERA before D.L. stint; 2.22 after.
5. RHP Clay Buchholz: 9 quality starts in final 12 starts.

Projected closerR

RHP Jonathan Papelbon: 24 BBs a concern, but 18 came before break.

Grades

Offense: B. They are due for a drop-off, but there still is plenty to like. Dustin Pedroia was an MVP in 2008, Kevin Youkilis can hit for power and average and Victor Martinez will be around for a full season. In addition, Beltre’s bat could awaken at Fenway Park, Cameron should be good for 20 homers and Marco Scutaro is coming off a career year.

Pitching: A. With the addition of Lackey, the Red Sox have the best Nos. 1-3 starters in the majors. And depth behind them. Despite losing Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito, the bullpen still is loaded. And Jonathan Papelbon, while not as dominant in 2009, still ranks among the best closers in the majors.

Bench: C. There should be plenty of experience, even if third baseman Mike Lowell is traded before the season. Captain Jason Varitek, a 13-season veteran, now is in a backup role. The infield reserves include Bill Hall, who hit 35 homers in 2006 but has just 37 since, and Jed Lowrie, who has battled a troublesome wrist. In the outfield, Jeremy Hermida and Josh Reddick supply depth.

Manager: B. In his seventh season with Boston, Francona will have to adapt to a new philosophy. But there is little reason to think that will be a problem. With two World Series titles on his resume, Francona has proven to be a solid tactician and great handler of talent (and egos).

Sporting News prediction: Few teams, if any, can match Boston’s pitching, which will result in a seventh trip to the postseason in the past eight years. As a wild card.

COMING WEDNESDAY: Rays preview.

Chris Bahr is a senior editor for Sporting News. E-mail him at cbahr@sportingnews.com.

The remixed Red Sox will feature new starters at five of the eight defensive positions, as compared to opening day 2009. And they could look even more different in 2011, as David Ortiz, Josh Beckett, Jason Varitek and Mike Lowell all are in the final years of their contracts. In addition to the new faces this season, there is a new approach. Actually, it is a return to an old approach: defense and pitching.

The Red Sox won the John Lackey pursuit, and Daisuke Matsuzaka could wind up in the bullpen.
The Red Sox won the John Lackey pursuit, and Daisuke Matsuzaka could wind up in the bullpen.

Three questions

1. Do they have enough offense?
The same question was asked when Boston traded Manny Ramirez in July 2008. But Jason Bay filled in admirably, outproducing Manny from that point through the 2009 season. Bay is gone now, and the team didn’t sign a run producer to replace him. Instead, the Red Sox put an emphasis on run prevention with the acquisitions of center fielder Mike Cameron, third baseman Adrian Beltre and righthander John Lackey. It would help if the move to hitter-friendly Fenway Park revived Beltre’s bat and if Cameron chipped in with 20-plus homers.

Still, the Red Sox seem content. "Our goal is not to have the most prolific offense, although we wouldn’t complain if that turns out to be the case," Red Sox manager Terry Francona says. "Our goal is to try and win the most games possible in a very difficult division. We feel like we potentially have a very strong pitching staff, and if our defense plays up to its capabilities our staff should be even stronger."

2. Who will be left out of the rotation?
Clay Buchholz went 7-4 with a 4.21 ERA after replacing the injured Tim Wakefield in the rotation in the second half of 2009. His time has come. But it is easy to forget that Wakefield was 11-3 with a 4.31 ERA and was named to his first All-Star team before injuring his back. Francona has stated that he doesn’t want to use Wakefield in relief, and Wakefield doesn’t want to be a spot-starter. The key to the equation could be Daisuke Matsuzaka, who hid an injury at the start of last season and finished with a 5.76 ERA. If he struggles again, Dice-K could be bullpen-bound.

3. Will Big Papi homer before June?
Although Ortiz rebounded to finish with 28 homers and 99 RBIs, he didn’t homer until May 20 (in his 164th plate appearance of the season). While Ortiz’s final power numbers were respectable, his .238 batting average and .332 on-base percentage were his lowest for any season in which he played at least 90 games. There is little doubt that Varitek and Lowell, two other solid veteran leaders, are in decline. With the offense perhaps already a bat short, Ortiz must prove he can recapture some of the magic that once made him arguably the best clutch hitter in the majors. He will have extra incentive to do so in a contract year.

Projected lineup

1. LF Jacoby Ellsbury: Led MLB with 70 SBs, A.L. with 10 triples.
2. 2B Dustin Pedroia: 233 runs over past 2 years lead MLB.
3. C Victor Martinez: 41 RBIs, .912 OPS in 56 games with Red Sox.
4. 1B Kevin Youkilis: .413 OBP, .961 OPS were career highs.
5. DH David Ortiz: 27 HRs, 78 RBIs after June 6 led A.L.
6. RF J.D. Drew: 24 HRs were most since 2004 (31).
7. CF Mike Cameron: 20-plus HRs, 140-plus K’s past 4 seasons.
8. 3B Adrian Beltre: .179 AVG, 0 HRs in 56 career ABs at Fenway.
9. SS Marco Scutaro: Career-best .379 OBP with Jays ’09.

Projected rotation

1. RHP Josh Beckett: 10-1, 3.59 ERA at home last season.
2. LHP Jon Lester: 2.31 ERA after May 30 was 4th-best in MLB.
3. RHP John Lackey: 5.75 ERA in 9 regular season starts at Fenway.
4. RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka: 8.23 ERA before D.L. stint; 2.22 after.
5. RHP Clay Buchholz: 9 quality starts in final 12 starts.

Projected closerR

RHP Jonathan Papelbon: 24 BBs a concern, but 18 came before break.

Grades

Offense: B. They are due for a drop-off, but there still is plenty to like. Dustin Pedroia was an MVP in 2008, Kevin Youkilis can hit for power and average and Victor Martinez will be around for a full season. In addition, Beltre’s bat could awaken at Fenway Park, Cameron should be good for 20 homers and Marco Scutaro is coming off a career year.

Pitching: A. With the addition of Lackey, the Red Sox have the best Nos. 1-3 starters in the majors. And depth behind them. Despite losing Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito, the bullpen still is loaded. And Jonathan Papelbon, while not as dominant in 2009, still ranks among the best closers in the majors.

Bench: C. There should be plenty of experience, even if third baseman Mike Lowell is traded before the season. Captain Jason Varitek, a 13-season veteran, now is in a backup role. The infield reserves include Bill Hall, who hit 35 homers in 2006 but has just 37 since, and Jed Lowrie, who has battled a troublesome wrist. In the outfield, Jeremy Hermida and Josh Reddick supply depth.

Manager: B. In his seventh season with Boston, Francona will have to adapt to a new philosophy. But there is little reason to think that will be a problem. With two World Series titles on his resume, Francona has proven to be a solid tactician and great handler of talent (and egos).

Sporting News prediction: Few teams, if any, can match Boston’s pitching, which will result in a seventh trip to the postseason in the past eight years. As a wild card.

COMING WEDNESDAY: Rays preview.

Chris Bahr is a senior editor for Sporting News. E-mail him at cbahr@sportingnews.com.

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