As a Red Sox season lays on the horizon it’s time for fans to get used to a few things. Firstly, Manny Ramirez is gone… for the entire season. Secondly, we aren’t the reigning champs although Red Sox fans like myself like to believe that we’re always the champions. And lastly, Curt Schilling’s future is no longer in question. He’s gone as well.
So basically, the pitching that has tried to carry the team for the last few years have to step up in a big way. After a mediocre season in 2008, Josh Beckett will make a stunning return as the ace in the rotation, so long as his health stays on the plus side. Followed by Dice-K and the newly signed Jon Lester, if health remains in the forefront for the rotation these top guns are quite the sexy top three. Followed by the old knuckleballer Tim Wakefield and an even older John Smoltz (once he get back on the mound in hopefully less than 2 months), this rotations could be an actual force. The veteran presence that Brad Penny brings will hopefully give more to the rotation than simply household names. The issue lies in the bullpen for our Sox. Papelbon will remain a force to reckoned with, but who will set him up? Masterson, Saito, Ramirez (not Manny – sorry), Delcarmen, Okajima and Lopez will have to fight it out and find a way to get the solid starting pitching in the hands of the nutty Papelbon. On paper? Looks great. But we all know that names aren’t anything and whether or not you know this bullpen, look for them to make some noise this season. They should be noticed. And hopefully not for any bad reasons.
The infield looks more or less the same as last year for this season’s Sox. The newly resigned 2008 AL MVP Dustin Pedrioa (now making $40.5 million over the next 6 years) will surely give the Sox one of the most solid middle infields in baseball. That saying, who’s going to be playing shortstop? Jeter? Ramirez? Nope. Right now it looks like Jed Lowrie or Julio Lugo. Not any real improvements made at shortstop, but it could work if Lowrie stay consistently good (or at least decent) and if Lugo stays healthy (which he didn’t for most of last season). They could be a reasonable one-two punch. But I’ll leave it at just that. Reasonable. I don’t have to get in to Youk of first. He’s a stud in the field and a stud at the plate. Maybe not a stud in the mirror though, but he does have a Gold Glove. When it comes to third base, do we have to worry about the old Gold Glover? Yes. Lowell’s hip isn’t in the best shape, but maybe it’ll be good enough to hold out for some time. It’s very undesirable to have to put Youk on third and who on first? Big Papi? Let the big guy take it easy with his wrist and bat when called upon. Hopefully his wrist won’t effect him like it did last year, but newly acquired Rocco Baldelli and newly re-signed Mark Kotsay might be able to fill the gaps if the case need be.
The outfield is rather different without Manny, but it’s rather safe to say that my little home-grown Canadian boy Jason Bay will be the man in leftfield. If it all works out, JD Drew will stay healthy and keep a spot in right while without Coco Crisp, Jacoby Ellsbury has to be more consistent in order to stay in the lineup and be a regular in center. He’s movable with Baldelli and Kotsay, but I think that Red Sox fans would rather see the young gun flourish in the field and more so, at the plate.
Thankfully our captain is back behind the plate and he’ll be catching everything other than knuckleballs. He’s a true leader and a face that should never leave the Fenway faithful.
Now, what do we have to remember as we get ready to start the 2009 season? Forget about Manny. He’s gone, and I’ll even stop mentioning him sooner or later. Curt won’t be a distraction anymore, because he’s gone as well. If you want to keep in touch check out his sometimes interesting blog (remember, he’s a pitcher, not a writer). Let’s hope that the rotation stays healthy and could regain championship shape. Let’s hope that the bullpen and keep things together between the big guys and Papelbon. Let’s hope that we stay healthy and that past/present injuries don’t come knocking at all. And let’s hope that we can improve on that game 7 loss in the ALCS last year. We came close, but we know that we could go further.
We’ll worry about the playoffs in a few months, for now play ball and let’s see where the season take us.
Until next time… GO SOX!
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Written by Jarred Coxford