2. Dominant offense-- The Sox are basically returning the same offense the led all of MLB in runs scored ( the most crucial stat of all), hits, OBP, slugging avg., OPS, Total Bases, doubles, and were 2nd in BA and third in homers. Three of their players finished in the top ten in the MVP balloting: Ellsbury, Petey, and A Gonzalez. This is the offense that led to 90 wins last season even with the stink of September. This year will lead to more.
3. Front of rotation--The three of Lester, Beckett, and Buchholz matches or exceeds every other front three in the AL East, surpassed by maybe the Angels( if CJ Wilson is not a free agent bust) in the rest of the league. But all you hear about is questions about especially Buchholz. Sure he needs to be healthy( they may have won last year if he had been), but I would like to know why I have heard talking head after talking head tell us the Yanks and Rays pitching is solid gold. In New York, I will give you CC but who in the hell is not a question in the rest of their vaunted 7 starters or so. Kuroda and Pineda ( setting aside the fact he may have an arm injury) are both coming from huge pitchers parks to the bandbox of Yankee Stadium, one is 37 coming from the NL West, the other a kid with 1/2 of a good season under his belt. Nova, I kinda like him in truth, but still one season under his belt he has too prove it again. Freddy Garcia?, Phil Hughes?, Andy Petitte: away for a whole season, 40 years old, and missed almost all of ST???
The Rays I will sort of give you Price and Shields, but Shields stunk in 2010 and Price was not his usual self last year. Everyone else is a kid still needing to prove they are solid MLB pitchers, and I still think their bullpen sucks. I like our front three, questions be damned.
4 Back of rotation- OK. for now it is Doubront and Bard, as it should be. For all the talk abut these spots this spring two truths are evident. First, the big 3 are more crucial to 2012 success. Second, there seems to be a sentiment that we need need Felix and Bard to win 15+ games apiece. The truth is last years 4/5 starters were awful, in Lackey's case historically awful. Just subtracting the Chin, Wakefield, and Wieland is a plus by itself. I have read a couple of stat based articles claiming if D/B can each pitch about 150 innings at an ERA of 4.50 this would add about 3 wins to the Sox total by itself( and set of 4.00 ERA's make 6 more wins!!) And as far as depth in those spots we also have Aceves, Padilla, Cook( until May 1, at least), A Miller, Ohlendorf, and Dice-K More on him later). Better depth than last year.
5. Offense upgrade in RF- Last year's main RFers of JD Drew and Josh Reddick( not to mention Mike Cameron) finished next to last in all of MLB in OPS, and poor in all offensive areas. Cody Ross, Ryan Sweeney, Darnell MacDonald, and/or Ryan Kalish will be a significant upgrade over 2011. This will potentially add to the dominant offense referenced above. Also, one Sox player often mentioned as a candidate to regress this season is Jacoby Ellsbury. This is a matter of debate..will he match 2011 numbers...dunno, but I bet he is the TYPE of player we saw if not numbers matching. RF, especially Cody Ross, will more than make up for any CF regression. Ross will hit over 20 HRs, book it.
6. Defense-- This will shoot off the charts if/when Jose Iglesias takes over at SS. But even without the flashy Cuban, Gold Glovers abound: Gonzalez, Pedroia, Ellsbury, Crawford, Youk( albeit at first not third). Ryan Sweeney is considered a plus defender at all three OF spots. Even at catcher the % of would be base stealers thrown out should increase with Saltalamachhia's steady improvement, the addition of Shoppach, and the team's renewed emphasis at slowing opponent's runners.
7. Millar/Mueller part 2-- A key reason for glory in 2004 was Theo's addition of guys like Millar, Mueller, Bellhorn, Ortiz( hit a jackpot there), Dave Roberts, etc. Ben Cherington has to some degree replicated this with guys like Ross, Sweeney, Punto, Shoppach, the inherited Mike Aviles, and maybe even Aaron Cook. These role players will all help in their own way on the field, and based on their reputations in a clubhouse, that apparently could use it.
8. Carl Crawford/Dice-K-- This pair are lumped together because of the matching return needed from injury, and the wrath brought on to both from a large segment of the Nation. First CC. Even if he is never again the Tampa Bay Carl, it is almost impossible for him to be as bad as 2011. It is nearly unheard of for a player of his caliber, with his skill set to completely fall apart at age 30. I do not believe this is what happened to him in 2011. The big contract seemed to make him press right out of the gate, never got in sync, landed on the DL)( who knows how much the wrist played in this, if any), and when Tito yanked him around the batting order, he just crashed. It is possible missing April this year can be a blessing in disguise. If the Sox can get of to a decent to very good start, he can sort of blend in when he is ready. personally, I would stick him in one of the first three spots in the order and leave him there...the delayed start may not allow for this if the opening season order is clicking. Either, way, even that aforementioned halfway to Tampa Carl would add a helluva lot to the dominant offense.
Now Dice-K. The Sox all ready have made their mid season pitching acquisition and it is Dice-K. All reports indicate he is on or ahead of schedule from Tommy John surgery recovery. This means anywhere from June 1(optimistic) to mid July. All the stars seem to be lining up from Dice. The common held belief that most pitchers are better after TJ surgery( the flip side is they sucked because they were hurt), Bobby V's experience in handling Japanese players and the their culture ( Tito and Dice-K never seemed quite on the same page), and his contract is up after this season. He is reportedly in fantastic shape and he will be totally motivated to sign a new contract with Boston or another MLB team( hello, LA Dodgers new cash). Put him down for 7-10 wins. Additionally, when he returns either Bard or Doubront can join the.......
9. Bullpen-- A complete re-make of the back end of the pen for innings 8 & 9 from Bard-Paplebon to Melancon-Bailey will begin as an unknown. Both newcomers had over 20 saves in the bigs last year, allowing for flexibility at the end. Both have "east coast" experience, Melancon as a former Yankee (briefly) and Bailey as a Jersey kid. Aceves is so valuable in the pen, and even if he regresses some from 2011, he will be key, and in Vincente Padilla they could very well have this year's Aceves. They could both also close or pitch the 8th if need be along with the long outings. Franklin Morales had a strong season last year, and will be another key. Rich Hill another TJ surgery survivor will be an important lefty specialist by mid year. And this will be Michael Bowden's chance to shine in the bigs. Junichi Tazawa and Alex Wilson could also help down the road. As mentioned, Bard and/or Doubront will beef the pen for a late season/post season push.
10. New Kids on the Block-- A criticism of the Sox system last year was they had no one ready to help right away. This year, Doubront is all ready in the rotation and at least 4 positional prospects, any or all of which will play a role this year, are ready or nearly so. Iglesias, Lavarnway, Kalish, and Will Middlebrooks will all be at AAA for a little more seasoning. Lars Anderson also seems to finally be ready( but where would he play?) All important depth.
11. Humiliation/Atonement-- All the returnees from 2011 must be humiliated and embarrassed by the crash of September, and maybe more so by the disclosures in the aftermath concerning their behavior and attitudes. These are top level professionals and they will be driven to erase that sting of last September all year long..from opening day on. Especially led by Jon Lester and the new ipso facto captain, Dustin Pedroia.
12 '12 World Series-- They will win it all because the Red Sox have won every '12 World Series.
Here's hoping a bunch of this comes to fruition for the Sox. Have a Happy New Year.