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Springtime Storylines: Will the Red Sox score enough runs?

Mar 24, 2010, 2:15 PM EDT

Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Now the Red Sox: Good times never seemed so good.

The big question: Will the Red Sox score enough runs?

Just because it’s “the big question” — and it’s “big” because everyone in the Boston press corps and greater Red Sox Nation seems to want to ask it — doesn’t make it a great question. It’s worth asking simply because a team can never score too many runs, but what seems to be motivating the question this spring is not a concern about the Sox’ offense for its own sake, but a misguided belief that, simply because the team doubled down on defense this winter the offense will necessarily suffer. False dichotomies are fun and everything, but if I went through life asking myself whether I wanted chocolate or vanilla Frogurt I’d miss out on the fact that there’s a swirl option too.  Put more simply, a team can both improve run prevention and maintain a more than adequate offense, and I think the Red Sox have done that.

Projections are what they are, but the Red Sox project to have the second best lineup in the AL this year. More tangibly speaking, Jason Bay is gone, but Marco Sutaro and a full season of Victor Martinez represent significant improvements. Adrian Beltre is one of those gloves that was brought in, but with his health restored and a more friendly hitting environment I expect him to do quite well. Everyone hates on J.D. Drew, but he’s still an excellent hitter.  This team will score some runs. Not that anyone who wrote one of those hand-wringing “will the Sox score enough?” articles this spring will admit that they were grabbing for easy storylines instead of thinking about the Sox’ offense (query: is the fact that I used this as a “Springtime Storyline” hypocritical? Meta? A pun? I think it was a pun. Yes, that’s it.).

So what else is going on?

  • John Lackey was the big offseason pickup, of course, and with Josh Beckett and Jon Lester the Sox have a potent 1-2-3 in the rotation. If this team makes the playoffs, watch out, because those guys will be hard to beat;
  • The 4-5 is a bit less solid. After a rocky 2008 and a rocky beginning to his major league season last year, Clay Buchholz put up a nice run to close the season (just ignore the last two starts, please. Thanks). If he can maintain that, great, but he still has something to prove on the major league level. I think he will, but whether that comes after a few more speedbumps is up in the air. At this point Dice-K is a mystery wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a 3.5 hour game during which I fell asleep around the fourth inning. Tim Wakefield throws a knuckleball, though, and I remain convinced that one day a knuckleballer will go 35-0 with 400 strikeouts (and he’ll be limited to 35 starts only because The Man wants to keep knuckleballers down). Could be Wakefield this year. Then again, I could be letting my irrational love of the knuckleball get in the way. Hard to say;
  • I wonder about the bullpen. Papelbon is still good, but his playoff struggles worry me and overall he strikes me as a guy who could take a step back. Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez all fell off a bit last year. Maybe they all had uncharacteristic swoons, such as they were, and will roar back this year. Maybe it means that the bullpen will be a bigger problem than a lot of people think;
  • Overall run-scoring aside, David Ortiz is a big question mark. A lot of people will note that he picked things up nicely after his dismal start last year, but all 162 games count, and the Red Sox don’t need another swoon like they saw from Big Papi in 2009. If, as is totally possible, his bat just won’t play this year, the Red Sox will have a hole in the lineup that will nag.

So how are they gonna do?

Ultimately there aren’t as many questions about this team as there are about other teams because, let’s face it, every move the Red Sox make is analyzed to the nth degree.

Sometimes, however, that level of scrutiny can actually obscure the overall picture.  I can’t put my finger on it, but I just get this feeling that this team is somehow less than the sum of its parts. No, I’m not talking about chemistry or that kind of nonsense, just a feeling that a lot of guys could have less-than-stellar years. There’s less upside on this team than there is on the Rays. There’s less room of error here than there is in New York. If, say, Kevin Youkilis gets hurt and Josh Beckett stumbles, an otherwise excellent team could be merely good, and merely good isn’t going to cut it in the AL East.

Prediction: Third place in the AL East, just out of the postseason money.  This isn’t hate — The Sox will be good and I think it’s going to be a ridiculously close race all season long — but I just have less confidence in them and perhaps a touch too much confidence in the Rays. Buy hey, that’s why they play the games.

  1. Josh in DC - Mar 24, 2010 at 2:48 PM

    Oh, sorry, I thought you said something bad about Jeter. Never mind.

  2. YX - Mar 24, 2010 at 2:49 PM

    Agree with analyze mostly, but I’m kind of lost on the result.
    So the Red Sox is an excellent team that could be merely good, and the Rays is a good team that could be excellent, but Rays will come out in front? They might as well be, but the odds is less than 50/50 I’d think.

  3. d - Mar 24, 2010 at 3:22 PM

    whine whine whine… I was all set to jump on you for the offense thing, then I saw you were on the media corps for dragging out that storyline. good on ya.
    anyway, it’s a three horse race, whoever stays healthy will be in the playoffs
    briquets office

  4. YankeesfanLen - Mar 24, 2010 at 3:37 PM

    I see no first half sweep here- yeah, still have a hair across my ass from last year.
    helices site- Old Gator, who is helices? One of Craig’s AKA?

  5. YANKEES1996 - Mar 24, 2010 at 4:06 PM

    One of the girls in the office here is a die hard Red Sox fan and I just showed her this article, I thought she was going to explode all over my office. I have had a running bet with her for several years now that if the Sox win the AL East I buy her a nice steak dinner and vice versa. Becuase of your final prediction Craig my nice steak dinner may or may not be in jeopardy, I don’t want to ask at this particular time as she is very excited right now and armed. I think third in the east is a little harsh, but their offense is possibly lacking this year. But if you twist my arm about third in the east I say… O.K.

  6. Donald - Mar 24, 2010 at 4:12 PM

    So, a third place finish based on, “just a feeling that a lot of guys could have less-than-stellar years.” Pardon me if I don’t worry about your “rock hard evidence” in thinking the Red Sox might miss the playoffs.

  7. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - Mar 24, 2010 at 8:58 PM

    With a payroll approaching $170M for 2010, Craig isn’t basing his prediction on tea leaves, he specifically says:

    There’s less room of error here than there is in New York. If, say, Kevin Youkilis gets hurt and Josh Beckett stumbles, an otherwise excellent team could be merely good, and merely good isn’t going to cut it in the AL East.

  8. dp - Mar 24, 2010 at 9:30 PM

    I don’t see them in third, I feel if the Orioles young pitching comes around, the Sux might be looking at fourth. If all things worked the way I’d like , I would like them to be humiliated and finish last. I don’t think that will happen, but I can always hope.

  9. Old Gator - Mar 24, 2010 at 9:51 PM

    I don’t know. Don’t forget, I haven’t really been here all that long. I can’t even remember why I stumbled in here in the first place – I think it was just before the World Series, actually, and I wanted to see what the pundits were saying about the Feelies-Borg matchup. I’ve generally avoided delusion baseball and the hot stove league because of fear of carbon monoxide, and also because of the way J. Henry Waugh degenerated into misanthropy and madness. True, I was misanthropic in the first place, but delusion baseball would’ve only made me incoherent.
    Anyway…Craig struck me as several people. I had a nice lunch with them a few weeks ago.
    And in this case I pretty much agree with his assessment of the AL East this year. I don’t think the Baltimore pitching staff is quite there yet, and I don’t think that the Beanbags have that impressive an offense. It would be a hoot if Mike Lowell had a great year at DH and picked up some slack from the suddenly ineffectual Big Papi – whose falloff in productivity could just as well be the cumulative product of being fat all these years as it might be from steroid contraction. Their fortunes will also depend on how fully that warthog at first base picks up the RBI slack they’ve never fully made up after the Prince of Head Cases went west. I also don’t see that they’ve made up for Jason Bay. I see more downside to the Beanbags – more ways they could fizzle – and more potential to the Rays, whom I expect to watch more often this season than last just because I can’t bring myself to line Scrooge McLoria’s pockets and because the Rays are likely to be more fun to watch than the Feesh this year, even with that incredibly boring phenomenon called the DH.

  10. John - Mar 25, 2010 at 4:07 AM

    I’m a Sox fan and I pretty much agree with this article, though I’m a tad more optimistic, mainly on the back end of our rotation. Dice K looked good at the end of last year, and I think he can return at least to 2007 form if he can stay healthy. I also firmly believe Bucholz will take that step forward this year, and I think our bullpen will be good even if it regresses a bit. The only thing that worries me is health…I feel like we need every bat we’ve got right now. If Drew misses a significant chunk of time (lol! “if”), and Papi’s production continues to plummet, or Mike Cameron’s projections are accurate…we could have some trouble scoring. But I don’t lose sleep over it because our run prevention is so gnarly.

  11. Nasty Boy - Mar 25, 2010 at 9:18 AM

    You aren’t serious on the run prevention are you ? That’s where the biggest question marks are. Beckett always fades in crunch time with a tired arm. Lackey has had problems staying healthy, Matsusaka (The Pillsbury Doughboy) era is around six , and probably climbing,Bucholz is erratic , Wakefield is older than dirt, Lester is the only starter that might be accountable. I don’t see run prevention. As far as scoring, their really in trouble. Papi (roid head) is finished , forget about him. Drew is an injury waiting to happen,Martinez, can hit , but a total liability behind the plate. The few good hitters they have can’t carry the load. Like I said before, hope for third , unless the Orioles young pitching comes on , than think about fourth. Good Luck

  12. YX - Mar 25, 2010 at 9:24 AM

    Well, we can all dream.
    I might want Toilet 2.0 to be flooded so it can actually flush all the sewage out, but I could save that for my birthday.
    “culinary innovating”

  13. Joe - Mar 25, 2010 at 11:45 AM

    “Beckett always fades in crunch time with a tired arm.”
    Beckett was hurt in 2008, and last year he faded in the 7th inning of his one postseason start. Before then he was a playoff god.
    Outside of that, I find your analysis lacking.
    I’m with the others. This is a three-way race. It’ll come down to health, or maybe a couple of lucky bounces, to determine who makes the playoffs.

  14. Nasty Boy - Mar 25, 2010 at 12:10 PM

    Joe, I appreciate your stats, I seem to remember a couple of times they held him back . I still say he’s not the pitcher he was. I think if anything, it’s on the down side, but still a good pitcher . The Yankees are too deep for the rest of the AL East, the only thing that could hurt them is injuries. I honestly don’t think Boston has the offense to win. They should be concerned with the Ray’s, and the Oriole’s , like I said before, if the O’S get that young pitching going , not only is Boston going to have to deal with them, so is Tampa Bay. Depth is the key , and the Yanks have more depth .

  15. John - Mar 25, 2010 at 5:08 PM

    Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, blah, blah, blah. Quibble all you want over these teams for in the end it matters not as whoever makes it to the WS will lose to the Phillies in six. MARK MY WORDS!!!

  16. JudyJ - Mar 25, 2010 at 5:15 PM

    Oh, John, did you mean that no matter who makes it to the WS the Phillies (red pinstripes) would repeat their WS win of last year? Oh, I thought I heard you say that.

  17. JudyJ - Mar 25, 2010 at 5:19 PM

    From your mouth to God’s ears – just like last year, right?

  18. John - Mar 25, 2010 at 5:26 PM

    Silly rabbits, I mean from the year before. MARK MY WORDS!!!

  19. John - Mar 25, 2010 at 5:34 PM

    From my mouth not to God’s ears but to the Gods ears. MARK MY WORDS!!!

  20. Sam Sox Red - Mar 25, 2010 at 5:44 PM

    Best Rotation, second runs scored last year, deep bench, stellar defense and oh! when injuries happen same as every one Sox farm system ripe with young talent to play or trade

  21. John - Mar 25, 2010 at 5:56 PM

    I suppose it all depends on a persons definition of “ripe” for often when someone expels gas the odor emitted can be described as being ripe, which is never a good thing for those in the vicinity of the gas producer.

  22. dp - Mar 25, 2010 at 6:09 PM

    Third place , remember where you heard it.

  23. george - Mar 25, 2010 at 8:09 PM

    Be happy sox fans! The Yanks were picked to finish third last year and look what happened!

  24. Old Gator - Mar 25, 2010 at 11:09 PM

    Silly wabbits, John. Wabbits.

  25. Big Ed 1935 - Mar 25, 2010 at 11:39 PM

    They need to play small ball and score some runs and get the oppossing pitcher in the stretch asap!

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