Saturday, March 31, 2007

Red Sox Predictions: Not Quite a Championship Squad

Spring training is over, and it’s time for baseball—America’s pastime, no matter what the NFL and NASCAR claim—to commence. Red Sox Nation will watch Curt Schilling take the mound in Kansas City on Monday to kick off the 2007 season. Here are my predictions for the Red Sox this season.

Starting Pitching
This appears to be a major strength. Looking into my crystal ball, I see Curt Schilling missing a few starts but still turning in a solid season. Ditto for Tim Wakefield. Daisuke Matsuzaka, the most exciting Japanese product since Hello Kitty dolls, should baffle hitters, particularly the first time they face him. I predict he will make the All-Star team but struggle in the second half of the season. Julian Tavarez (or “Skeletor,” as I call him) begins the year as our fifth starter, but he is only keeping the spot warm for Jon Lester, 23 year-old cancer survivor and the left-handed anchor of our rotation for the next decade. (Sidenote: Chris Elias, Meredith, Lisetta and I witnessed Lester’s first major league win).

The Red Sox typically have abysmal bullpens. This year will hopefully be different. Jonathon Papelbon recently decided to return to the closer role, which makes a lot of sense for the 2007 squad. A mix of veterans and young bucks will try to get the ball to Paps in the 9th inning with a lead. I see Brendan Donnelly and Hideki Okajima having successful seasons, with J.C. Romero and Joel Pineiro being busts and Craig Hanson, Kirk Snyder, and Manny Delcarmen yo-yoing between the minors and big leagues. One or more of the young pitchers may be traded during the summer as the Sox prepare for a post-season push.

Ortiz and Manny are the best 3-4 combination in the game over the past three seasons. They’ll continue bopping this year, with new shortstop Julio Lugo and first baseman Kevin Youkilis setting the table in front of them. Perpetual injury risk J.D. Drew will offer Manny protection in the lineup that he did not have last year. Glove stud Mike Lowell will have another adequate post-steroid year at the plate.

The three big question marks are at the bottom of the order. Captain Jason Varitek, who continues to be masterful behind the plate, looks lost standing next to it. I see his offensive struggles continuing. Coco Crisp, incredible in spring training last year before a finger injury started a horrible regular season, will bounce back. Call it a hunch. Dustin Pedroia, our 120 pound second-baseman, will be a singles hitter and hustler in the mold of David Eckstein, and hopefully swipe a few bases while playing adequate defense.

We have some power sitting on the bench in the form of Willy Mo Pena and Eric Hinkse. Unfortunately, both have a penchant for striking out, not something you want in a pinch-hitter. Alex Cora is a solid utility player and will spell Pedroia if he struggles. Doug “Caveman” Mirabelli, who is even more lost at the plate than Varitek, will catch Wakefield’s knuckeball and do little else.
There’s a lot of optimism surrounding this edition of the Sox. On paper, the team looks deeper than the Yankees in the starting pitching department, and they saying pitching wins championships. However, with the question marks in middle relief, a weak bench, and potentially three non-producing hitters, I don’t see this squad topping the Yankees during the regular season.

Prediction: 91-71, 2nd place in the East, no wildcard


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