From May through August of last season the Boston Red Sox were the best team in baseball. They compiled a red hot record of 72-37 and made everyone forget about the dismal April record of 11-15 that was shadowed by an ugly 2-10 start. This team was that good and seemed to be destined for great things. Then September happened and here we are on the verge of Spring Training with many penciling the Red Sox headed for doom and disaster. But why? Why can’t this team be one of the greatest team’s this season, make a run at the division and get into the dance known as October baseball.
This is a team that was littered with offense last season. They scored the most runs, had the best on-base and slugging percentage and the second best batting average in all of baseball. And not much has changed with this linuep. Gone are Marco Scutaro, Jed Lowrie and Josh Reddick, but let’s be honest they weren’t the cog in the offensive wheel. Rather it was mainly Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz being the main culprits to damage opposing pitchers ERA. Kevin Youkilis, when healthy, is also a key contributor to the Sox winning ways, something that was a challenge yet again in 2011.
New faces such as Cody Ross, Ryan Sweeney, Kelly Shoppach and Nick Punto will be asked to fill in what the departed provided. That shouldn’t be a problem, considering we’re talking about the bottom part of the lineup. Now, the new four may not completely replace what the former gave, it is reasonable to expect fairly similar production, especially from Cody Ross, a specialist against left-handed pitching.
But we all know that the offense isn’t the area in question; its the pitching. With the top three starters set and Daniel Bard given every opportunity to transform into a solid number four guy, there is still way too much speculation as to what this rotation can provide.
Last season the Red Sox pitching was in the bottom half of the league averages. 22nd in ERA, 16th in WHIP, 9th in BAA and 28th in quality starts. But keep this in mind. John Lackey and Tim Wakefield combined for over 300 innings last season and we all know how ineffective Lackey was. Even Wakefield wasn’t Mr. Reliable investing more interest in his personal achievements than the team’s. And yet this team was still the best in baseball for a four-month span with both Lackey and Wake on the mound.
So is it unreasonable to expect that Daniel Bard can produce better numbers than John Lackey did last year? Bard should be able to have an ERA well under 6.00. The fifth spot in the rotation could end up being a starter by committee and there again a combo of Carlos Silva, Aaron Cook and/or Alfredo Aceves should be able to do what Wakefield did.
The bullpen is another area that will determine the Sox success. Gone is Jonathan Papelbon and that leaves a huge hole. Mark Melancon and Andrew Bailey were acquired to fill that void and as one reader pointed out, Melancon could be the diamond in the rough. Here’s a guy that saved 20 games last year in what wasn’t a full season as the closer. We hear how high the Yankees were on this guy when they had him in their system and now he’s a Red Sox.
Should Bailey struggle, I would expect Bobby V to give Melancon every opportunity to take over the role. Can they replace Papelbon? That’s a tall order given he could be viewed as the second best closer in the game. But the best predictor of future behavior is by past performance. If that holds true, then the Sox bullpen should be just fine.
So there it is. Call me crazy, call me ludicrous, call me what you want. But why can’t this team replicate the successes they had in 2011 when they were the best team in baseball for four months. This entire organization has been cast as a proverbial group of losers thanks to one month of castaway performances. The raw talent remains and a new leader with a firecracker style is now in charge and that can’t be a bad thing. It’s going to be a good year!
Tags: Aaron Cook Adrian Gonzalez Alfredo Aceves Andrew Bailey Boston Red Sox Carlos Silva Cody Ross Daniel Bard David Ortiz Dustin Pedroia Jacoby Ellsbury John Lackey Jonathan Papelbon Josh Reddick Kelly Shoppach Kevin Youkilis Marco Scutaro Mark Melancon Nick Punto Ryan Sweeney Tim Wakefield