Pitching: The Most Important Part Of Any Pitching Staff
The Red Sox stockpiled a surplus of pitching of every age from about 13 to 50. They made three key winter thrift store acquisitions, the first two, John Smoltz and Brad Penny will have an opportunity to make an impact on the rotation. The latter sooner than the former. The third thrift store acquisition was an old copy of Boz Scaggs' record Silk Degrees which I guess was supposed to be ironic, and in no way can help the staff. Penny locked up his job in the rotation sending Clay Buchholz to start the year in the minors along with other nearly ready for the rotation young dude, Michael Bowden. Familiar faces round out the rest of the staff. With 1. Beckett 2. Matsuzaka and 3. Lester all being welcomed back by my open arms. 4. Tim Wakefield, not so much. He's not in the last year of some long term deal, the Sox ponied up for one more season. With two solid starters sitting in Pawtucket it's going to be frustrating watching Wake get smacked around every other start.
The bullpen is, in my opinion, the obvious strength of the team. The 7 Headed Pitching Hydra allows Justin Masterson to continue working on his sinker against major league batters in long relief. Ramon Ramirez got batted around the couple of times I got to see him in Spring Training but his ball still looked way "live" for whatever that's worth. Takashi Saito is healthy and was acquired for a bag of balls. Hideki Okajima was perceived as having a not so good 2008, but still logged a 177 ERA+ and struck out nearly 3 guys to each one he walked. Jonathan Papelbon may have lost some dominance last year, but will be throwing a slider for the first time since his rookie year, and is still more beloved in Boston than the goddamned Zoo Babies slideshow that runs in the Boston Globe every couple weeks.
Hitting: A Good Way To Score Runs
The 2009 Red Sox lineup has only 3 "sure things" in it: Pedroia, Youkilis and Bay. Leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury needs to improve that .336 OBP, Mike Lowell's hip needs to stay in one piece, as do JD Drew's back, Rocco's cells and David Ortiz's wrist. Unless George Kottaras can immediately translate last year's minor league numbers. He's Greek and Canadian so I think we can all agree on him here. In any case, the surplus of pitching is a savings account if too many of those question marks can't come together by the deadline. Clay Buchholz and Mike Lowell would really like Oakland I think.
Fielding: What To Do When The Ball Is Hit To You
Ellsbury, Lowrie and Pedroia are all solid up the middle. Unfortunately, once healthy it seems like the Sox are hellbent on giving Julio Lugo playing time and he might as well be playing short with a pair of salad tongs. They're solid at the corner infield spots.
Predictions: If I Could See The Future, I Wouldn't Be A Blogger
The Red Sox stockpile of arms will allow them to absorb injury, make any needed deadline moves and, I predict, allow the fewest runs in baseball. This will propel them to the top of the American League East standings and at least to the ALCS. I mean, what else did you think I was going to say when Lloyd asked me to do a Sox preview? Enjoy the season everybody.