Sunday, February 25, 2007

Preseason Preview: Red Sox

Onwards with the short, quick-glance previews. We take on the Red Sox, who I personally do not like, but what hey. How do things stack up in Beantown in '07, one year after a disappointing third-place finish 11 games behind the hated Yankees? Let's take a look-see.

The Boston Red Sox

1. Curt Schilling, RHP
2. Daisuke Matsuzaka, RHP
3. Josh Beckett, RHP
4. Tim Wakefield, RHP
5. Jonathan Papelbon, RHP/Matt Clement, RHP/Jon Lester, LHP

1. Julian Tavarez, RHP
2. Joel Pineiro, RHP
3. Mike Timlin, RHP
4. Javier Lopez, LHP
5. Manny Delcarmen, RHP/J.C. Romero, RHP

1B Kevin Youkilis
2B Dustin Pedroia
SS Julio Lugo
3B Mike Lowell
RF J.D. Drew
CF Coco Crisp
LF Manny Ramirez
C Jason Varitek
DH David Ortiz

The 500 Word Rundown
The Red Sox like to peddle themselves as the small-market, gritty, more "down to earth" version of the unabashedly big-market Yankees, but the truth is that they're also one of the most profligate buyers in Major League Baseball, and they actually spent more than their rivals this year - on one player. The Sox paid $50.1 million for the right to even talk to prized Japanese right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka, who doesn't really throw a gyroball, but has All-Star stuff anyway, and then that amount again to actually sign him. They're hoping that the 26-year-old import from the Seibu Lions will upgrade a starting rotation that features still-good but aging Curt Schilling, injury risk Josh Beckett, knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, and phenomenon ex-closer Jonathan Papelbon. Left-hander Jon Lester, if he's recovered from anaplastic large-cell lymphona, better known as cancer, should be in there as well - best wishes to him on the road back from chemotherapy treatments. He was cancer-free in December, but it remains to be seen how he'll slot into a generally strong starting rotation, if he has enough stamina right off the bat, or if he opens the season in the bullpen.

The Red Sox are hoping that ex-Mariner Joel Pineiro can copy Jon Papelbon - maybe it's something about the initials? - and become the closer this season. Pineiro has suffered through a number of rocky years since being drafted high by the Mariners, and the Sox are hoping he can regain some of his vanished form. Mike Timlin should also be in there, along with Julian Tavarez, and the remaining slots may be a battle coming out of Spring Training.

The Red Sox lineup doesn't have quite the firepower that it used to, but still features Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, and Jason Varitek, along with newcomer J.D. Drew. Ramirez is quite simply a headcase and a defensive liability in left field, but is one of the better hitters in the game. David "Big Papi" Ortiz is a machine, especially in clutch situations, and should continue his mashing. Team captain Varitek doesn't have the firepower in his bat that he used to, hitting only .238 last year with 12 homers, but the Sox are hoping that mercurial outfielder J.D. Drew - such of an injury risk that he has clauses built into his contract that regulate pay based on the number of games he plays - can provide more spark. I don't expect that the Sox will unseat the Yanks for the division title - I would be very surprised indeed if that unfolded. Still, I expect that they'll play with a bit more respectability this year than last, and should finish in second place... again.

Projected Finish: 91-70, second place, AL East

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