A lot of us would like to forget the 2011 baseball season, or at least the final month of it. Today marks the first day that we can officially start to move on. The Red Sox will try to erase the stink of the 2011 season by embarking on a march to what they, and we, hope will culminate in another World Championship. Things may look bleak in light of the events of last year and it may be hard to realize that, save the loss of Jonathan Papelbon, this is basically the same team being fielded by the Red Sox. That team last year was just 1 win away from the playoffs. The Sox may be in a more enviable position this year in a sort of an underdog role rather than having heaps of expectation placed on them. Here is a quick look at the opening day roster and the guys waiting in the wings on the 15 day DL:
Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia
Infielders and Catchers – SS Mike Aviles, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, 2B Dustin Pedroia, IF Nick Punto, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C Kelly Shoppach, 3B Kevin Youkilis
There were a few tough omissions from spring training, notably prospects Jose Iglesias and Ryan Lavarnway, but it’s hard not to argue that, when healthy, there aren’t many more starting infields as good as the Red Sox in the American League. Gonzalez and Pedroia are good for at least 155-158 games a season barring injury and are both rock solid, consistent players on both offense and defense. Mike Aviles should do just fine for what he is, as should Nick Punto in the utility role. The wild card is the health of Kevin Youkilis. If he’s healthy, expect him to be productive. If he needs extended time off due to injury I would expect the Sox to call on Iglesias to come up and play just about every day at short with Aviles manning the hot corner. Salty will hopefully be more consistent with a year under his belt and Shoppach should help against lefties and with his defense.
Outfielders – CF Jacoby Ellsbury, OF Darnell McDonald, RF Cody Ross, OF Ryan Sweeney
This is an interesting group. Obviously it is missing Crawford for the start of the season. Can Ellsbury replicate his success of last season? It will be a tough task because he was very, very good last year. I doubt he’ll do as good as he did but he won’t totally fall off either. Cody Ross is a guy fans are really going to love and I can see him getting the bulk of the playing time in right field, even after Crawford is back. Ryan Sweeney has potential but he has been dreadful all spring and will probably have to fight Darnell McDonald for playing time at the start of the season.
Red Sox P Clay Buchholz
Starting Pitchers – Daniel Bard, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront, Jon Lester
This is another wild card group. You can count on productivity from Beckett, Lester, and Buchholz if they can all stay healthy. There is no indication that Buchholz’s back problem is going to linger but you never know with pitchers and injuries. Bard looked timid early on in spring training but came on towards the end to solidify his spot in the rotation. He’s certainly got the stuff to succeed. The guy to watch in the group is Felix Doubront. He’s been flying under the radar for the past few seasons because he’s been hurt. He’s a young lefty with good stuff and if he settles in and stays healthy he can win 10-15 games for you. If he does that there should be no reason that the Sox aren’t in contention by the end of the year.
Relief Pitchers – Alfredo Aceves, Matt Albers, Scott Atchison, Michael Bowden, Mark Melancon, Franklin Morales, Vicente Padilla, Justin Thomas
Obviously the big story here is the injury to Andrew Bailey. Aceves will make for an interesting closer but I do think he’ll have a shorter leash then a regular closer. I can see a platoon with Melancon emerging if they are both pitching well. A lot of people see Padilla as a set-up guy in this bullpen but he’s the only one stretched out so they’ll have to go to him in long situations if they need to. Morales can be a strong set-up guy, he’s got really great stuff and he’s equally effective against righties and lefties. Albers pitched well early last year and hopefully he can condition himself to keep it up this year. I’ve never really seen anything from Bowden so he’ll have to show the Sox something or it will likely come down to him or Atchison when Crawford comes back. Justin Thomas will be there until Rich Hill is ready unless he is pitching so much better than the other guys that you can’t send him down.
Red Sox OF Carl Crawford
The amazing thing about this list is that you have two guys who had Tommy John surgery last June and are starting the season on the 15 day DL. I liked what I saw from Hill in his limited time last year but am a bit worried that his motion, that was so effective, was actually the cause of his injury. Dice-K would be a huge boon to the rotation if Bard or Doubront aren’t pitching well or there is an injury. Andrew Miller has the stuff but he needs to harness his control, maybe a start in Pawtucket wouldn’t be so bad for him. Crawford doesn’t seem to be too far behind and should be back before the start of May.
We haven’t even talked about new manager Bobby Valentine. Here’s the thing about Valentine, beneath all the pot shots and the snide comments the guy is a good manager. He knows to work a clubhouse and he knows how to coach a baseball team when they’re out on the field. he’s got good coaches around him, notably hitting coach Dave Magadan who has been here for 5 years already and has been preaching the Red Sox way of hitting since then and Tim Bogar who’s been on the staff for 5 years as well. I’m not really buying what Curt Schilling was saying about the players not taking to Valentine since so many of them came out so quickly and criticized Schilling’s comments. Bobby V. will do just fine managing the Sox but we’ll see how he handles the media and how many times his mouth gets him in trouble.
Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine
So there you have it. Championship team? We’ll see. Of course after all of this drama we actually have to play the games. The Sox have an opening three game set against the Detroit Tigers in Detroit and then they head north to Toronto. The 0-6 start from last season will clearly be on everyone’s mind so it’s important for the Sox to come out of the gate strong. The Tigers are a tough opponent, they’ve added Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander is coming off of an M.V.P. and Cy Young season so the crowd will be pumped. It’s important to remember that losing game 1 is not the end of the world, Verlander only lost 4 all of last season after all. The 2nd two match-ups in the series favor the Red Sox. Josh Beckett is 3-2 with a 2.50 ERA against the Tigers and Clay Buchholz is 1-1 with a 2.58 ERA. Detroit’s Doug Fister is a good pitcher and hasn’t pitched bad against the Red Sox but game 3′s starter Max Scherzer has been absolutely horrid against the Sox, going 0-2 with a 9.45 ERA. Winning 2 out of 3 would be great going into Toronto but they need to take it 1 game at a time. Of course a 3 game sweep at the hands of the Tigers would be a disaster since the team would then be on its heels just 3 games into the season just like they were last year. Let’s hope we’re not talking about that come Monday morning.
Opening day is always an exciting time is this year is really no exception. You’ve got the 100 year anniversary of Fenway Park on tap this year and a team full of motivated players determined to right the wrongs of 2011. The baseball season is a long and strange road with a lot of twists and turns, we found that out last season. My advice right now would be to sit back and enjoy the ride. Let’s hope that it turns out to be a good one.
Follow me on Twitter