Monday, March 24, 2008

A Preview A Day Keeps the Winter Away, #24

For the month of March I will be doing a season preview, with a new team each day, going in alphabetical order by team so I can save the Yankees for last, because I am, in fact, that devious.

As this is a Yankees' blog, the previews for AL East teams will be more detailed than those of AL Central and AL West teams, and any AL team previews will be more detailed than NL team previews, save maybe for the Mets. Each preview will involve consideration of how much 'threat' a team is to the Yankees, for fairly obvious reasons.

Up today: The Boston Red Sox

Admit it. No other team matters nearly as much to a Yankee fan as the Red Sox, with good reason: they're in our division, and they're (usually) good. Their rotation, if healthy and living up to its potential, can win a World Series (heck, it just did). They don't have a line up like the Yankees or Tigers, but they've got a knack for clutch hitting. You know as well as I do how much your heart bounces when Mo's on the mound, bases loaded, David Ortiz at bat...

Anyway, let's start by looking at the starting pitching:

Josh Beckett: Undisputed ace of the staff. He's shut down the Yankees a few times, and seems to pitch better in more important situations. He's been having back spasms, though even my friends who are Sox fans believe the injury is not serious and being used as a decoy to keep him from Japan.

Curt Schilling: Out until at least July. He's kind of the anti-Yankee, killing us in 2001 and 2004, so while you don't want to see anyone hurt, the Sox missing him on staff is both theoretically convenient for the Yankees, and (more importantly) exposing of the lack of depth in the Sox system.

Daisuke Matsuzaka: Japanese import who, last year, didn't quite live up to expectations. He racked up the strikeouts, sure, but was not the dominant All Star many hoped for. Both Yankee and Red Sox fans agree that last year was likely a fluke, but where we diverge is in what kind of year we expect him to have this year. Red Sox fans believe that he'll have a great year now that he's used to AL hitting, Yankees fans (of course) think the opposite. If he lives up to expectations, the Red Sox are in much much better shape. If he doesn't, it won't be pretty in Boston.

Tim Wakefield: Getting older in a hurry. Is either really on or really not. You probably remember him for throwing a pitch to Aaron Boone in 2003. Does not inspire much fear for the Yankees, though his knuckleball can still pack a punch.

Jon Lester: Great story, coming back from cancer, but it tends to overshadow his ability to pitch. Made 12 starts last season without a loss, but his official record was 4-0. He is still young, though, so there is room for improvement.

Clay Buchholz: Threw a no-hitter in his second start, which is awesome, but then again, Boston was playing Baltimore. Still, he's the Sox prized pitching prospect (try saying that three times fast), and with reason. The question for Yankees fans and Sox fans will be whether or not he's on an innings cap (it'll be a mistake if he isn't), and what that innings cap is.

Summary: Boston's got a great rotation if, and only IF, it can stay healthy and live up to expectations. This shouldn't be a problem for Beckett, and possibly Matsuzaka, but everyone else is hit-or-miss. With Schilling out, there is a considerable lack of pitching depth in the rotation.

Good thing Boston's got, arguably, the best bullpen in the league if you're a Red Sox fan.

Hideki Okajima: Was a throw-in in the Dice-K deal and then pitched himself to a 2.22 ERA (0.83 before the break) and .202 BAA. Seems to have gotten tired at the end of the season, though given that the American season is longer than the Japanese season, it's not that surprising. Will be interesting to see how (if) he adjusts this year.

Jonathan Papelbon: The Sox think he's better than Rivera. He's good, no questions ask, but better than the greatest of all time is pushing it. Can do a mean Irish jig.

Manny Delcarmen: Had 44 appearances last year and pitched to a 2.05 ERA.

However, the bullpen's not going to help your team score runs, so let's look at the line-up:

Dustin Pedroia: Rookie of the year for a reason. Got off to a slow start, but when he picked it up, he REALLY picked it up. Played the final two months last year with a broken bone in his wrist. Batte .317, 8 hr and 50 RBI. Had .380 OBP.

Kevin Youkilis: Target practice for Joba. Had 1080 chances to make an error on the field last year and made none. Had a .388 postseason batting average.

David Ortiz: Bane of pitchers everywhere. Last year was an off year and he still hit 35 home runs. Best as a DH. When hitting in front of Manny forces pitchers to pitch to one of the two. Rumored to be a good guy off the field.

Manny Ramirez: First Yankee game I went to, he hit a home run for the Indians. I'm not a huge fan. However, excellent hitter. Not-so-great defender. "Manny being Manny". Get past Manny and Ortiz and the rest of the lineup looks like a cakewalk.

J.D. Drew: Boras client signed to a multi-year deal, who very promptly had a not-up-to-expectations season. Had a better September and October to finish .270, 11 HR, 64 RBI.

Mike Lowell: Had an excellent season last year, and World Series MVP. Best third baseman in the AL outside of Alex Rodriguez. Finished .324, 21 HR, 120 RBI. Good in the field as well.

Jason Varitek: Aging catcher. Has ten postseason home runs and hits over .300 after the seventh. Over all, he finished .255, 17 HR, 68 RBI. Good game caller. Doesn't usually catch Wakefield, but with Mirabelli released, it will be an interesting situation.

Coco Crisp: Breakfast cereal fielder will probably be replaced by Jacoby Ellsbury, the Sox's prized rookie position player. Can still hit, but strikes out a lot. Good fielder.

Jacoby Ellsbury: Prized rookie. Sox wouldn't trade him for Santana. Untested over a full season, but shows all-star potential.

Julio Lugo: Weak hitter--.237 last year. Subpar fielder. Very, very weak spot in the line-up.

Summary: The top four guys in the Sox line-up have enough power to knock a pitcher on his backside, but the rest of the lineup, outside of Lowell (last year, anyway) is very pedestrian. They do play their home games in a quirky park they can use to their advantage, and they do.

Overall summary: They've got a good team when everything's clicking, but there are some serious weaknesses. It's not if, but when the weaknesses get exposed, and what Theo Epstein and company will do about it. Not trading for Santana could hurt, especially if Buchholz doesn't pan out, but that's a big if.

Threat to the Yankees: Red: Danger!

I really don't have to explain this one. If I do then you're probably really, really new to baseball.


  1. I think that the Sox have the same questions as the Yankees:
    1) Health - Beckett's back vs. Pettitte's back.
    2)Young pitchers - both teams are putting a lot of trust in young arms -do they come through and how many innnings can they pitch?

    Both teams can obviously hit and score runs. I believe the two teams will run close all season and the team that manages to avoid the injuries will win the East with the other the Wild Card.

  2. they may well be in a tougher position pitching-wise than us...what if wakefield back goes out for 6 weeks? it's more likely than not, and what if it is at the same time beckett has a problem. remember he was out for 2 weeks last year with his "blisters".

    laptops hasn't had one good outing in ST.

    it all sounds ever so promising...

    mike eff ( shelley , everyday)

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  4. No Japanese pitcher has had a better second year in MLB than his first year- only Chan Ho Park posted WHIPs below 1.2 twice in his career. Sure Dice-K is young, but the early advantage goes to the pitcher. He's used up that advantage within the division, and the rest of the league won't be far behind.

    Mike Lowell scares me at Fenway. He's got a good eye; when he does swing he's custom built for that park.

  5. You underestimate us.

    That is fine.

    I will take what we got from Matsuzaka, including the Word Series.

    Disparaging a no-hitter based on the team it was thrown against is like disparaging a BA because it's from Syracuse.

    Love always,

    Your favorite Red Sox fan.


  6. Chan Ho Park is Korean.

    Liam, my no-hitter disparaging inside, there still are some major pitching depth questions. The Yankees were there the last few years. We learned the hard way.

  7. Re: Chan Ho.
    You know, that's what I get for including too many specifics. My point still stands, by the end of the season teams in the division had made progress figuring out Dice-K. MLB was not kind to Irabu or Ishii their second time through the league.

    If Dice-K has a better year in 2008 than in 2007 I'll eat my hat.