The 2010 season was not very kind to what could have been an excellent team. The Red Sox were ravaged by injuries, losing multiple starters at critical moments and ultimately falling short of the playoffs. Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Mike Cameron, Victor Martinez, Josh Beckett– all missed significant time. No matter how talented or deep an organization might be, it simply can’t overcome such losses.
Still, there were some bright spots. David Ortiz rebounded with an All-Star season. Adrian Beltre turned back the clock with a monster performance at the dish. The club as a whole finished second in the A.L. in runs scored despite playing much of the year with a patchwork lineup full of AAA subs. And Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz were dominating on the mound.
But even putting injuries aside, there were some weaknesses. The middle relief was atrocious. John Lackey, he of the $85M contract, was disappointing. And of course, failing to make the post-season is always a downer, no matter how legitimate the excuse.
So Terry Francona and his players are more than ready to look ahead to 2011. Let’s take a look at what this season has in store for Beantown.
Best Case Scenario:What an off-season. Not only did the Red Sox make a deal for the highly-prized Adrian Gonzalez, they also inked free agent headliner Carl Crawford. It’s hard to imagine a better outcome for a team that was already stacked with offense. The additions give Boston the game’s best offense. And assuming that the team can stay healthy this year, the Sox should win the division. Expect this to be the highest scoring team in baseball.
Most Valuable Players: There are so many choices, it’s tough to narrow it down. But the team’s fortunes rest in large part on Jon Lester’s arm. Now the clear ace of the staff, Lester needs to continue to post strong numbers (18+ wins, ERA under 3.50, WHIP around 1.20). Offensively, Boston’s new first baseman instantly becomes the focal point. Adrian Gonzalez is the true slugger that the Sox have lacked since Manny decided to be Manny somewhere else. A 1.000 OPS, 40 homers and 110 RBI are achievable numbers for Gonzalez.
Potential Breakouts: There aren’t many unknowns, offensively. But one position to watch is shortstop, where Jed Lowrie will see plenty of playing time. It’s not that the team has soured on Marco Scutaro (though his lousy defense last year didn’t do him any favors), it’s that Lowrie can hit. He’s a serviceable glove and posted a .907 OPS last year. Though the two will share space in the middle infield, don’t be surprised to see Lowrie emerge as an everyday player in his age 27 season.
Worst Case Scenario: It’s difficult to imagine this team struggling to any great degree. There’s just too much talent. But the A.L. East is by far the toughest division in baseball. The Yankees are perennial threats to go to the World Series, the Rays have made the transition from laughingstock to contender, and the Blue Jays have plenty of young talent. Oh, and the Orioles…have nice uniforms. The point is, any of the East’s “big 3” could be thwarted by big years from the other 2. Boston was the odd man out last year, and 2011’s worst possibility would be a repeat of that failure.
Biggest Areas of Concern: There are 2 issues that should concern fans, and both deserve a mention. The first is catcher, where the team is apparently content to go with the tandem of Jarrod Saltalmacchia and Jason Varitek. Victor Martinez is enjoying a fat new contract in Detroit, and without a reliable backstop, things could get ugly behind the plate this year. Salty needs to step up, big time. The other problem is the bullpen. Getting from the starter to Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon has been nightmarish of late, and that has to change.
Players Who Must Rebound: Jacoby Ellsbury’s rib fractures ended up sidelining him for most of the year. He has to be healthy this season, and he has to start hitting. Boston doesn’t need him to flash much power, but a solid OBP will keep him atop the lineup where his ridiculous speed can do the most damage. Josh Beckett also needs a strong performance. With a contract extension freshly signed, the former ace owes the fanbase a good year. It’s time to justify the love and prove that 2010 was a fluke.
Be sure to check out our Spring Training Central where we put the “i-ball” on all 30 MLB teams