Red Sox Blog Roundtable: Can They Overtake the Yankees?

Red Sox Blog Roundtable: Can They Overtake the Yankees? There are plenty of questions surrounding the Red Sox as spring training starts: Who will win the fifth starter spot? What will the batting order look like on opening day? In this roundtable debate, bloggers answer those questions and more.

Who will be the most valuable player of the team? Which minor leaguers will have an impact? And the granddaddy question of them all: Does Boston have what it takes to win the American League East?

Let's find out what they think.

Who do you think will end up being the Red Sox' MVP by season’s end?

Matt O'Donnell, Fenway West: Josh Beckett. There is nobody on the team as competitive as Beckett. When you factor in the added motivation of a contract year plus the
push he will get from John Lackey and Jon Lester, he should end up having a truly
remarkable season.

El Guapo’s Ghost, El Guapo’s Ghost: Lester. After being the Red Sox' best pitcher — and arguably, their best player — last year, Lester will continue to build on his success as he has every season. Entering his prime production years (mid-to-late 20s), the ace stands a better shot at improving on 2009 than Kevin Youkilis and Victor Martinez. Lester’s main competition is Dustin Pedroia, but power starters are more valuable in October — when the Red Sox' season will end.

Jere Smith, A Red Sox Fan From Pinstripe Territory: It seems like the public has decided that David Ortiz will officially get 30 home runs and 100 RBIs. Not as good as his best years, but not done, either. I still think Papi is at the far end of his plateau as opposed to on the decline, so I'm gonna say he has a monster year.

Tim Daloisio, Fire Brand of the American League: Kevin Youkilis. He's been a consistent top-five offensive force in the AL over the past few years and is a Gold Glove candidate. His impact at the plate can often be glossed over because of his consistency and overall balance. No particular stat jumps out at you as outstanding at first glance, but he is plus across the board.

The rotation saga is the story line to watch during spring training. Assuming everyone is healthy, who should go to the bullpen?

O'Donnell: Clay Buchholz would be the best choice to send to the pen. If used as a spot starter, he can stay fresh and still preserve his arm for the second half of the season when one of the starters will land on the disabled list. If Tim Wakefield goes to the pen, the Red Sox run the risk of losing the best bargain in baseball for the 2011 season.

Amanda Bruno, Batter-up With Bruno: This is literally a no-brainer. It absolutely has to be Wakefield. Yes, we all know Wake needs 17 more wins to tie Roger Clemens and Cy Young for the most wins in a Red Sox uniform, but keep in mind that Boston wants to win. Wake is the most versatile of the group and can be a key long relief guy and eat up innings. It would be absurd to send Buchholz to Triple-A or the pen at this point in his career.

Michael Christopher, Sox Addict: With the assumption that the entire starting rotation is healthy, I think Daisuke Matsuzaka has to be sent to the bullpen. His potential as a starter is sky high, but it's well-documented that he struggles getting through a lineup the second and third time. Combine that with his arm fatigue from needing 120 pitches to go five innings and it looks like the pen may be a good fit for him. Putting Wakefield into the rotation may seem like a wild card every fifth game, but his potential to eat innings when needed is a huge positive for a team that suffered from bullpen ineffectiveness last season because of how overused the relievers were.

Rob Munstis, The Bottomline: Wakefield. Wake has experience as a reliever and is better equipped to be a reliever or long man than Buchholz is. This is the year Buchholz proves why Red Sox GM Theo Epstein has refused to trade him, but he can't do that from the bullpen or Triple-A. Assuming everyone is healthy, Wake is the obvious choice.

Where in the order should Adrian Beltre, Mike Cameron and J.D. Drew hit?

Christopher: This year's batting order is probably not going to be much different looking than in previous years. Francona usually likes to alternate left-handed and right-handed hitters so that the other team can't play the numbers by having a right-handed specialist pitch against three right-handed hitters in a row. My guess is that they'll go with a lineup like this: Jacoby Ellsbury, Pedroia, Martinez, Youkilis, Ortiz, Cameron, Drew, Marco Scutaro and Beltre.

This leaves the only mismatch being with Scutaro and Beltre, both right-handed hitters, batting next to each other. The upside is that there will still be some offensive pop almost everywhere in the lineup.

Stephen O'Grady, wicked clevah: It depends largely on the health and production of Papi. If he can replicate his second-half numbers (.866 OPS, 128 OPS+), the lineup becomes much deeper as the Red Sox can hit Drew, Beltre and Cameron sixth, seventh and eighth. If Papi starts slowly again, we'll probably see Drew hit higher in the order.

Munstis: My lineup looks like this: Ellsbury, Pedroia, Martinez, Youkilis, Ortiz, Drew, Cameron, Beltre, Scutaro.

Having back-to-back lefties in the heart of the lineup isn't ideal, but I think the team needs to keep its best on-base guys together. This lineup also gives the Sox three "leadoff" hitters evenly distributed throughout the order. After the first inning, Drew or Scutaro could lead off any given inning and both work the count very well.

Brian Phair (B-Dogg), BoSox Injection: Beltre, Drew and Cameron should hit sixth, seventh, and eighth, respectively. When building a lineup, ideally a manager wants to alternate lefties and righties to create matchup issues. Assuming the lineup is Ellsbury, Pedroia, Youkilis, Martinez, Ortiz, Beltre, Drew, Cameron and Scutaro, the left-handed hitters are spread throughout the order making it difficult for opposing managers to match up with relievers in late-game situations. 

What player currently projected to start in the minors will end up having the most impact in the majors?

Christopher: With a payroll like that of the Red Sox, the chances of a prospect taking over for a position player (barring injury) are pretty slim.

Playing the odds, I would say that a pitcher will make the biggest impact and I'm putting my money on that pitcher being Junichi Tazawa.

Last season, he pitched some big innings against the Yankees but was also knocked around quite a bit. If he puts it all together this year, and if Casey Kelly doesn't beat him to it, then I think he'll turn some heads in Boston with his above-average slider and changeup.

Munstis: Dustin Richardson. The 6-foot-5 lefty dominated in the minors last year, fanning 96 batters in 74 innings between AA Portland and AAA Pawtucket. He could give Brian Shouse a run for the left-handed specialist role in spring training, but the Red Sox probably want him to develop a a little more. If he pitches like he did in 2009, he'll be called up sooner rather than later and could be a key member of the pen down the stretch — a la Daniel Bard in 2009.

Phair: As of now, Jed Lowrie is projected to begin the season in Triple-A, but he could make a difference at the major league level if he proves he is healthy. Before getting injured at the end of spring training last year, Lowrie was playing well and impressing Sox management. His wrist problems sidelined him for most of 2009, but he is ready to come back in 2010 and prove his worth. Lowrie could provide a nice spark off the bench at the major league level if healthy.

Ghost: Josh Reddick because he will be the main trading chip. 

Do the Red Sox have what it takes to overtake the Yankees and hold off the Rays?

Bruno: It's really tough to tell. Boston bolstered its starting rotation, but that's really all it did.

The Yankees lost Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, but they also acquired Curtis Granderson, Nick Johnson and Randy Winn to fill in the holes. They also added another arm in Javier Vazquez to the starting rotation for his second stint in pinstripes.

Everyone keeps saying the Rays will be better this season and will make a run for the wild card, but what did they really do this offseason? They didn't sign any big players, and both the Red Sox and Yanks did.

The key factor is that everyone has to stay healthy for the Red Sox or there will be issues. If not, the Yankees will win the East again easily.

Christopher: The Rays still have a nice young core of players but I don't see them being in the race for the long haul. That leaves the Yankees, and make no mistake about it, they are the team to beat this season. The bad news for Red Sox fans is that since last October, the Yankees haven't gotten any worse. They added Vazquez to their pitching mix, traded for Granderson and signed Johnson.

"Keeping up with the Joneses" has never been so hard, and I don't think that the Red Sox made the kind of moves this offseason that will allow them to recapture the AL East. The wild card, on the other hand, is a much more realistic goal.

Phair: The AL East is the toughest division in baseball and this year will be no exception. If the Boston pitching staff can remain relatively healthy and the offense can consistently manufacture runs, the Red Sox have a great chance at winning 95-plus games and taking the division crown. There are still several questions to be answered, and in a 162-game season, anything can happen. The 2010 Red Sox squad has as much, if not more, talent than any other team in the AL East, giving them as good a chance as any to win the division.

Ghost: It will be a dogfight with the Yankees that will end up with both clubs playing in October. As for the Rays, they need their question marks (B.J. Upton, Ben Zobrist, David Price, etc.) to work out, as they do not have the financial resources to make a move. It is doubtful that Tampa makes this a three-horse race.   

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