It’s certainly been a happy holiday season for most in New England who are dreaming of better days ahead for their Red Sox. With the roster relatively set, injured players on the mend and a great deal of anticipation surrounding the new additions, looking to the future is a popular activity.
So, in our latest edition of the Red Sox Lineup, we offer up nine bold predictions for 2011:
1. Dustin Pedroia will go off.
Remember Pedroia’s five-hit, three-homer performance in Colorado last June? That came the day before he fouled a ball off his foot in San Francisco, essentially ending his season. What that effort against the Rockies showed was that the 2008 American League Most Valuable Player was completely over whatever was dogging him in May (.213 average in 27 games) and he was about to go batty. The Sox’ second baseman ended June with a .374 mark and was on pace for career highs in homers and RBIs when he was hurt. Healthy once again, he will have the luxury of hitting in front of a murderers’ row of Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz, or some combination thereof. We all know how Pedroia crushes fastballs, and in this lineup he may get a heavy dose. That should allow the 27-year-old to pick up where he left off that night in Coors Field.
2. John Lackey will be worth the money.
Rarely has a 14-game winner who led his team in starts and innings pitched received as much criticism as Lackey did in his debut season with the Red Sox. That can happen when you’re being paid $82.5 million over the course of five years while playing for a feverish fan base. However, while Lackey had his share of rocky outings and sported a career-high 1.419 WHIP, he did improve as the year dragged on and he became a bit more comfortable in his East Coast skin. The right-hander had a 3.97 ERA after the All-Star break, working at least seven innings in 10 of his 15 starts. Not earth-shattering, but a positive step toward being worth it.
3. A big name will be traded.
General manager Theo Epstein has the luxury of entering the New Year with little left on his plate. The general framework for a pretty powerful 25-man roster is in place. That doesn’t mean he won’t have his eye on improving the club, otherwise he would not be doing his job. Included in that analysis will be playing with the idea of making a deal, perhaps with Daisuke Matsuzaka (if he waives his no-trade clause to a certain team) or Jonathan Papelbon, now that Bobby Jenks is in the fold.
4. Ryan Kalish will be tough to keep down.
With the acquisition of Carl Crawford, the returns to health of Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron and the possible presence of Darnell McDonald, Kalish figures to start the year in Pawtucket. Epstein has said he likes his position players to get a year of at-bats at the Triple-A level, and Kalish currently lacks that. If and when he returns to the PawSox, for whom he hit .294 in 37 games last year, the 22-year-old outfielder should rake. His time in the majors last year might make Triple-A pitching a feast.
5. The Sox will dominate at home.
Among the issues that prevented the 2010 club from making the playoffs was an inability to succeed at Fenway Park, at least compared to prior editions. The Red Sox won 46 games at home, the fewest since 2002, and several of them were of the damaging variety. They were just 9-13 in the finale of series at home, which often sent them into the next set or onto a road trip on a sour note. Much of it had to do with the multitude of injury replacements who were as unfamiliar with the confines of Fenway as any visitor would be. With a return to health and the addition of players such as Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, who should perform very well at home, the fortunes at Fenway should turn around.
6. Shortstop will remain a fluid position.
The only two positions with some degree of uncertainty for the Red Sox are catcher and shortstop. The former figures to be an almost equal partnership, and should not see much controversy. The latter may see the one true position battle once spring training rolls around, with incumbent Marco Scutaro being challenged by Jed Lowrie. Lowrie’s value as someone who can play all four infield spots and bat from both sides may make him more suitable to a super utility role, but Scutaro is 35 and is the one coming off an injury.
7. Crawford and/or Gonzalez will be slow out of the gate.
There will be incredible excitement surrounding the debuts of Crawford and Gonzalez, but don’t expect fireworks the moment they hit the field. Baseball has seen countless big-name players struggle for a bit when they join a new team, for there is always an adjustment process. We mentioned Lackey’s trials. Josh Beckett went through the same thing. J.D. Drew hit .226 with two homers in his first two months with the team. Scutaro and Adrian Beltre both were very shaky in the field early last season. It happens. Have patience if/when these guys are slow to get going.
8. Ellsbury and Beckett will return to form.
Of all the players that suffered injuries in 2010, no two had their seasons derailed more than Ellsbury and Beckett. While Ellsbury played in only 18 games due to his rib issues, Beckett missed more than two months of the season with back pain. Both players are in their primes age-wise and have to believe that what happened to them last year was only an aberration. They might have some rust to start out, but will be in the middle of things once the season gets going.
9. A Red Sox player will win a major award.
Between 1986 and 2000, the Red Sox took home a total of eight MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards, better than one every two years. In the 10 seasons since they have just two, both being won by Pedroia (ROY in ’07, MVP in ’08). Both Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz flirted with the Cy Young last season and are just hitting their stride. And if the offense produces like many think it will, then Gonzalez, Pedroia, Crawford and Youkilis all figure to be preseason MVP candidates. Make room on the mantel.