There's reason to feel excited as a Red Sox fan. The additions of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford have the city buzzing, but there's good reason to make sure that enthusiasm is a bit tempered for now.
The reason? Well, last year, with Adrian Beltre, Victor Martinez and cast full of anti-superstars like Darnell McDonald, Bill Hall and Daniel Nava, the Red Sox scored 818 runs. That was the second-highest mark in all of Major League Baseball, trailing only the New York Yankees (859) and with just one other team (Tampa Bay) scoring 800 or more.
So, while Gonzalez is sure to own the middle of the lineup for the next several years and Crawford is sure to bring his dynamic bat and speed, they are stepping in to a lineup that was effective as any last year. They'll need to make up for the 181 runs produced by Beltre and Martinez, and they'll probably do that, but just like last year, it won't mean much if the Sox don't get pitching.
You can never assume anything in sports, but you'd like to think they'll be getting some top-notch performances from Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, both of whom are coming off stellar seasons. You'd like to think that you'll get the same type of numbers from John Lackey (his 14-11 record and 4.40 ERA weren't spectacular, but it's about where his career averages are). You'd like to think you can piece together some decent contributions from Tim Wakefield and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
You'd better hope, though, that you get a little something more out of Josh Beckett.
While Beckett's mastery from 2007 may be long gone, it's too easily forgotten that his 2009 season wasn't all that bad. In that campaign, he went 17-6 with a 3.89 ERA in a career-high 212 1/3 innings. He also reached a career high in strikeouts (199) and complete games (four). He was a Cy Young front-runner until mid-August, when he hit a stretch in which he went 0-2 with a 7.76 ERA in five starts. It was, by just about every measurable way, an exceptional season.
Last year, however, was not so good. Making just 21 starts due to persistent back troubles, Beckett went 6-6 with a career-high 5.78 ERA. That's not exactly the type of career high you want a frontline starter to be hitting when he turns 30.
Yet, such was the case for Beckett, who enters the 2011 season with the responsibility to return to form. While the '10 Red Sox probably could have made a playoff push if not for the long-term injuries to Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia, the team ranked ninth in the American League in team ERA at 4.19. Unsurprisingly, the AL playoff teams had much better marks (Rays, second, 3.78; Rangers, fourth, 3.93; Twins, fifth, 3.95, Yankees, seventh, 4.06).
There were many contributions to that ugly number, and Beckett was only one of them. Beckett can't help Wakefield, Matsuzaka or Jonathan Papelbon pitch better, just as he can't win a championship on his own.
He can, however, play just as big a role as Crawford and Gonzalez in getting the Red Sox back to 95 wins and a playoff berth.
Can the Red Sox expect Josh Beckett to return to his former self? Share your thoughts below.