In this, my final blog of the offseason, I look back at the top things I learned since Boston's ninth-inning collapse against the Angels sent us into a cold, rainy winter. Here's the list, in no particular order.
- The Red Sox believe pitching and defense wins championships. They're pinning their hopes on the best rotation in baseball and a dramatically improved defense. We know the rotation has as good a Big Three as anyone and enough depth to make it through the marathon. Adrian Beltre and Marco Scutaro round out a terrific infield, and an outfield of Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron and J.D. Drew will be as good a trio as we've seen in a while.
- The Sox have the pitching to win in October, but do they have the offense to get there? There is no question that you need great pitching to win in the playoffs, yet it takes plenty of runs to survive the 162-game schedule. Without Jason Bay, and until David Ortiz proves he can produce for an entire season, the Sox are left without the big boppers we've grown accustomed to in Boston. They have some of the top OBP guys in the game, but no one's going to be happy if those guys are left OB too often.
- Jonathan Papelbon is coming back with a vengeance. He hasn't been on the mound in a meaningful game since he suffered the first postseason blown save of his career. He spent the winter working out while the video of that ninth inning rolled on. You think he had a menacing glare before? Wait 'til you seem him this season.
- Jason Varitek is OK with his new role. No one wants to be a backup, but 'Tek knows he can keep playing baseball a lot longer if he's not starting 125 games a season. He'll still play a vital role in game preparation, helping pitchers and Victor Martinez get ready. And he might just be a better hitter if he's primarily hitting from the right side against lefties.
- The Sox are hoping speed doesn't kill (them). Martinez and Varitek are among the worst in the game when it comes to throwing out baserunners. The team spent plenty of time working on that this spring, but when teams like the Rays get going, it could get ugly.
- Peter Gammons and Matt Stairs both have the movie Slap Shot on their iPods. Best line from the best sports movie ever? "You go to the box, two minutes by yourself, and you feel shame. Then you get free."
- Mike Lowell is even classier than we thought. If that's possible.The former World Series MVP is a man without a place to play, and has to do his job while the Sox consider eating $10 million of his contract just to trade him. It's a tough situation for a veteran like Lowell, yet he has remained stoic and keeps saying all the right things. By now, most men would've vented about the whole situation.
- Left-handed relief help is still hard to come by. That's why old friend Alan Embree and Scott Schoeneweis were late arrivals in camp, trying to prove they can still get big league hitters out. A spot is available because Brian Shouse showed he couldn't do the job. Sox fans of a certain age will always remember Tony Fossas, who appeared in 239 games with Boston from 1991-94. He threw a total of 160 2/3 innings in that span, meaning he averaged two outs per appearance for four years. If you're left-handed and can throw strikes, there's a job for you in baseball.
- No one likes Opening Night. Night-time openers are for hockey teams. We all know how fans feel about ESPN's decision to move the game to Sunday night. The stunning part of it is that ESPN is already committed to the women's Final Four, so the Sox-Yankees game will be on ESPN2 outside of New England and New York. It's not even a national broadcast. The game's on NESN around here, folks. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. on Yawkey Way.
See you then. Play ball!