The Red Sox have won 100 or more games three times in their 110-year existence.
They will make it four in 2011. But this team has the potential to accomplish something even bigger than winning 100 games.
The last time the Red Sox reached the 100-win mark was 1946, when they went 104-50-2 and lost the World Series to the Cardinals in seven games.
Prior to that, the Red Sox posted 101 wins in 1915 and 105 in 1912. Both seasons ended with World Series titles.
Will the duck boats be rolling through the streets of Boston again next fall?
Bookmakers like the Red Sox’ chances. Current odds put them at 9-2 to win the 2011 World Series. Only the Phillies, at 7-2, are bigger favorites, with the Yankees not far behind at 5-1 shots.
Championships, of course, aren’t won in January. But championship teams are built during the offseason, and Theo Epstein has put together a roster that would make Branch Rickey proud.
Look at the starting lineup.
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
Carl Crawford, LF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Kevin Youkilis, 3B
David Ortiz, DH
J.D. Drew, RF
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
Marco Scutaro/Jed Lowrie, SS
Speed. Power. Plate discipline. This lineup has it all. Good luck finding a hole from 1 to 7. Saltalamacchia is a bit of a wild card, but the 25-year-old could be ready for a breakout season. And whoever is the starting shortstop — Scutaro or Lowrie — gives the Red Sox one of the toughest No. 9 hitters in the game.
Besides a potent offensive attack, the Red Sox will boast airtight defense, perhaps the best of any team in baseball.
Turn to the bench, and manager Terry Francona has plenty of options.
Mike Cameron, OF
Darnell McDonald, OF
Marco Scutaro/Jed Lowrie, INF
Jason Varitek, C
Youth, experience and versatility will ride the pine like lions waiting to hunt. Depth won’t be a problem, especially with players like Ryan Kalish, Lars Anderson and Josh Reddick on the farm.
In 2010, the Red Sox scored 818 runs (second-most in the majors), or 5.1 per game. They hit 211 home runs (second in MLB) and posted a .790 OPS (tops in MLB). The offense, with even more weapons now, could demolish those numbers.
Yet one run is all it might take to win a game on some days with the starting staff the Red Sox have assembled.
Jon Lester, LHP
Josh Beckett, RHP
John Lackey, RHP
Clay Buchholz, RHP
Daisuke Matsuzaka, RHP
Lester is a Cy Young winner waiting to happen. Beckett will notch more than six victories. Lackey should be better equipped to avoid the one-bad-inning syndrome. Buchholz has become a force. And Dice-K might be the best No. 5 starter ever. The Japanese right-hander is the only pitcher in the rotation who’s never been an All-Star, but this could be the year he ends that streak.
Every Red Sox starting pitcher has something to prove. While the Phillies might be the popular choice as the best rotation in baseball, don’t be surprised if people are singing a different tune come October.
When Red Sox starters have to hand the ball to the bullpen this season, Boston fans won’t have to have to cover their eyes and pray. The weak link in 2010 could be one of the best relief corps in the business.
Tim Wakefield, RHP
Scott Atchison/Matt Albers, RHP
Hideki Okajima, LHP
Dan Wheeler, RHP
Bobby Jenks, RHP
Daniel Bard, RHP
Jonathan Papelbon, RHP
Okajima is the only known left-handed quantity. But youngster Felix Doubront has talent and should see some action. Rich Hill, Lenny DiNardo and Andrew Miller also could contribute.
The right-handers in the mix all bring experience and different styles to the fire. Need long relief? Call on Wakefield to disrupt hitters’ timing. Need a middle-inning specialist to get key outs? Wheeler knows how to do the job, and Atchison proved serviceable last season. Albers could be a diamond in the rough. Want heat? Jenks and Bard throw seeds. Want to turn out the lights? Papelbon is pitching for a contract, so trust he will be ready to show he’s far from washed up. Reliability and consistency — foreign concepts to Boston’s bullpen last season — will be common words associated with this group.
Every day should feel like Christmas for Curt Young, the new Red Sox pitching coach. The former A’s pitching coach didn’t have anything close to the horses he has now, and Oakland’s staff posted a 3.56 ERA last season, the best in the American League and fourth-best in the majors. Imagine what he can do with a Grade A collection of arms.
The Red Sox were slated to win about 95 games last year. They won 89 despite injuries to Pedroia (a former MVP) and Youkilis (a possible future MVP). Add them back, along with the new players and a healthy Ellsbury, and 100 wins doesn’t just appear plausible. It seems downright inevitable.
So does a date with history.
The 2001 Mariners won 116 regular-season games to set the American League record for most wins in a single season and tie the 1906 Cubs for the major league record (though the North Siders accomplished the feat in 152 games). Both those teams failed to win the World Series. The Cubs lost to the White Sox in six games in the Fall Classic. The Mariners didn’t even make it that far, falling to the Yankees in five games in the ALCS.
The Red Sox have no intention of suffering a similar fate. The way they are constructed, they could surpass the 116-win mark, but nothing less than a World Series title will make Boston happy.
The 2011 Red Sox possess all the pieces to have a season for the ages. If everything falls into place and the breaks go their way, they could do more than set records and become champions. They could do more than take their place on Immortality Peak and end up being mentioned in the same sentence as legendary clubs of the past: the 1929 A’s, the epic Yankees teams of the ‘30s, the 1970 Orioles, the 1976 Reds.
That would be something to celebrate.
How will the 2011 season play out for the Red Sox? Share your thoughts below.