It was an incredibly positive camp for Boston, which saw all of its injured players exhibit good health, avoided the physical ailments that hit several other teams throughout baseball and saw its new players assimilate just fine into a confident, talent-laden clubhouse.
As we progress through what is sure to be an interesting season, the Red Sox Lineup will feature nine thoughts, predictions or behind-the-scenes notes on a weekly basis. With the regular season finally upon us, here is the Lineup's final edition of the spring.
1. With the culmination of spring play Wednesday night in Houston, we can try and squeeze meaning out of the meaningless Grapefruit League statistics. The fact that Jacoby Ellsbury hit .355 cannot be taken lightly. Nor can Jarrod Saltalamacchia's .405 mark. Mike Cameron's mark hung around .300 and he ran the bases extremely well.
But what do we make of David Ortiz batting .250 with 16 strikeouts in 60 at-bats, all while having issues against a few lefties? Or Kevin Youkilis hitting .175 with 15 K's in 57 at-bats? How about Jonathan Papelbon's 9.00 ERA? We won't know for a while whether those struggles mean anything at all. But the guys with the positive figures have set themselves up nicely.
2. One guy whose stats look pretty nice heading north is Adrian Gonzalez, but most of it was done in the past few days, when he finally began to get locked in. Much of the credit can be attributed to a long, hot day over at the minor league complex last week.
Gonzalez said that early on in his return to game action, he had been looking to swing at fastballs and not much else just to get the feel for things. In a minor league game last week, though, he was finally able to have full at-bats, as he put it, working counts and swinging at all sorts of pitches. He went 3-for-6 in the effort while using his preferred, heavier bat in every plate appearance for the first time. Gonzalez was 2-for-14 before that afternoon. He is 9-for-17 with two homers, four RBIs and four runs scored in five games ever since. Worked like a charm, and he is about to wreak havoc on American League pitching.
3. The debate has raged all offseason as to what the Red Sox lineup should look like. Lately, many of those with something to say about it have questioned having Carl Crawford batting third. There are two reasons, they say, for someone else (Gonzalez) to be in the three hole.
One, Crawford simply isn't the power threat that most lineups like to have batting third. However, he had more extra-base hits (62) last season than everyone on the Red Sox, aside from Adrian Beltre and David Ortiz. Sure, many of them were triples, but don't those drive in runs as well? Also, those who are so concerned with having the "best" hitter batting third so that he is assured of getting to the plate in the first inning should look to those outstanding offenses in Boston in the early part of last decade. Manny Ramirez was the best and most feared hitter in that lineup (yes, more so than Ortiz), but he batted cleanup for years. Seems like the offense got along just fine, and it will with Crawford batting third.
4. Wednesday was a big day for preseason predictions. ESPN's annual voting often draws plenty of attention, and that was the case this year in large part due to the fact that the Red Sox were all over it. Boston was picked to win the World Series by 33 of the 45 analysts, a 73.3 percent rate. Since 2005, the panel has never had a team winning it all on more than 36.8 percent of its ballots. It's just another indication that the expectations for the Red Sox are through the roof right now.
5. Of course, pitching is the key, right? The three guys who are under a bit of a microscope this year are John Lackey, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka, and while their results in the spring were a tad uneven, there is plenty to like about where they stand heading into the regular season. Lackey was hurt in the springs of 2008 and 2009 and pitched last spring like he wanted to avoid that fate. Now, he's right where he needs to be as April dawns. The same can be said for Matsuzaka, hurt in 2009 and 2010 as spring came to an end. Beckett, of course, had back ailments in March 2008 and a vicious flu last spring. All three are physically fine, a wonderful sign for the overall state of the rotation.
6. The Red Sox will go into the season with one lefty, Dennys Reyes, in the bullpen. Reyes is not a specialist. In fact, he dominated right-handed bats last year while lefties hit .307 against him. However, the way the rest of the pen is assembled, the need for a specialist wasn't there. Daniel Bard, Bobby Jenks and Jonathan Papelbon have each limited lefties to lower averages than righties over the course of their careers. Not that Terry Francona would ever pull one of them for a lefty specialist anyway, but it's nice to know the last three innings would never have any issues if an opponent sends up a lefty slugger. Dan Wheeler held lefties to a .154 mark in 2010. Matt Albers? Both sides have hit .281 off him.
Essentially, there may not be a ton of matching up for this bullpen, which is a luxury for Francona. He can slot guys based more on game situation and based on who is freshest.
7. On that note, if Boston ever needs to get a second lefty into the mix, it'll have plenty of options at Pawtucket. Hideki Okajima obviously is no stranger to the situation. Rich Hill had a wonderful spring and has developed into a guy that could be extremely tough for left-handed hitters. And Felix Doubront, who figures to get stretched out once he finishes extended spring training in Fort Myers, will remain a candidate to fill in after what he showed the big club in limited duty last season. It speaks to the depth that the organization has built up on the mound.
8. While the 25-man roster is set, the Red Sox continue to tinker with the depth at other positions. They acquired catcher Mike McKenry from Colorado on Tuesday for pitcher Daniel Turpen, who was picked up in the Ramon Ramirez swap last summer. General manager Theo Epstein has said he wanted to add a little more to the catching ranks in order to have more guys that were major league ready and able to fill in if one of the major leaguers goes down with an injury. McKenry immediately takes his place behind Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek on the depth chart.
9. I include this link only because of that guy who spilled his dip spit on me at Fenway Park back in the '90s. If only I had some sort of legal recourse. Maybe there will be the next time it happens. Can't wait!