In a game where 62 losses make for an incredible season, it's obvious that not everything will go right on every single day. However, if Boston is going to flirt with such lofty expectations, there are a handful of scenarios which need to play out.
Let's take a look at some of these scenarios. If all goes well in each department, the Red Sox could be sitting pretty in October.
Below are 25 keys to the Red Sox' 2011 success.
1. Stay healthy. Too obvious? Well, it's the truth. Not only did injuries derail last year's campaign, but they have played a hand in nearly every pennant push in history, in one way or another. Spring training was a time for the many banged up players to come back and prove they are fully healed. They have, a positive first step in the mission to maintain good health.
2. Don't worry about the expectations. In fact, try to thrive on them. The moment players worry about what people are saying about them, especially the new ones, the team could be in trouble. This is a group of guys that has the potential to dominate, and the most dominating teams in history had a certain swagger about them. The Red Sox would do well to embrace the role as the hunted.
3. Get a bounce back season from Jonathan Papelbon. The closer's 2010 season was still solid, by league standards, but it was very inconsistent. He is the caboose to a train that has all its parts in place. Without consistent effectiveness in this spot, the train might sputter. Sure, there are pitchers in Daniel Bard and Bobby Jenks who can fill in, but then the seventh and eighth innings, when games are often won or lost, are exposed.
4. Jacoby Ellsbury gets on base with regularity. For all the talk of who should hit where and why, it might not matter at all if Ellsbury just finds a way to keep a healthy OBP. He has been dropped in the lineup before for failing to get on as much as the team needs. The lineup would still be solid if he was hitting sixth or ninth or wherever Terry Francona places him, but it will thrive if Ellsbury can improve on his career .344 OBP. Opposing pitchers will have enough to contend with when facing this team. With Ellsbury dancing off first or second base, the task gets that much more difficult.
5. Reestablish dominance at home. The 2010 Red Sox were 46-35 at Fenway Park, a healthy mark but not one to which we are accustomed from this team. In fact, the 46 wins were the fewest at home since 2002. Also, Boston was 12-13 in the finale of home series, often heading to the next portion of its schedule on a sour note. That didn't help in the mostly fruitless pursuit of a solid winning streak. The longest run of the year was just six games.
6. Find success against the Yankees and Rays. If the Sox are truly going to stake their claim as the best the division has to offer, they need to take care of their rivals more often than they have in recent years. Boston hasn't had a winning record against New York or Tampa Bay since it went 13-5 against the Rays (then Devil Rays) in 2007, the year before that franchise enjoyed its memorable turnaround. The Red Sox have won just one season series against the Yankees since 1999. We forget that during this solid run for Boston, the club has claimed just one division crown. It would behoove them to establish some supremacy in the division.