The 2006 Red Sox look to build on last season and continue their run of post-season berths. At no point in Red Sox history have they ever made the playoffs 4 seasons in a row. If they do it in 2006, it will be 4 in a row, and 6 out of 9.
The Red Sox have rebuilt the all too flawed 2005 team with additions such as Josh Beckett, Alex Gonzalez, Mark Loretta, J.T. Snow, Mike Lowell, and Coco Crisp. Several members of the core team that won it all in 2004 will be returning with the notable exception of Johnny Damon.
Undoubtedly, the biggest problem with the 2005 season was a lack of pitching. As a team, the Sox ERA was 4.74. Only two regular pitchers - Mike Myers and Mike Timlin - had ERAs below 4.00. Myers is gone to the Yankees, but Timlin remains.
At the top of the rotation are Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett. Schilling will start the season in the #1 slot on Monday against Kevin Millwood. He is recovering from a very rough season in which he battled injury all year long. The big question is, what is left in the tank for Schilling?
Schilling only pitched 8 innings in Grapefruit League play. He did not perform very well, but he seemed to be using the time to experiment with new styles of pitching. The thing about Schilling is that even if he is not 100%, he is a very smart and tough pitcher. He knows how to get things done. I think he will be fine this season. Not as good as he was in 2004, but good enough to lead this staff. I think he will win 18 games, pitch 220 innings, and finish with an ERA around 3.50.
Beckett is another large question mark. Beckett is still a youngster, only 26. He has yet to achieve in a season what has been expected of him. This could very well be that season. He will have plenty of veterans around him to learn from. However, he'll also be trying to learn a new league. I think he'll start off a bit rocky and then finish the season strong. I'd say 16 wins, and an ERA of 3.40.
The rest of the rotation is much less spectacular. Wakefield, Clement, and Wells are all capable of greatness in one start then crappiness in the next.
Clement started last season off very nicely earning an All-Star bid. Then it seemed as though hitter's figured out what he would be throwing. He has always been a strong starter and weak finisher. I think he'll be solid for us on the whole finishing with 16 wins and an ERA of about 4.00.
Wakefield is a question mark. He always has been. His stuff hasn't changed much and it still works. I think he is getting older, however. Believe it or not, knuckleballers get tired too. I predict he will win 15 games for us and have an ERA of around 4.40.
Wells doesn't want to be here, but he hasn't allowed his unhappiness to affect his pitching in the past. He is coming off an injury and is getting up there in age, but I think there is still some gas left in the tank. He will be highly motivated to pitch well to make him more tradable. I think if he pitches well, he will be dealt by the All-Star break and replaced by Papelbon. For the first half of the season I think he'll win 7 or 8 and have an ERA of 4.60. Not bad for a 5th starter.
Papelbon will start the season in the bullpen. I think he will come into his own this season. With the uncertainty of the starting staff, he is almost bound to make at least 10 starts this year. If he does, he will not get overexposed and should perform nicely both in the pen and as a starter.