Sunday, April 02, 2006


Hitting has been a staple of the Boston Red Sox during this stretch of playoff baseball. They have scored over 900 runs the past three seasons. They are poised to do it again. There have been several changes made in the lineup over the off-season, but the core and the principles appear to remain the same.

The lineup will start off with Coco Crisp. Crisp, as we all know, will replace Johnny Damon. Damon had a career year last season, but so did Crisp. We just didn't notice it considering he played in the less than frequently talked about AL Central. Damon batted .316, Crisp batted .300. Will we be pining for that extra hit every 63 at-bats? Damon scored many more Runs than Crisp, but Damon was in a much better lineup. The Indians as a team scored 120 fewer runs than the Red Sox. Crisp knocked in fewer runs, but once again, who would be on base for him to knock in? Johnny's OBP was .021 higher than Crisp's. However, Coco's slugging was .026 higher. An even trade off if you ask me. Crisp can run and Johnny can run. In fact, the only significant difference I can see between these two players is that Crisp is younger, cheaper, and can actually throw a baseball from the outfield. Crisp will do fine here. He'll hit in the lower .300 range, knock in somewhere around 75 runs, score about 100, steal a dozen or so bases, and be a good leadoff man.

Up next is another newcomer, Mark Loretta. Loretta replaces Bellhorn who had a good 2004 and a bad 2005. Loretta is a career .301 hitter and he is a smart hitter. He's the type of guy you love having bat 2nd in your order. He'll get on base nearly 4 out of 10 times, and will work counts. He has minimal power, but considering the guys hitting after him, we won't be needing him to hit too many HRs. I predict .300 with 70 RBI, 10 HRs, and a good number of Runs scored.

Now we get to the core, the best hitting combination since Ruth and Gehrig. Batting third will be Big Papi, David Ortiz, The Crusher, The Yankee Killer, Senor Clutch. Ortiz is coming off of a monster season. I just love to regurgitate his numbers. .300 BA, 148 RBI, 47 HRs, 102 BBs, .397 OBP, .604 Slugging, and 1 Stolen Base. The man is a monster. He's in the prime of his career and I predict he will put up similar numbers this season with two good table setters in front of him and one of the best pure hitters I've ever seen hitting behind him. .300, 140, 40 for DO.

Manny Ramirez is still with the team. I feel like there should be a press release everyday confirming that. Manny is Manny. He will aggravate the hell out of you until he gets into the batter's box. Then you love him again. Manny's average fell below his norms last year, but his production numbers were still there. I predict more of the same this year. He won't compete for a batting title, but he'll be in the race for the other Triple Crown categories. .300, 140 and 40 for MR24.

Now the lineup gets a little bit more flexible. Francona might want to put Nixon behind Manny to mix up lefties and righties. He then could plug in Varitek or Pena in the 5 hole.

Let's start with Nixon. When he's healthy, he's productive. But that's the problem. With Pena poised to platoon in right with Trot, he should have a better chance of staying off the DL for a significant amount of the season. He also won't have to deal with tough lefties. I heard on WEEI the other day that this isn't a big deal because there are so few lefty starters. This is true, however, there are a good number of lefties in the AL East. The Blue Jays have Chacin and Lilly. The Yankees have Johnson. There are left-handed pitchers we will be facing consistently. Trot should play about 110 games if he's healthy. He should bat around .310, knock in 60 to 70 and knock out around 20 homers.

Willy Mo Pena is going to cause manic depressiveness for many in Red Sox Nation. He hits a homer every 14.3 ABs over the past 2 seasons, but he strikes out about once every 3 at-bats. He'll contribute some power off the bench and power against lefties when Nixon has the day off. That is Willy Mo's MO. Maybe Papa Jack can instill a little bit more discipline in him. If he does, he has potential to be a very good hitter.

Jason Varitek has turned into an elite catcher, winning the Gold Glove, the Silver Slugger, and making the All-Star team. I personally think he is the best all around catcher in the game right now considering his versatility. He's going to get 50 extra base hits and he'll hit for a solid average. He'll knock in runs late in the lineup with guys like Ramirez, Nixon and Pena hitting in front of him.

Mike Lowell might be trouble at the beginning of the season. Reports from Fort Myers describe his bat as being "slow." He hit later on in Spring Training so perhaps he is getting into the swing of things, so to speak. I don't expect spectacular numbers from him, but I think he will contribute to this team's offense in the long run. If not, we have Cora, Youkilis, and Loretta prepared to fill in.

Kevin Youkilis is finally getting a chance to play consistently. He will be joined at first base by J.T. Snow but I think Youk will get most of the playing time. Kevin probably won't knock in a whole lot of runs, but he'll get on base to extend innings, keep pitchers working, and get knocked in by the top of the order. He just turned 27 and I think he'll prove this season that he can be a solid Major Leaguer.

J.T. Snow is the insurance policy at first base. Snow hasn't played 150 games since 2000, but he has still managed to contribute when playing. He'll play solid defense and will hit from time to time. Think of him as a John Olerud type of player.

Alex Gonzalez will not hit. He'll hit around .250 and knock in 60 runs or so. He will be consistent, though. He might play a role in eking out a few extra runs here or there when guys like Youkilis and Lowell get on base. He can move them over for Crisp and Loretta to knock in.

The Red Sox bench is looking better than last year's version. We lost Mirabelli, which is a big blow, but Josh Bard doesn't seem to bad. The guy is from Ithaca, NY so let's give him some props. He won't hit but if he catches Wakefield well enough then it won't be a major problem. If it does turn out to be a problem, the Red Sox will get a replacement through a trade. Bard probably has the best name on the team for Boston fans to pronounce. BAAAAAAAAAAHD!

Alex Cora will be the utility man of the infield. He hit decently with us at the end of last season but his defensive versatility is his true value. He's played significant time at SS and 2B and has played at 3rd as well as in the outfield very briefly. He's not slow either and can make a few things happen with his legs.

The only real speed threat on the bench is Adam Stern, though. Stern is a youngster but he had a fantastic Spring in the WBC and GFL. He's fast and he is good in the outfield, defensively. He'll probably fill the role that Gabe Kapler had with us.

On the horizon is Dustin Pedroia. Some speculate he will be playing regularly in the infield by the end of the season. He could replace Loretta if Loretta moves to 3rd if Lowell doesn't work out. He will probably be up with this team at some point before September.

Defensively, the Red Sox are much improved over last season. We have a Golden Glover behind the plate, Snow has won 6 of them, Loretta is no slouch, Gonzalez is a defensive wizard and Mike Lowell won the Gold Glove last season. Our outfield defense is a little shaky, but Crisp is good. Stern can come off the bench for defense late in games. Besides, of all the holes to have, corner outfield defense is one of the lowest on the priority list.

So that's it. I think the Sox have improved, but so have the Yankees and Blue Jays. The team with the best record in those 40 or so games in between the teams will probably win the division. I think the Yankees will take it, winning 98 games. I think we'll finish in 2nd with 96 wins and Toronto in 3rd with 90. I think we'll take the Wild Card by an even closer margin. Once the playoffs start and our rotation shrinks to 4 guys, we could be a real threat.


The Red Sox bullpen was a huge problem last season. In between October and April, the Red Sox have attempted to improve that problem.

The key is Foulke. He's coming off of injuries, which with his complicated deliveries might affect his pitching. He seems healthy enough judging from reports based on his minimal activity in Spring Training. He might start the season off a bit off but I think at year's end he will be dependable. We don't need him to be Eric Gagne. We just need him to be solid. We need him to Save 6 of 7 opportunities or somewhere around that. I think he will do that.

Mike Timlin was the best pitcher on the staff last season. This year I think we will see more of the same. Last year his greatest contribution was his durability. He made 81 appearances. We don't need him to make the same number of outings this year. However, he will be the #1 set-up man for us and we may rely on him to be the closer.

David Riske hasn't had a great Spring, but with relievers Spring is almost meaningless. In the past, he has put up solid numbers. He won't be making the All-Star game or anything, but he can go out there 60 to 70 times a year and put up an ERA of 3.40 to 3.60. That's something we lacked last season, a solid alternative to Mike Timlin.

Lenny Dinardo is making his third stint with the Red Sox. He has been a AAAA type of player, too good for the minors, not good enough for the Big Leagues. He will probably be used sparingly as a situational lefty. I doubt he'll be as good in that role as Mike Myers was last season, but I think he'll be good enough.

Rudy Seanez is making his second stint with the Red Sox. Since his last time with Boston he seems to have improved. With San Diego last year his ERA was 2.69. Combined the year before it was 3.33 in between Kansas City and Florida. I think we can expect the same out of Seanez that we will get from Riske. Somewhere around 60 appearances and an ERA in the mid 3's.

Julian Tavarez will start the season on appealed suspension. He, like Seanez and Riske, should be solid, going out there 1 out of 3 games, and chalking up an ERA somewhere in between 3 and 4.

Papelbon will start off in the bullpen with Wells on the 15 day DL and a 4 man rotation working with the off days. He should do well in that role. Last season his numbers were impressive in limited playing time. He made 14 relief appearances and 3 starts. He pitched 34 innings, striking out 34 and allowing 33 hits. He walked 17 batters. His WHIP was 1.47, which isn't amazing, but he was able to keep his Earned Run total down which speaks to his ability to get out of jams. He only allowed 10 earned runs. 2.65 ERA and striking out twice as many as he walked is damn good for a 24 year old. This season he'll be 25 and looking to only get better. I think he will.

Supporting the bullpen will be a myriad of minor league players that will move up and down I-95 in between Boston and Pawtucket. Jon Lester, Manny Delcarmen, Abe Alvarez, and Craig Hansen should all see time with the Big Sox by the time the season is out.

Lester will be in his first season at AAA Pawtucket after an amazing season in AA. Look for him to be the first guy the Red Sox call on to make spot starts if Papelbon is unavailable. Delcarmen will also be in AAA. The 24 year old Hyde Parker pitched in 10 games with us last season.

Craig Hansen is a phenom. He only pitched 12.2 innings last season in the minors before being called up to Boston. He went from taking final exams in May to pitching in Fenway in less than a year. He will start the year in AA where the Red Sox will try to teach him to pitch, not just throw gas. If he learns the ins and outs, builds up some arm strength, and some ingenuity on the mound, then he could be something really special in a year or two. The kid is only 22 years old. He had a great Spring allowing 0 runs in 10.2 innings. He will build on last season's impressive run through the minor leagues and he will be pitching for Boston by September.

The bullpen isn't going to really scare anyone. However, it is solid. It won't cost us too many games which is what last year's bullpen did. If Foulke can't close, we'll have Timlin and Papelbon available. We have much more depth in the pen this year so we can afford to take hits like that. The depth also allows us to not wear down pitchers. They'll be fresh come September and hopefully October.