2010 finds the Red Sox in what has become an unfamiliar position, at least recently: looking up at the New York Yankees. With the Yanks now ruling as the reigning AL East and World Series champions, it is now the Red Sox’s turn to play catch-up. Baseball in Boston has come to mean reloading, and not rebuilding-so the goal for 2010 is what it has been for some time-World Series or bust. The Sox look strong in pitching, have a solid lineup, but they are not without questions. The main one being, do they have enough to overtake the Yankees and reclaim the top spot in baseball?
With the acquisition of John Lackey, the Red Sox can boast three high quality starters at the top of the rotation, with staff ace John Beckett and lefthander Jon Lester. Daisuke Matsuzaka is still rounding into form after being injured for most of last season; if he is able to return to his form from 2007, that gives the club another formidable starter. For the time being, the last two spots in the rotation will likely be filled by Clay Buchholtz and 43 year old knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who apparently will be pitching well into the next millennium at these rates. As long as the rotation stays healthy, opponents should find the going tough against the starters. The back end of the bullpen is set, with Jonathan Papelbon as closer. A key will be how the pitchers perform as a bridge to Papelbon-Hideki Okajima is set as the lefty setup man, but others such as Boof Bonser, Daniel Bard, Ramon Ramirez, Manny Delcarmen and Brian Shouse will have to step up when called. If the middle relief can be as solid as the starters and Papelbon, the Sox will go far.
On offense, the Red Sox will have some new faces in the lineup. Jason Bay has taken his big bat to the New York Mets, but the Red Sox still have some great offensive parts on the team. Start with Dustin Pedroia, the one-time AL MVP; Jacoby Ellsbury who led the AL in steals for the second consecutive season as well as Kevin Youkilis, J.D. Drew and David Ortiz. Add in Victor Martinez, who was acquired last season around the trading deadline mostly for his bat, along with new acquisitions Adrian Beltre, Mike Cameron and Marco Scutaro and the lineup has undergone somewhat of a makeover. Martinez has pushed captain Jason Varitek to the bench, but he figures to get time when Martinez is given DH duties. Mike Lowell, a mainstay at third, will now make room for Beltre, a considerable defensive upgrade. Will the three new players fill the void lost by losing Bay, who was the biggest run producer for the Sox last year? If they can, expect the Sox to make a run for the division title and beyond. Defensively, the Red Sox will be better in the outfield with Cameron in center, as well as on the left side of the infield with Scutaro and Beltre. Martinez will either be level with or worse than Varitek behind the plate. Youkilis is a fine fielder at first and Pedroia is solid at second. If the defense falters, it will be a bumpy ride for the Sox in 2010.
I’ll take the wait and see approach with the Red Sox-they certainly have the pieces in place to make another run at a world title. A lot depends on the competition in the division-can the Yanks make another run with their aging core? Have the Rays done enough to bounce back from 2009? Can the Orioles and Blue Jays do anything to knock the top three off-stride, if only for a few games? Time will tell.