I guess I could just give you guys the same predictions that everyone else has… but I don’t really want to do that. I’m going to break down each position, and briefly look at every player. Tonight, I want to look at pitching. I’ll tell you guys how I think their 2009 season will be, and what they will need to do to either come over the 2008 woes, or maintain their 2008 heights.
Starting Pitching: This year, the Red Sox have some familiar faces in the first four slots for the rotation. The only thing that is different is their fifth spot– they didn’t just hand it over to Clay Buchholz like they did last year (not that they had much of a choice). In fact, despite an impressive spring, Clay won’t even be starting the season with the Red Sox! During the offseason, the Red Sox picked up Brad Penny and John Smoltz. Sure Brad Penny is no CC Sabbathia, but he can sure matchup with AJ Burnett pretty well. And John Smoltz may not be in the prime of his career, but I think that he has some words of wisdom that he can pass down to the guys. Justin Masterson could have filled the fifth starting spot very nicely, but I’ll tell you guys why I think he’ll work out very nicely in the bullpen.
Josh Beckett: We all know that Beckett has the stuff that can put him in the realm of the most dominant pitchers in baseball, but whenever he is injured, he spends so much time recovering, that he isn’t really that dominant. Luckily, Beckett will be starting the season with the Red Sox, and Opening Day for that matter. In 2007 he went 20-7, and in 2008 he went 12-10. So what happened? I agree with the people who have said that he was catching up to himself that entire year. He got injured during Spring Training so he didn’t have a lot of time to get into his rhythm. When he was ready to return, he was thrown right out into a high pressure atmosphere. Guys need Spring Training… just look at Jake Peavy!
Jon Lester: Lester’s comeback from cancer story is really nice and inspiring and all, but honestly, it’s time to get over it, and he thinks so too. He has said that he wants to be known as a pitcher, not the kid that came back from cancer. Nonetheless, every time he pitches I’m sure we’ll be hearing the story. Anyway, we saw what this guy could do in 2008, his stuff is lethal. Not to mention the fact that he has added a changeup to his arsenal, and oh yeah his performance in the playoffs. There are two things that he needs to remember, and that we need to remember about him.
1. He cannot get overconfident with himself. In the ALCS, everyone had penciled him in for a win because of his performance in the ALDS. I think we let ourselves get a little to confident, and I think he got a little too confident. He needs to focus on executing his pitches, not the fact that statistically, he will probably win this game.
2. He is still really young, so he is still growing. We can’t expect him to be perfect. He’s going to go through some ups and downs. Luckily, he has got Jason Varitek behind the plate, and John Smoltz for some guidance.
Daisuke Matsuzaka: Dice-K obviously performed really well last year: going 18-3 with an ERA under 3.00. The thing is, he wouldn’t usually go that deep. And the reason that he wouldn’t go that deep: walks. I know that he has a remarkable ability to get out of jams (that he creates with his walks), but I would much rather him try to impress me by going into the seventh inning more often. When he would only go five innings last year, that would put extra stress on our not so deep bullpen. This year, if he can go a bit deeper, and put not so much stress on our much deeper bullpen… well, wouldn’t that be a lot better?
Tim Wakefield: Everything is better at 62 mph right? Well, that is until the batters time down the knuckle ball and start hitting it all over the place. The good thing about Wakefield is that he can go pretty deep into games. The uncertain part is that he is either on or off… there is very little middle ground. Some nights he’ll have great command, and other nights it’s just not there. Still, it is really fun to watch Wakefield baffle hitters with that knuckleball.
Brad Penny: The fact that he was 6-9 last year definitely reduced his free agent worth. On the other hand, in 2007 he went 16-4. AJ Burnett on the other hand was one of the must valuable free agents out there. Yet if you compare their numbers, I’d consider them equals.
John Smoltz: I honestly am not really sure as to how John Smoltz’s numbers will be this season. His role is obviously quite similar to what Curt Schilling’s was supposed to be last season. So where the heck is he going to fit into the rotation when he returns in June? Good question, because I have the same one. I don’t think that the Red Sox would put him or Brad Penny in the bullpen because they could both serve very effectively as starters. So could the Red Sox have a six man rotation? This could work out very well when various injuries start happening throughout the season.
Bullpen: Last year, the bullpen tended to be a problem for the Red Sox. This year, it could be what makes the difference in October. With some very nice additions this bullpen could be considered one of the best in baseball.
Manny Delcarmen: This guy definitely improved last year, and I think I had under appreciated him in past years. Last year, he appeared in 73 games (74 innings) with a 3.74 ERA. I don’t really consider him a set up man, but I love having him as a true middle reliever.
Javier Lopez: He is another one of those guys that is either totally on or totally off. So sometimes, I start pacing my living room when he comes in. I see him come in for only one batter a lot, but that’s because he is a lefty specialist. He pitched great in the World Baseball Classic, and I think I underrate him too because his highest ERA in a Boston uniform is 3.10.
Justin Masterson: I am so excited to have him here for Opening Day! Last year, he showed us that he can be effective both as a starter and a reliever. So why isn’t he starting then? If he gets the fifth slot, than where would we put Brad Penny? Brad obviously has more experience as a starter, and Justin honestly makes a difference in that bullpen. In the postseason, I loved having either Okajima-Masteron-Papelbon, or Masterson-Okajima-Papelbon. I think he’ll have a really nice year in the bullpen.
Hideki Okajima: Although Okajima was not as consistent last year as he was in 2007, he still did pretty well. Like I’ve said, inconsistency is bound to happen, and I still think that he can be really effective this year. The good part is, we won’t have to rely on him that much seeing that we picked up Ramon Ramirez and Takashi Saito.
Ramon Ramirez: An extra set up man for the Red Sox! He was the set-up guy for the Royals, and he had a great season last year. I know that he has the stuff, but from what I’ve not
iced this spring, he just needs to maintain his command. The biggest thing will be the transition from Kansas City to Boston. There is always a lot more scrutiny and attention in places like Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, but as long as he stays focused, I’m not concerned.
Takashi Saito: So this guy posted some pretty spectacular numbers as a closer for the Dodgers, and now he’s coming to the Red Sox just as a set-up man? That’s pretty awesome. But I think that we can still use him to close some games–in fact, I think that we should. At the end of last season… the very end, I’m talking Game 7 of the ALCS… Papelbon wasn’t even available to pitch. He was worn out, and I think we used him way too much throughout the entire season. I’m not saying that he and Saito should split time, but if Papelbon has been working a lot, I think that Saito is definitely qualified to close out a game.
Jonathan Papelbon: We all know that Papelbon is a very dominant guy, but he did blow a few saves last season. In fact, he blew two in a row. I remember thinking that he needed some rest! We work this poor guy to death (not that we had any other option). But now, I feel much more comfortable that we have guys that will be able to fill in when he needs an off day. Papelbon obviously has a great mentality, so he definitely needs to maintain that, and if he does, I think that he will have a great season.
Keep your eyes open for: Clay Buchholz, Michael Bowden, and Daniel Bard. I think that we will see all of them throughout the entire season. Also, keep tabs on Junichi Tazawa’s progress.
Offensive/Defensive preview to come either late tomorrow, or early Monday!!