New look Sox will rely on pitching, defense

Article by: Alex Mellion

It’s the beginning of March, and besides Spring Break, there’s really only one other thing to look forward to: the fact that the MLB season is right around the corner.  The Boston Red Sox recently started their Grapefruit League schedule and are looking to shake off last season’s disappointing early exit from the playoffs.

The 2009 Red Sox finished the season with a 95-67 record; good enough for a second-place finish in the AL East and the AL Wild Card berth.  They faced the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the American League Division Series, a team they were 9-1 against in the ALDS since 2004 and expected to experience similar success.

However, instead of seeing the success they were accustomed to, the Red Sox went out with a whimper, getting swept in the best of five series, 3-0.  Adding insult to injury, the Red Sox were ahead 6-4 going into the ninth inning of game three, only to see closer Jonathan Papelbon squander the lead by allowing three runs.

The biggest offseason acquisition for the Red Sox was top free agent pitcher John Lackey. The 6-foot-6-inch workhorse was widely regarded as the top free agent pitcher available in the offseason, and the Red Sox signed him to a five-year, $82.5 million deal on Dec. 16. Ironically, Lackey was a member of the Angels last season, and actually won game one of the ALDS against the Red Sox.

With the addition of Lackey, the Red Sox now have three top-flight starting pitchers in Lackey, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett (the latter two combined to go 32-14 last season), who will be counted on to provide quality innings for this team. Rounding out the rotation will be Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka, who after going 18-3 in 2008 went a disappointing 4-6 last season while spending the majority of the year on the disabled list. The old adage is that “pitching wins championships,” and with this pitching staff, the Red Sox could very well make a World Series run.

The team’s biggest weakness will be on offense. Their top offensive threat, Jason Bay (36 HRs, 119 RBIs), was a free agent and opted to sign with the New York Mets, which left a gaping hole in the lineup. They will have to count on first baseman Kevin Youkilis (27 HRs, 94 RBIs) and Victor Martinez, who was acquired at the trade deadline last year, to supply the offense for the team.

The Red Sox are always one of the top defensive teams in the league, and this year should be no different, with the additions of Mike Cameron and Adrian Beltré.

Beltré is a two-time Gold Glove winner at third base, and Cameron is a three-time winner at centerfield who can usually be counted on for at least one highlight-reel catch per game.  Adding Beltré and Cameron into a lineup that already features stellar defensive talent in Jacoby Ellsbury, J.D. Drew and Gold Glove winners Dustin Pedroia and Youkilis bodes well for the team.

The Red Sox play in the always-competitive American League East division, and this year will be no different. The Baltimore Orioles are much improved this year, and the Tampa Bay Rays are should remain competitive as well.  Of course, it goes without saying that the defending World Series champion New York Yankees will be dangerous as always, despite having aging talent at several positions (shortstop, catcher and closer) and not having a solid fifth starting pitcher to rely on.

The 2010 Boston Red Sox open their season at home on April 4 against the arch-rival Yankees. Their stellar pitching should be enough to supplement their lack of offensive firepower, and expect the team to finish in the top-two of the AL East and secure a playoff berth for the fourth-straight season.