Thursday, March 20, 2008

Season Preview: Part 1

With the season nearly upon us, I felt this was a good time to look ahead and see what I think we can expect from the team this year. The easiest way to go about this, is simply a position by position breakdown of how I think the starting line-up will do. Let’s get started with the infield.
Catcher: Jason Varitek Jason’s not getting any younger these days. I think it’s fair to say that offensively, the numbers he put up from 2003-2005 are long gone. But, that’s doesn’t mean he’s a hole in the line-up. Sitting at the seven or eight spot in the order, his .250 batting average with double digit home runs will do just fine. He’s not going to win any more silver sluggers, but he doesn’t need to. Most of his value was always behind the plate anyway. If he can keep bringing along Becket, Dice-K, Lester, and Buchholz as they become reliable pitchers, he will have done everything we need. It wouldn’t hurt the Sox to start thinking about his replacement, and I don’t think it’s Cash. But, that search can take a year or two to make sure they get the right guy.
First Baseman: Kevin Youkilis Kevin has been making steady progress the last few years. He’s still getting on base as much as he ever did, and his power is increasing each year. Now, at 29, he’s firmly entrenched in the prime years of his career. It would be nice to see a jump in power, as a first baseman. However, if he’s going to be in the 2-hole where he belongs all I ask is that he gets on base in front of Ortiz and Manny as often as possible. That may be one of the few instances where a walk really is as good as a hit. Although, a double would be even better.
Second Baseman: Dustin Pedroia Dustin is coming off a Rookie of the Year season, so it’s tempting to overrate his performance. Truth be told, Pat Listach and Marty Cordova both have ROY awards on their shelf. Clearly, it isn’t a guarantee of greatness. Nor does it mean that the season itself was spectacular. They were better than the numbers Loretta was giving us, but he’s not exactly Chase Utley or (gulp) Robinson Cano. So, while he’ll be a solid player, he won’t be making an All-Star team anytime soon. But, plug him into the top of the Red Sox order, and he’ll do a fine job getting on base for the big boys. Hi batting average is almost always above .300, and he’ll walk just enough. I worry about big league pitchers finally finding a hole in that big swing of his. But, I’ll assume he has the ability to adjust when that happens.
Shortstop: Julio Lugo Julio had a disappointing first season in Boston. He was brought in as the end to the revolving door at shortstop, and wasn’t exactly impressive. But he showed a little bit of what he can do. He’s a much better career hitter than he showed, so I assume that will come back up to the norm. He showed that he can still run, which will be even better if he gets more hits. Assuming he’ll have a lock on the 8-spot in the order, he should do just fine there. He’s not expected to drive in the runs, only to help out when he can.
Third Baseman: Mike Lowell Lowell was the biggest off-season signing this year. The Sox not only expect him to repeat the numbers he had last year, but are relying on it. Those numbers are a big reach though. He hid his career high in RBI to lead the team. You have to expect Manny and Papi to trim a few more of those off this year. It’s tough to imagine that at his age, he’s returned to be the player he was 5 years ago in Florida. I would certainly expect Mike to return to his 2006 numbers, if not a little lower.

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