Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Duckboat Interruptus

Most members of the Nation are as optimistic about the 2011 Carmine Hose as they've ever been about any edition of the team. And, with good reason. Theo Epstein was able to acquire (through trade and free agency) two of the top prizes on the market in Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. He also added Bobby Jenks to take some "bridge" pressure off Daniel Bard. And with the prospect of a healthier Pedroia, Youkilis and Beckett, you should be looking at a close to 100-win team.

I would, however, remind you of the sage advice given by Harvey Keitel's character in Pulp Fiction's garage clean-up scene. Since this is a family blog, I can't be specific—but those of you who know what I'm talking about will get my drift.

Let's list some potential roadblocks to a November 2011 Duckboat Parade through Boston:

1.) Catch Me If You Can. Let's face it, the 800-pound Gorilla Suit in the room is the complete lack of a proven, starting backstop. Saltalamacchia is still a work in progress and could be a complete bust. The Captain could be good for maybe 60 games—tops. That could leave Mark Wagner and a few other prospects as the saviors on a contending team. Talk about your 'Tools Of Ignorance'. Yikes.

2.) Short Circuit. I wasn't comfortable with Marco Scutaro as our starting shortstop last year. While he admirably battled through injuries to have a decent 2010, he's only re-habbed the pinched neck nerve and strained right rotator cuff that hampered him down the stretch. Jed Lowrie is the obvious alternative—but, don't forget, he has battled the injury bug, too.

3.) Just Like We Drew It Up. No sooner had roofs started collapsing in Greater Boston than J. D. Drew's hamstring started acting up. You want to love this guy, but if he's disabled on Groundhog Day (come to think of it, an apt metaphor for J.D.), what the heck will he be like on the Fourth of July? Ryan Kalish and Cameron are good alternatives, but the former is still raw and the latter is not exactly Cal Ripken.

4.) Bullpen Roulette. Despite the sage moves in the bullpen this off-season, a lot of questions remain. Will Oki be the 2007 Oki? Will Pap get that "bulletproof swagger" back? Will Jenks prove to be what Ozzie Guillen told us he would be? Will Wheeler get the "Delcarmen Hometown Jitters"?

5.) Rotation Inflation. The conventional wisdom has it that Beckett and Lackey will bounce back and have typical years. That might happen (both reported to camp in top shape), but it's by no means a given for pitchers their age. Moreover, everyone assumes that Lester and Buchholz will maintain or improve their 2010 numbers. Maybe, maybe not. And Dice-K. Well, we know he'll walk a lot of guys.

6.) The Curse Of High Expectations. The Red Sox always seem to perform better when they are disrespected—not favorites. The near-universal view that they should blow through the AL East, breeze to the pennant and meet the Phillies in the World Series might prove to be too big a burden.

All in all, this team has a great chance to be special. But it is by no means a slam-dunk path to Ring #8.