Tuesday, February 19, 2013

'Scrappy Underdogs' Will Finish 4th In AL East

'Scrappy Underdogs'
In his assessment of the 2013 Carmine Hose, Red Sox President and CEO Larry Lucchino famously referred to his team as "scrappy underdogs". And Larry likes it that way. Be that as it may, any non-Pink Hat assessment of this year's Red Sox team has to conclude that (despite the more level playing field in their division) this team is a fourth-place finisher. All things considered, they are worse than the Jays, Rays and Yankees and marginally better than the over-achieving Orioles. Let's look at the facts:

In Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, Ryan Dempster, John Lackey and Felix Doubront, Boston has the potential for a decent starting five. However, Buchholz still has back issues and tweaked his hammy early in camp. Dempster has yet to show he can retire American League batters. Lester should rebound from his worst season. Doubront already has some shoulder issues from his 2012 workload. And Lackey is, well, Lackey. Lots of 'maybes', 'couldas', 'shouldas', and 'ifs'. GRADE: C+

This is the only area where the Red Sox enjoy an edge on almost all their division rivals. The additions of Joel Hanrahan and Koji Uehara strengthen an already impressive 'pen. A revitalized Daniel Bard would make this crew even more daunting. The real chore may be keeping everyone happy with their roles—barring a trade of Andrew Bailey. If the starters can routinely get into the 6th inning, this bullpen should be able to significantly shorten games and add a lot of wins to last year's total of 69. GRADE: A+

Dustin Pedroia is the rock of both the team and the infield. He has always adapted well to the merry-go-round of shortstops thrown in his path over the years. A healthy Stephen Drew will probably be a godsend for the Muddy Chicken. First base will be an adventure all year—there will be many a night when Mike Napoli's defensive liabilities will make you pine for A-Gon. Will Middlebrooks should bounce back fine from his broken wrist, but he'll have a lot more errors throwing at Napoli. GRADE: C+

Only Jacoby Ellsbury (assuming he's fully healthy) can be counted on to deliver plus defense in the Red Sox outfield. Shane Victorino is a decent defender, but he is out of position in the quirkiest right field in baseball. Jonny Gomes could be an adventure in left, and could make us yearn for more Daniel Nava starts. GRADE: C

Assuming the demotion of 25-year old Ryan Lavarnway to AAA, the catching tandem of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and David Ross is acceptable—if Ross can really play in more games than he has over the last few years. Ross is an excellent defender and handler of pitchers, but he's getting up there in age. Salty has obvious HR power, is improving as a defender, but seemed to tire in September. GRADE: B-

The propsective lineup has Ellsbury at the top, followed by Victorino, Pedroia, Ortiz, Napoli, Middlebrooks, Gomes/Nava, Saltalamacchia/Ross and Drew. This cannot strike fear into any AL East pitching staff. Ellsbury will likely have a good walk year—but probably not as dominant as his 2011 was. Victorino has had two straight declining years at the plate. Pedroia will be solid no matter where he hits. Papi's Achilles injury may prevent him from being the needed force in the middle of this lineup. Napoli should go yard close to 30 times. Middlebrooks could jack almost as many. And the 7,8,9 hitters seem a total crap shoot. GRADE: C+

Probably the second most hopeful part of the team is the prospective bench. Right now, it looks like Nava and Ryan Sweeney in the outfield, and Pedro Ciriaco, Brock Holt and Lyle Overbay/Mauro Gomez as the backup infield. Pretty decent. GRADE: B+

So, with only three of the seven key elements grading above a "C" (and only one in the "A" range), the 2013 Red Sox should finish fourth in the division—and out of playoff contention. We sincerely hope we are dead wrong.