Happy New Year

HAPPY NEW YEHHHRRRR

I am not part of the Doris Kearns Goodwin wing of the Red Sox Party, and thus I am not into the flowery poetry of opening day, but truth be told, I am still a sucker for the season opener. To be quite honest, I don’t give a crap about the symbolism of the day so don’t come into the paint wielding terms like “rebirth” and “rites of spring.”Instead, I am just glad that my friend has returned home safely and I have something to obsess about for the next 210 days. Because baseball is my passion and the Sox are in my blood. Have been since October of 1975. Yeah, there is still another four weeks left of hockey and perhaps the Celtics can win a playoff series and extend their life into May, but the fact of the matter is, from tonight forward, the Sox have a lien on my life. Last year, I tallied ~151 games despite the fact that the season was a slumber. This year, I have built 140 games into my budget, but that is always subject to change, given externalities such as employment, vacation, and Saturday afternoon blackouts. Regardless, as always, I am excited for the new year. My optimism is “guarded,” but I see plenty of potential in this team. Sure, there are plenty of concerns, but if this club can stay relatively healthy, get a couple of breakout years and perhaps pick up a piece along the way, I think a playoff spot is attainable. And on opening day, that is all one can hope for.

And with that ……my Opening Day preview and predictions.

Let’s cut to the chase. The Sox won 95 games last season while outperforming their run differential by a couple of games. Included in that 95 win total was a 16-win turkey shoot versus Baltimore, a stalemate with the Yankees, and plenty of red against the AL West. The offense was capable, spitting out 872 runs while the defense/pitching was passable, surrendering 736 runs. This year, the offense has been shaken and stirred, with Cameron in for Bay, Scutaro in for an ensemble of garbage at short and Lowell being swapped out for Beltre. Yeah, losing Bay will hurt as that 134 OPS+ is not easily replaceable. But Cameron can mash lefties and Hermida should be useful. And when you factor in Beltre hitting at Fenway and Scutaro’s OBP relative to the shortstop baseline from 2009, I don’t think the Sox offense will see much slippage. Ellsbury should have some upside, having Victor Martinez for an extra four months is an ENORMOUS improvement and there should be some lift from the DH spot. So, if Youkilis and Pedroia don’t slip markedly and Drew can play at least 130 games, I see this offense putting up no less than 850 runs and it’s conceivable that the number comes in above last year.

On the other side of the ledger, there should be big improvement when it comes to run prevention. Gone is Penny. Gone is Smoltz. Paul Byrd travelled back to the 1950’s in his hot tub time machine. Dice is unlikely to miss four months. And in the mix is John Lackey who, by himself, should be 30+ runs better than the four or five spot produced last year. So even though I am not a huge fan of Tim Wakefield, and Clay Buchholz’ late-August “breakout” still needs plenty of confirmation and the front of the pen feels pretty soft, I see the makings of a pretty strong staff.  My guess is Buchholz has some rough nights but tallies 180 innings, a WHIP under 1.40 and an ERA in the low fours. Dice and Wake mix and match their way to nice outperformance from the five hole. And the pen, which figures to lack depth, can be augmented along the way. All that said, you now have a staff pitching in front of what is probably one of the three best defense in baseball. There is now a vacuum at third which surely beats last year’s statue. There is a sure-handed glove at short, which is a huge upgrade over the pre-Gonzo baseline from a year ago. Cameron is probably five runs better than Ellsbury in center and Ellsbury is probably five runs better than Bay in left. And even though Martinez is no Pudge, he should be able to cut down on the grand prix that Varitek allowed on the bases last season. So when you throw all that into the blender, my crystal ball says the Sox will probably allow less than 700 runs in 2010. That is the goal and it leads me to believe that the Sox could be anywhere from plus 150 to plus 200 in runs this year and if that is the case, I believe that the Sox will win somewhere between 95 and 99 games. Yes, they won’t feast on Baltimore this year, but I am going to put my mark on 97 wins for the season. That should be good for a wildcard spot although I am thinking that probably doesn’t win the division.

Other predictions ……..

My NL Division winners are Atlanta, St. Louis and Colorado. And I guess I’ll take Philly as my wildcard.

In the AL, I will go with the Yankees to win the East, Minny in the Central and the Angels out west.

My MVPs are Utley and Mauer with Albert and Arod coming in second

My CYAs are Halladay and King Felix with Tommy Hanson and Jon Lester finishing with runner-ups.

My disappointments are Seattle and Cincy. I also think the Cubs and Tigers are poised to underperform.

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