Springtime Storylines: Will the Red Sox score enough runs?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Now the Red Sox: Good times never seemed so good.

The big question: Will the Red Sox score enough runs?

Just because it’s “the big question” — and it’s “big” because everyone in the Boston press corps and greater Red Sox Nation seems to want to ask it — doesn’t make it a great question. It’s worth asking simply because a team can never score too many runs, but what seems to be motivating the question this spring is not a concern about the Sox’ offense for its own sake, but a misguided belief that, simply because the team doubled down on defense this winter the offense will necessarily suffer. False dichotomies are fun and everything, but if I went through life asking myself whether I wanted chocolate or vanilla Frogurt I’d miss out on the fact that there’s a swirl option too.  Put more simply, a team can both improve run prevention and maintain a more than adequate offense, and I think the Red Sox have done that.

Projections are what they are, but the Red Sox project to have the second best lineup in the AL this year. More tangibly speaking, Jason Bay is gone, but Marco Sutaro and a full season of Victor Martinez represent significant improvements. Adrian Beltre is one of those gloves that was brought in, but with his health restored and a more friendly hitting environment I expect him to do quite well. Everyone hates on J.D. Drew, but he’s still an excellent hitter.  This team will score some runs. Not that anyone who wrote one of those hand-wringing “will the Sox score enough?” articles this spring will admit that they were grabbing for easy storylines instead of thinking about the Sox’ offense (query: is the fact that I used this as a “Springtime Storyline” hypocritical? Meta? A pun? I think it was a pun. Yes, that’s it.).

So what else is going on?

  • John Lackey was the big offseason pickup, of course, and with Josh Beckett and Jon Lester the Sox have a potent 1-2-3 in the rotation. If this team makes the playoffs, watch out, because those guys will be hard to beat;
  • The 4-5 is a bit less solid. After a rocky 2008 and a rocky beginning to his major league season last year, Clay Buchholz put up a nice run to close the season (just ignore the last two starts, please. Thanks). If he can maintain that, great, but he still has something to prove on the major league level. I think he will, but whether that comes after a few more speedbumps is up in the air. At this point Dice-K is a mystery wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a 3.5 hour game during which I fell asleep around the fourth inning. Tim Wakefield throws a knuckleball, though, and I remain convinced that one day a knuckleballer will go 35-0 with 400 strikeouts (and he’ll be limited to 35 starts only because The Man wants to keep knuckleballers down). Could be Wakefield this year. Then again, I could be letting my irrational love of the knuckleball get in the way. Hard to say;
  • I wonder about the bullpen. Papelbon is still good, but his playoff struggles worry me and overall he strikes me as a guy who could take a step back. Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez all fell off a bit last year. Maybe they all had uncharacteristic swoons, such as they were, and will roar back this year. Maybe it means that the bullpen will be a bigger problem than a lot of people think;
  • Overall run-scoring aside, David Ortiz is a big question mark. A lot of people will note that he picked things up nicely after his dismal start last year, but all 162 games count, and the Red Sox don’t need another swoon like they saw from Big Papi in 2009. If, as is totally possible, his bat just won’t play this year, the Red Sox will have a hole in the lineup that will nag.

So how are they gonna do?

Ultimately there aren’t as many questions about this team as there are about other teams because, let’s face it, every move the Red Sox make is analyzed to the nth degree.

Sometimes, however, that level of scrutiny can actually obscure the overall picture.  I can’t put my finger on it, but I just get this feeling that this team is somehow less than the sum of its parts. No, I’m not talking about chemistry or that kind of nonsense, just a feeling that a lot of guys could have less-than-stellar years. There’s less upside on this team than there is on the Rays. There’s less room of error here than there is in New York. If, say, Kevin Youkilis gets hurt and Josh Beckett stumbles, an otherwise excellent team could be merely good, and merely good isn’t going to cut it in the AL East.

Prediction: Third place in the AL East, just out of the postseason money.  This isn’t hate — The Sox will be good and I think it’s going to be a ridiculously close race all season long — but I just have less confidence in them and perhaps a touch too much confidence in the Rays. Buy hey, that’s why they play the games.

Piscotty returns to Cardinals lineup after concussion

Stephen Piscotty
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
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Stephen Piscotty took the brunt of a frightening outfield collision last week at PNC Park, but he only suffered a mild concussion and was cleared for baseball activities a couple days later.

Now he is back in the Cardinals’ starting lineup, batting second and playing right field Sunday in the first half of a doubleheader against the Braves at Atlanta’s Turner Field.

Piscotty has an impressive .867 OPS with seven home runs and 39 RBI over his first 62 major league games. He should be a big part of the Cardinals’ postseason push, drawing starts in the corner outfield spots and at first base.

St. Louis will get either the Pirates or Cubs in the NLDS.

What to watch for on the final day of the regular season

Cole Hamels
AP Photo/LM Otero

Here we are, the final day of the regular season. And every game with playoff implications will start at the same time: 3:05 p.m. ET. What to watch …

American League Wild Card


This is where the most intrigue lies heading into the day. We have the Yankees currently in position for hosting duties, but they’re only one game up on Houston. And then Houston is only one game up on Anaheim. Also at play here is that the Astros are just one game back of the Rangers in the American League West standings. If the Yankees, Astros, and Rangers all win on Sunday the current postseason map stays the same — the AL Wild Card Game on Tuesday will be at Yankee Stadium with the Astros visiting. And the Angels would obviously be out. But if the Angels win and the Astros lose, we’ll have a play-in game Monday. And if the Yankees lose, the location of the Wild Card Game on Tuesday could change.

American League West


As we touched on above, the Astros are still in a position to force a tiebreaker for the division if the Angels beat the Rangers again in Arlington. It’ll be Garrett Richards against Cole Hamels in that one. Houston is throwing Lance McCullers vs. Robbie Ray in Arizona.

American League Best Record


If the AL Central-champion Royals (94-67) beat the Twins on Saturday behind deadline acquisition Johnny Cueto, they’ll get the Wild Card Game winner in the ALDS and clinch homefield advantage throughout the postseason. But if they lose, the Blue Jays (93-68) could move into that top seed because they won their season series against Kansas City 4-3. Mark Buehrle is pitching for Toronto in what is supposed to be his final major league game.

National League Wild Card


Pittsburgh losing and Chicago winning on Saturday kept Wild Card Game hosting duties alive for Wrigley Field. If the Pirates fall again to the Reds and the Cubs win at Miller Park, the game Wild Card Game Wednesday will be in Chicago because the Cubs have the season-series edge (11-8) over the Bucs. Pittsburgh can wrap up clinching duties with a victory behind J.A. Happ.

Stay tuned. We’ll be covering all angles as the 2015 regular season comes to a close.