While we’re freezing our collective butts off in the barren, frozen land that is New England in the winter, the Boston Red Sox are awakening from their hibernation with a sexy new look. In about a month, we’ll get our first real view of what this team is capable of, but after a long and agonizing 2010 season in which interest waned, it seems the Sox have taken back their rightful place as New England’s team.
And thank God for that. I don’t want to live in a world where the Tampa Bay Rays consistently win and the Celtics have higher TV ratings. We Sox fans are a spoiled breed. For so long (by which I mean the 1990s), the Sox were the only real team of interest around these parts. Now, the Bruins are competitive, the Patriots have three Super Bowl wins in the last decade and the Celtics are among the most dominating teams in basketball. The Red Sox, for so long the “Bad News Bears” of the American League (because let’s face it, no matter how bad things got, the Cubs were always more pathetic) have been in the playoffs five times in the last seven years. Twice, they won the World Series. But that’s not enough anymore.
We’ve gotten used to winning and because of that, it was particularly appalling to watch the Red Sox go down in flames last year after an explosion of seemingly endless injuries. In truth, they won 89 games which really isn’t that bad at all. The AL East just happens to be an incredibly tough division. Most teams would be happy with this; after all their leadoff man, All-Star first and second basemen and two of their top pitchers missed long stretches of playing time, and they still managed that many wins. Most teams would think “Oh well, we’re getting everyone back in full health. That’s like getting a bunch of new free agents anyway.” The Boston Red Sox are not most teams, and they can not afford to just sit still after such a critical failure.
For better or for worse, Theo Epstein has more money than God and he’s not afraid to use it. Utilizing these nigh bottomless pockets, he’s engineered what isn’t just the best lineup in baseball, but one that might be one of the best in history. It’s that scary but it’s also not that different. There are only two major changes to the lineup; the addition of Adrian Gonzalez at first base and Carl Crawford in left field. Aside from that, the batting order isn’t really that different. Heck, they lost Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez who were total stand-outs last year, keeping the decimated lineup afloat for far longer than was expected. But that’s Boston; a hero one day, gone the next. They’re in good company.
We’ve all heard the things they say about the batting order by now. Jacoby Ellsbury and Crawford are going to steal over 100 bases collectively. Adrian Gonzalez will hit 40 or more home runs and drive in120 runs. Kevin Youkilis will make a seamless transition to third base and put up his regularly outstanding numbers. This stuff never really works out how it does on paper. Baseball is more predictable than any other sport but its still far from a certainty. Players always get hurt and entire teams never do exactly what they think you will. The Seattle Mariners were a popular pick to win the AL West in 2010, only to lose 100 games.
That’s unlikely to happen because the pitching on the Red Sox is a whole lot better. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholtz remain two of the top young pitchers in the game, and Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka are way too good to do as poorly as they did a year ago. Even so, there are still questions. Young catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia is still unproven, and the bullpen was such a disaster last year that Epstein could have used to a time machine to pick up all the elite closers in history in their prime and some people would still be worried.
Even if they don’t win 120 games like some people seem to suspect, it doesn’t matter. Theo Epstein has already managed to return interest to a team that failed to live up to expectations last year. With the fan base rejuvenated by a revamped lineup, it’s going to be a fun season.
Is it spring yet?
Eddie Hand is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]