Wednesday, February 27, 2008

How Baltimore Can Win The East '08: The Case Against The Red Sox

It's kind of tough to tear down a team that just won the World Series twice in the last four seasons but I'll do my best...

1. Schilling Hurts More Than They Want To Admit

Yes, he is going to be 41 at the beginning of the season but the loss of Curt Schilling from that rotation is going to hurt. Schilling had the second best ERA among Red Sox starters behind staff ace Josh Beckett and his loss leaves the rotation looking a bit thin. You don't believe me?

Dice K had a Mussina-esque 5.19 ERA after the All-Star break. Either he wore down or hitters started catching up with him. Or both.

Wakefield is a fine back of the rotation guy but is also getting old. He battled back problems last year and posted his worst ERA since 2004.

The loss of Schilling also puts a heavier load on young hurlers John Lester and Clay Bucholz. Guess how many starts these guys made last year? Only 14 combined. (Lester had 11, Clay only 3) They might turn out to be fine pitchers but you're asking largely unproven kids to provide at least 25 starts each on a contending team. Not really sure that's a great idea. It's no wonder the Sox signed Bartolo Colon. They're desperate for help.

2. Mike Lowell Falls to Earth

Like Jorge Posada, Mike Lowell had a career year while in his mid-30's. Do you think a guy with a .280 career batting average is going to hit .324 again? No way. He'll probably hit in the .280 range and hit 20 homers but he is not going to be powering the Sox offense the way he did last year.

3. Some Guys Are Just Plain Getting Old

Jason Varitek will continue to decline this season as he has for the past two. He'll be 36 this year and barring a big fluke will be lucky just to be average at the plate.

Manny Ramirez is one of the greatest hitters of this generation but he has never been one known for really taking care of himself. 2007 may have been the beginning of his decline years as he went from a feared hitter to being a good but ordinary slugger. This may sound crazy to say but it could be that Manny's days of clubbing 30+ homeruns are behind him.

4. The Ellsbury Enigma

Is Jacoby Ellsbury going to hit .350 and slug .500 this season? Hell no! I would expect something in the range of .290 while slugging something closer to .425 or so. Is that bad? Not at all. Is it significantly better than what you might get from Coco Crisp? Not really.

But this is what the Red Sox are facing. If Crisp doesn't win the starter's job in centerfield, he wants out of Boston. Do the Sox, World Series champs and 2008 contenders hand the job to a rookie and let the veteran go?

The Sox have to hope that Ellsbury delivers enough extra offense to offset Crisp's superior defense. Crisp has been one of the best in the AL during his career while Ellsbury really is not known for defense.

Either way, they will not be as strong in center ad they were last year.

5. Will Lugo and Drew bounceback?

Not only did Julio Lugo forget how to hit once he arrived at Fenway, his defense regressed as well. Did the big city pressure and contract mess with his head? The curse of Nomar? Whatever the case, look for Lugo to hit below .260 again. Maybe his fielding rebounds, maybe it doesn't.

History tells us that J.D. Drew should have a rebound of sorts this season. He tends to have a good season every other year and although he avoided major injury in 2007, you can't say that the Sox weren't disappointed by his paltry power numbers (.423 SLG and 11 homeruns, both career lows.) The fragile Drew will be 32 this season and may be breaking down early. Ironically, his career compares pretty favorably to Kirk Gibson (excepting Kirk Gibson prowess at steals). Guess at what age Gibson's body began to truly fail on him? That's right, age 32.


Let's be honest. The Red Sox have a lot of strengths. Their bullpen is outstanding, David Ortiz is still a fearsome slugger in his prime and they have the best young second baseman in the AL not named Cano.

However, age and injuries may catch up with them this year, as well as some unproven players in crucial roles in the rotation and in center.

They aren't going to run away and hide with the AL East title this year...

Next Up: The Case FOR Baltimore

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