Wednesday, March 21, 2007

How Baltimore Can Win The East Part 2: The Case Against Boston

Part 2 in my continued fan-boy, wishful thinking column. Why do I sound so negative? Because I have to come up with five plausible reasons Boston may falter this year. Well, here it goes...

1. Catcher Will Be a Problem

Jason Varitek had a poor year at the plate and a rough year behind it as well last year. Varitek will be 35 this year and the mid-30's are when catchers traditionally tend to start breaking down. It happened to Mike Lieberthal, it happened to Sandy Alomar, Jr., it happened to Darrin Fletcher. I mention these guys in particular because these are some of the most similar batters to Varitek through their age 34 seasons. Doug Mirabelli is a very good backup but is not a viable option if Varitek gets hurt. Josh Bard is no longer on deck as he was shipped out to San Diego last year. The catching position looks to be an offensive black hole for the first time since 1995.

2. The Rotation Is A Question Mark

Even though he has never been a starter at the major league level, Jonathan Papelbon is probably the surest thing the Sox have in their rotation. Schilling? He's very, very old. There's no telling if he finally starts to show his age on the mound or if he suffers serious injury. Ditto for Tim Wakefield. Dice-K could be fantastic but he could also be Hideki Irabu once the team goes north. Nobody knows. Josh Beckett was knocked around on his first trip through the American League. He may have won 16 but he had an ERA of 5.01 and a whopping 36 homeruns! Assuming this will be a dominant rotation is a huge assumption at this point. It could be an Achilles heel.

3. The Infield Offense is Lackluster

We all know the heart of the order (Ramirez, Ortiz, Drew) should be formidable but what about the rest? The infield doesn't look like they will strike fear into the hearts of opposing pitching staffs. Mike Lowell is a defensive wiz and a solid performer at the plate but at this point in his career, 20 HR is the best you can expect and he was only slightly above league average as an offensive player last year. Julio Lugo's offense fell off the table once he was traded west to the Dodger last year and he battled injuries the first part of the year. A .270-ish hitter with 12 HR isn't going to scare you. Dustin Pedroia is being handed the job at second base even though he sports a .191 BA in his 89 at-bats in the majors. And while his all-around game is just fine, Kevin Youkilis has never developed the power he was supposed to. He hit only 13 homers in 569 at-bats last season. Like Lowell, above average offensively but not much. Only Peroida looks to be a real liability here but no one else listed could be described as anything more than "solid".

4. It An Odd-Numbered Year for J.D. Drew

Everyone familiar with J.D. Drew knows he has been injury-prone throughout his career. But did you know that there is a pattern? In even-numbered years, he averaged 140 games played. In odd-numbered years, he averages 96 games played. If J.D. Drew doesn't miss significant time this year, he will be breaking an 8 year pattern. J.D., buddy, you're due.

5. No One Knows Who Will Close

Certainly not the fans or the writers in Boston. There is no established closer in the pen, no one has stepped up to take the lead this spring and there are some nagging injuries among some of the more seasoned veterans. Closer-by-committee looks great on paper but the actual humans in the bullpen like to have established roles. Thus far, there are none. Huge weakness for the Sox at this point.


Lots would have to go wrong for this to be a losing team but there's plenty of stumbling blocks waiting for this team, enough that they could be a mediocrity. All Baltimore should be looking for is an open door and Boston doesn't look like they will slam the door on anybody this year.

Next Up: The Yankees

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