Virtually every year for the last 40 or so years I make the calendar with a bright red circle. That is the date I predict the Red Sox will have totally disappointed me and my usual pre season delusion that they will actually get into the playoffs and make some noise. This year there is no circle.
In my lifetime I have not seen a Sox team as balanced in all areas of the game as this one. The defense is outstanding with three Gold Glove infielders and arguably the best outfield since the days of Hooper and Speaker. Add to it a level of versatility and you have the whole defensive package from catching to infield to outfield.
Defense wins games and the most significant component of defense is pitching. A starting pitcher controls the tempo of the game and they have five starters who could be good, very good or downright outstanding. Buchholz and Lester are both potential Cy Young Award winners and both are capable of winning 20 games and almost did in 2010. Next up in the rotation is a slimmed down John Lackey. The Sox spent 85M to sign Lackey (14-11/4.40ERA)to a long term contract and while 2010 was not a bust it was a disappointment. Lackey will perform better. Then comes the mystery of Josh Beckett also signed in 2010 to a long term extension at 85M. Beckett was a pitching pinata in 2010 and has been in spring training. Can he return to say 2009 form? That was a 17-6 year and more than acceptable. In the same level of disappointment is Dice-K. Dice has done rather well in spring training and hopefully will return to 2008(18-3) status when he was one of the best starters in the league. IMO if Beckett and Dice-K return to previous performance levels start looking at possible playoff partners in August.
The 2010 bullpen was the worse in the league and has been totally rebuilt. If Papelbon continues his downward trend (9 blown saves)the Sox have both the experienced Jenks and closer of the future Bard waiting to take over. The addition of Dan Wheeler from Tampa Bay is a quality move as Wheeler is an experienced middle reliever who does have a tendency to give up a wee bit too many home runs. Tim Wakefield (AKA - One Trick Pony) has also returned to either spot start or work out of the bullpen. I have never been a "fan" of Wake but he can provide a variety of pitching services but I question his ability to do it competently. The rest of the bullpen is a mix and match with new comers Reyes, Albers and Aveces and a stock pile of old favorites in Pawtucket waiting for a call. Plenty of depth on this staff.
This offense is potentially amazing. There are several players who have the ability to be league MVP's. The hitting from top to bottom is balanced with guys who make contact, display plate patience and can drive the ball. This team will produce runs especially if Ellsbury returns to form and Crawford continues to improve his game. A Sox team that could lead the league in stolen bases? That would be something.
Virtually the entire lineup is in their prime years as players and the Sox have fewer stating players over age 30 than the Celtics. A big "if" in the lineup is Jarrod Saltalamacchia. So far he has shown signs of returning to his previous status as one of the best young catchers in baseball. I look for Ellsbury to have a huge year and also expect my personal whipping boy - JD Drew - to have a profitable last year contract sendoff. The bench players of Lowrie, McDonald and Cameron would be starters on 20 or so other teams.
I'm looking at a monster year for the Sox. Management has provided a serious upgrade, players have returned to health and the manager is perfect for Boston. Playoffs for sure with the potential for 105 wins.