Red Sox

Roche: 2012 Red Sox Preview

By Dan Roche, WBZ-TV Sports
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Jacoby Ellsbury #2 of the Boston Red Sox is congratulated by teammate David Ortiz #34. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Jacoby Ellsbury #2 of the Boston Red Sox is congratulated by teammate David Ortiz #34. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

WBZ-TV's Dan Roche Dan Roche
Dan Roche is an award-winning sports anchor and reporter for WBZ-T...
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BOSTON (CBS) – The 2011 Red Sox season was a nightmare. It began bumpy and ended with the worst collapse in the history of major league baseball. And it seemingly got worse after that.

We learned that some starting pitchers decided to guzzle beer and down some fried chicken during games. Perhaps the biggest thing we took away from it was that the Sox players took advantage of a manager who basically let his players police themselves. They let the man who led them to two World Series titles down.

The collapse and all that went with it led to the departure/firing of Terry Francona. Not long after Theo Epstein, the architect of the two titles, followed.

Read: Dan Roche’s Sports Blog

In came new GM Ben Cherington and manager Bobby Valentine.

Say hello to a new era of Red Sox baseball.

Heading into the 2011 season, the Red Sox were hyped as possibly the “best team ever.” This season, the hype has ended. That’s what makes this fun. So, let’s take a look at the 2012 Boston Red Sox:

The Every Day Players

Former Sox GM Theo Epstein hated this time of year because of two words: on paper

When you look at the Sox, on paper, there’s lots of talent around. We’ve watched as Bobby Valentine tinkered with the line-up all spring. However, as the Sox hit Detroit to open up their season here’s what you can expect…

Ellsbury, CF

Pedroia, 2B

Gonzalez, 1B

Youkils, 3B

Ortiz, DH

Ross/McDonald, LF

Sweeney/Ross/McDonald, RF

Saltalamacchia, C

Aviles, SS

Ellsbury simply hopes to pick up right where he left off last season when he finished second in the AL MVP voting. It’s going to be almost impossible to match his .321/32 HR/105 RBI/119 runs/46 doubles/39 SB/.376 OBP/.552 SLG numbers from 2011. Somewhere around 100 runs is a good start as it will indicate the guys below him are doing well.

Pedroia and Gonzalez simple need to be themselves. Gonzalez slumped a bit in the second half, but his injured shoulder likely had something to do with that. He will be better this year.

The X-factor of the offense could be Kevin Youkilis. He’s played hard, maybe too hard, his entire career and the injuries are piling up. Youk also told me he lost 15 pounds last September due to the stress of the collapse. If he can get back to his previous offensive years (and stay healthy) it would be a huge lift for the middle of the line-up. He’s also playing for a contract, as the Sox hold a 2013 club option on him. If he stays healthy, he forces the Sox hand.

Stats: Red Sox Depth Chart

There’s no reason, even at age 36, for David Ortiz not to come in around 25-30 homers and 90-100 RBI. He’s been right around those numbers for the past five seasons.

The trio of Cody Ross/Darnell McDonald/Ryan Sweeney should be able to hold the bottom of the order together until Carl Crawford is ready to go. Ross had a torrid spring, batting .370 with 6 homers and 16 RBI in 17 games, and can rake against left-handed pitching. He got plenty of practice at the new JetBlue Park, and should love the wall at Fenway.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia has a year of starting under his belt while Kelly Shoppach can throw out runners and hit lefties.

Mike Aviles is more than capable of handling the shortstop duties and the nine-hole in the line-up.

Defensively, the infield is strong if Youkilis is healthy. Aviles looked better than I thought he would at short while Pedroia and Gonzalez bring their Gold Gloves to the table. Saltalamacchia will have a challenge in taking over Josh Beckett and the entire pitching staff from Jason Varitek, but I think he’ll do well. He seemingly learned a lot from Tek and has catching guru Gary Tuck with him too.

The outfield defense starts and ends with Ellsbury. His range will help make up for a lot of things. Ross and McDonald are average while Ryan Sweeney brings a good reputation with him from Oakland.

Another X-factor is Carl Crawford. When his wrist is ready he can add a lot to this team, if he can get comfortable in the line-up and in Boston. He could be the one guy that changes everything for this team for the better. And, he’s capable of doing it.

The Pitching Staff

A 7-20 record in September with an ERA of 5.84; that’s what the Red Sox pitching staff produced during the collapse last season. It was awful to watch. Other than Scott Atchison, Alfredo Aceves, and Jonathan Papelbon, everyone stunk. It was the number-one reason why this team sunk in September and most of the blame should be put on the starters.

So, they have a lot to prove in 2012.

The one guy you can count on is Jon Lester. Yes, he had a tough September (1-3, 5.40 ERA in 6 starts), but you can count on him for somewhere around 15 wins and 200 innings.

Josh Beckett had a solid year in 2011 and a good spring, but fans panicked when he went and had his thumb checked out in the final week of Spring Training. He needs to be just as good as 2011, and better in September.

Pick A Side: Favorite Red Sox Player

The wild card is Clay Buchholz. When he’s healthy he’s as good as most any number-three starter in the game. Let’s hope the back holds up. If it does, this team has a good shot at postseason play.

If it were my choice, I would use a combination of Felix Doubront, Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla, and others in the 4-5 spots in the rotation. But, it’s not my choice so the Sox are going to let Daniel Bard start. It’s a big risk, but if he pulls it off it would be huge.

The bullpen appeared to be solid until the last few days of camp. Say good-bye to Andrew Bailey (thumb surgery), which means Mark Melancon will step in as the closer (with Alfredo Aceves in the mix). So Boston loses the guy they had hoped would be Bard’s replacement. Aceves, Matt Albers, Franklin Morales, Scott Atchison, etc will have to some up huge. If they don’t it could be a long year.

Overall

I find this season to be fascinating in so many ways.

Bobby Valentine takes over for arguably the best manager in Red Sox history. There’s no questioning Valentine’s knowledge of the game, now you just wonder how his players will respond after doing things the “Francona way” for so long.

How will Ben Cherington fix the team as we go along? Can they add at the trade deadline? I certainly think so. But, I also am interested to see if the team struggles, will Ben call upon the future in Pawtucket. Jose Iglesias, Ryan Lavarnway, Will Middlebrooks, and maybe Ryan Kalish could change this team in so many ways if called up.

And, by the way, I think you all know how big a fan I was of Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield… but I do think that with them gone that perhaps the younger veterans may be able to lead a bit better. Guys like Pedroia, Youk, Ortiz, Lester, and company may feel more comfortable. It would go a long way in helping to pull the team together.

How will the fan base accept this team? Do they get a fresh start or does the booing begin when Josh Beckett and company are announced on Opening Day at Fenway. The fan base is angry and rightly so. The players simply need to go out and play well early. If the don’t…

How will the Red Sox do? I think there’s plenty of talent here, but lots of question marks too. Losing Bailey for the first half hurts. The Yankees, Tampa Bay, Detroit, Texas, and the Angels are all going to be good, plus, there are always surprise teams.

It could very well be a tough season for the Sox, but I can’t wait to watch it unfold. I think there’s some great talent in that clubhouse and I’m curious to see if it can all come together for a fun ride.

Follow WBZ-TV’s Dan Roche on twitter @RochieWBZ

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