BOSTON (CBS) — For a variety of reasons, the overwhelming feeling as the Red Sox break camp and begin their 2012 season is negative.
The rotation’s a mess! They have no closer! Carl Crawford’s hurt! Bobby Valentine is out of control! Here we come, third place!
Certainly, there are a number of reasons for trepidation heading into the year, but realistically, it would be almost impossible at this point for the Red Sox to be as bad as the general public is making them out to be.
So with opening day upon us, when every team is tied for first place and possibilities remain endless, let’s inject a little bit of positivity into Red Sox Nation with the top 10 reasons to believe the Sox can still win it all in 2012.
10. Bard Can’t Be Worse Than Lackey
So maybe Daniel Bard won’t be in the mix to win the 2012 Cy Young … but hey, at least he’s not John Lackey.
Lackey went 12-12 with a 6.41 ERA, 1.619 WHIP and just a 1.93 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He averaged just 5.2 innings per start, and he was more or less a jerk while doing it.
As a reliever, Bard did struggle in some high-leverage situations, as evidenced by his nine losses. However, he finished the year with a 3.33 ERA, 0.959 WHIP and 3.08 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Perhaps taking Bard out of those first-and-third, one-out, tie game situations and putting him in the less stressful innings could be a blessing and could allow Bard to flourish.
At the very least, it’s safe to assume he won’t be worse than Lackey.
9. Too Much Tampa Hype
The Tampa Bay Rays have become a force to be reckoned with every single season, thanks to excellent managing by Joe Maddon, great young pitching, and a solid lineup. And they’ve done it every single year as an underdog.
This year is very, very different. Just about every expert in the country has the Rays finishing either first or second in the American League East, and they’re considered by many to be the team to beat this year.
As we all saw with the Red Sox in 2011, great expectations can sometimes put too much pressure on a team. How will the Rays respond as favorites?
(On the flip side, after 33 of 50 ESPN experts picked the Sox to win the World Series last year, just one picked the Red Sox this year. Last year, exactly zero experts picked the Cardinals to win it all, so it’s best to remain under the radar as the season begins.)
8. Fenway 100 Magic?
It’s hokey and cheesy and all those things to talk about how magical Fenway Park is, but, well, isn’t it?
The ballpark, for all its quirks and issues, is a true treasure, and its 100th birthday will be celebrated this April. It’s seen just about everything over the past century, and it remains a beloved piece of baseball history. Hoping for a little magic during the 100th birthday celebration isn’t the craziest thing you could do.
7. Finally Some Health
The 2010 Red Sox season was submarined by injuries. While 2011 was an improvement, it was still riddled with injuries to key players at key times. Kevin Youkilis was limited to just 120 games, iron man J.D. Drew played in just 81 games, Daisuke Matsuzaka’s season was ended just as soon as it began, and Clay Buchholz made just 14 starts.
Suffice it to say, keeping all or some of those guys in the lineup would have resulted in at least two more wins, and therefore a playoff berth.
This year, Youkilis is in great shape, and Buchholz is reportedly as good as ever. Provided Daisuke can return in June and pitch effectively, and provided J.D. Drew remains far, far away from the clubhouse this year, and with a new training staff, the Red Sox could (and should) see the end of their bad luck when it comes to injuries.
Granted, it’s not off to the best start, with Carl Crawford out with a wrist injury to begin the year, but with the way Cody Ross has been swinging the bat this spring, that may be a blessing in disguise.
6. No More Wake, Tek Distractions
Everyone loves Tim Wakefield. Everyone loves Jason Varitek. But it was time to move on.
The Quest For Win No. 200 was a ridiculous stretch that saw Terry Francona trot out Wakefield every fifth day in a futile attempt to reach a career milestone that doesn’t mean a whole lot. It became a distraction, and it was cemented at the end of the year when Wakefield said the fans “deserve” to see him try to set the franchise mark in wins.
Varitek’s fade from grace was at times just as unceremonious as Wakefield’s, as the veteran catcher mustered just a .221 average at the dish.
The two players will go down as some of the best to ever wear a Red Sox uniform, and they’ll forever hold legendary status in the city of Boston. But this year’s team is a better one without them.
If there’s any player on the roster that should inspire a “Don’t worry, be happy” sentiment among fans, it would be your second baseman, No. 15, Dustin Pedroia.
The former AL MVP is still just 28 years old and therefore should still be coming into his own as he enters the prime of his career. For opponents, that has to be a scary thought.
Pedroia batted .307 last year, his best mark since his ’08 MVP campaign, and he earned his second Gold Glove Award. He belted 21 homers and drove in 91 runs, both career highs. He walked 86 times, also a career high, for a .387 on-base percentage, which was — you guessed it — a career high.
Are you seeing a trend here? Pedroia is still on the upswing of his career, so it stands to reason that he should be better in 2012 than he ever has before.
You might be hearing some “M-V-P!” chants in Fenway come September.
4. Alfredo The Swiss Army Knife
It may be a crude way to put it, but it’s the only way to properly describe Alfredo Aceves: He is a badass.
Spot starter, long reliever, set-up man, closer — what can’t he do?
Well, he can’t single-handedly win ballgames, and he can’t hit (well, maybe he can, but we haven’t seen it), but he can provide the Red Sox with great pitching in a number of different scenarios. He is the prototypical unsung hero, and he was as important a member of the Sox pitching staff last season as anyone else.
The Red Sox have one of the most flexible pitchers in the game, and when it comes down to winning or losing, that’s a rather strong advantage to have.
3. Bobby V’s Tricks
Look — everyone knows that Bobby Valentine is an imperfect character. He can be self-serving and obnoxious, but he’s also not afraid to flip popular opinion upside down.
And let’s face it — the Red Sox became a rather predictable team over the years under Francona. For all his greatness, Francona was a man of routine and regularity. No sacrifice bunts, righties follow lefties in the lineup, eighth-inning guy, closer, rinse, repeat. It was successful, but it may have run out of steam.
What looks to be a strength of Valentine is that he believes in no such routines. He’s used a squeeze play to tie a game late against the Yankees, he’s called for straight steals of home plate and he’s written some lineups that may have made Francona’s head spin.
Bobby V is a lot of things, but a slave to conventional thinking is not one of them.
2. Still, They Hit
Despite that wretched September, and awful April, the Red Sox hit the heck out of the baseball last year. Their 875 runs were most in the majors, their 1,600 hits led the league as well. Their 203 homers ranked third in MLB, while their team batting average of .280 was second only to the Rangers.
Quite simply, the Red Sox can hit, and that’s going to win them plenty of ballgames.
For all the worries of the incomplete rotation and suspect bullpen, the fact is that the Red Sox are going to have plenty of games where they simply outscore their opponents. With Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis in the top half of the lineup, and contributors like Mike Aviles (.317 BA with Boston last year), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (still just 26 years old), Cody Ross (.370 spring average, 6 homers) and others in the bottom half, expect more of the same — if not better — this season.
1. The Trio
The Phillies have the best starting rotation in baseball. The Angels’ and the Rays’ ain’t too shabby, either. But put any top three starters up against Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, and it’s hard to state convincingly that any trio could be better.
Last year, Buchholz’s 3.48 ERA in limited action was the highest of the three pitchers, while Beckett posted the lowest full-season ERA (2.89) of his career.
Beckett and Lester have proven in the past they can be relied upon, and if those two, as well as Buchholz, can pitch to their capabilities and remain healthy, they could account for 50 or so wins on their own.