Last year the Red Sox endured a multitude of injuries and won 89 games anyway. Now, one should be careful when predicting a bounce-back after an injury-plagued year, because the thing about injuries is that they come back, but the nature of the 2010 Sox' specific ailments is such that I don't expect much recurrence. And by adding a couple of superstars to an already potent and now-healthy line-up, the Sox have assembled an absolutely fantastic team.
Let's see what ZiPS has to say about the offense (line-up order is my own guess).
Wow. Throw in the base-stealing prowess of Ellsbury and Crawford and you have a seriously impressive offense. The Lineup Analysis Tool projects the 2011 Sox to score about 920 runs, which would best last year's mark by a cool hundred. You could knock 60 runs off that to account for injury time and it would still be a higher total than any team managed in 2010. Of course, a cursory analysis such as this is only a starting point. Let's look at the cast individually...
Jacoby Ellsbury is coming off a year in which he only garnered 83 plate appearances due to a recurring injury. Fortunately, the nature of his ailment (cracked ribs) is one that, I assume, isn't likely to rerecur barring another collision, and shouldn't affect the best part of his game (speed). Ellsbury will lead off, to be followed by Boston's newest superstar...
Carl Crawford just keeps getting better. Since becoming a full-time player at 21, Crawford has done nothing but rack up hits, steal bases, and play gold-glove defense. And last year he showed more power than ever before, nearly slugging .500. A 134 OPS+ may not come anywhere near Pujols level, but combined with his speed and defense, Crawford is one of the most valuable players in the game. He's replacing a combination of Daniel Nava, Jeremy Hermida and Bill Hall, so yeah, it's a big upgrade.
Another victim of the Great Red Disaster of 2010, Dustin Pedroia was limited to 75 games because of a rogue foul ball that found its way to his foot. The former MVP is healed and ready to go.
It seems like Adrian Gonzalez has been a Red Sox for years given how long the rumours have been flying, but he won't get his first at bat as a Bostonian until later this week. And man, look out. Adrian has 137 home runs in the last four years playing half his games in Petco Park, but he isn't just getting out of the most extreme pitcher's park in baseball - he's also moving to one of the best hitter's parks.
Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz and J.D. Drew have been consistently productive hitters for the last few years, and even though they're all getting on in age, none has fallen off a cliff. Ortiz looked like he might last year, then he caught fire. Drew always misses a handful of games, but has basically been worth his contract, and the numbers suggest he's still average or a bit above on the defensive side. Youk missed time with a thumb injury, but is healed and ready to take over at third.
Marco Scutaro and Jarrod Saltalamacchia form a "meh" 8-9 behind the "holy f$#%@( and $%#% behind the %^$^@'s ^^)#%" 1-7. Scoots will play good defense and steal second on a walk every now and then, while Salty (is there a better 8-9 tandem nickname than Salty and Scoots?) will kinda suck.
The bench features Jed Lowrie, Darnell McDonald, Mike Cameron and Jason Varitek.
The Red Sox are a model organization, and nowhere is that more evident than in the starting rotation. There are a couple of young, cheap, homegrown pitchers - ace Jon Lester and developing ace Clay Buchholz - and the solid veterans, acquired through trade (Josh Beckett), free agency (John Lackey) and the posting system (Daisuke Matsuzaka). Now, it's an expensive rotation, and it's unreasonable to point to the Sox as a model for what every team should be doing given their financial capability, but even big budget teams don't cover all aspects of player acquisition and development like the Red Sox do.
There is some cause for concern in the rotation. Beckett had an awful year, and Lackey wasn't nearly the pitcher he was during his Angels tenure, and both are locked up expensively for four more years. Both pitchers, though, are still in their prime years and have been aces in the past. It's easy to forget this looked like an absolutely formidable rotation just a year ago. And, in fact, ZiPS projects the worst member of the rotation to be Dice-K - with a 4.19 ERA. That would be formidable.
The Sox's bullpen actually wasn't that great in 2010, so they went out and signed Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler. With Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard at the back (and it's only a matter of time before Bard takes over closing duties), this could be an above-average bullpen, but let's just call it average for now (the only safe bet when projecting bullpens). Tim Wakefield and Felix Doubront (Boston's #6 prospect) could be the first replacement starters called upon.
This is a great team, probably the best in baseball - the Yankees' starting pitching is a mess, the Rays are a little too green, the Phillies too old - but there's still a significant chance the Sox don't even make the playoffs, given the nature of the division.
Prediction: What I just said could happen in fact doesn't, and Boston easily wins the division with 97 wins. I think Mick will have something to say tomorrow about who's taking the wild card...