With MLB’s two-day Japanese experiment over, we can start looking forward to the real Opening Day. Time to make some predictions for the season ahead. let’s first look at the defending champs and over the next week, we’ll preview all 30 MLB teams.
BOSTON RED SOX
The 2008 Red Sox will look very familiar. The champs everyday lineup remains fully intact with Jacoby Ellsbury assuming the everyday CF job from Coco Crisp. Manny Ramirez will have a big bounceback season-that’s right folks-its a contract year so don’t expect a repeat of his career worst 2007 numbers, 20 HR, with an OPS of .881 compared to career averages of 37 HR and an OPS over 1.0. Do not expect a sophomore slump from Dustin Pedroia who should be an all-star this season. Elsewhere, Jason Varitek will continue his slow offensive decline and Mike Lowell will come back to earth a bit but in the end, this team’s offense will again be among the top 3 in baseball.
Josh Beckett anchors a deep and talented rotation. Dice-K is a good bet to amass over 200 IP and K’s along with improving his victory total and ERA. However, Curt Schilling’s shoulder injury will keep him out until at least the All-Star break and possibly the season making the Sox commitment to keeping Clay Bucholz and Jon Lester under 180 IP each this season a challenge. Durability and experience are also a question over the course of a full season and in the heat of a pennant race. Taking a flier on Bartolo Colon is a low-risk high reward proposition. Overall, the Sox rotation will see a modest decline unless Josh Beckett’s spring injuries linger into the season which is not out of the question considering his injury history.
Jonathon Papelbon is perhaps baseball’s best closer. The bullpen in front of him is talented and deep including Hideki Okajimi and ever-reliable Mike Timlin. This is the American League’s best unit, without a doubt.
Bottom Line: This team remains one of the elite but is it good enough to be baseball’s first repeat champion since the 99-00 Yankees? Manny and David Ortiz will provide perhaps baseball’s best 1-2 punch but the rotation concerns are real and will be cause for concern all season. Projected Finish: 94-68