Bosox get Valentine for a present

A minimalist would say that the 2011 Boston Red Sox got off to a poor start and had a poor finish.

Everyone else would say that the 2011 Boston Red Sox were a disaster of epic proportions, architects of one of the biggest collapses in baseball history, and one of the most underachieving teams of the last half-century. They essentially disgraced themselves and their franchise and their ineptitude triggered a massive house cleaning that will bring Boston into a new era.

So it’s business as usual in Beantown.

Boston blew a nine-game wild card lead last September and was eliminated from the postseason on the last day of the season. That resulted in Terry Francona being unceremoniously fired and Theo Epstein slinking away to Chicago.

Enter Bobby Valentine and his fake mustache.

Valentine, an eccentric with a host of experience and red flag incidents in his past, takes over a group with incredible talent (and a massive payroll) and large expectations. But, like Valentine, this Boston team carries a lot of emotional baggage into this season. How the Sox adjust to Valentine’s style and how quickly Boston can put the demons of last year to bed will be the two biggest question marks early in the season.

Doc’s Sports Boston Red Sox 2012 MLB Season Preview appears below.

2011 Record: 90-72 2012 Wins Over/Under: 87.5 Odds To Win 2012 AL East: 2/1 Odds To Win 2012 AL Pennant: 5.5/1 Odds To Win 2012 World Series: 12/1

Pitching

A strength for most of the decade, Boston’s starting pitching ain’t what it used to be.

A lot of the names are the same – Beckett, Lester, Dice-K – but these aren’t the same hurlers that used to dominate the East.

Matsuzaka is trying to work his way back from midseason elbow surgery and he isn’t that good to begin with.

Beckett was one of the ringleaders of the fried-chicken-beer-and-video-games-in-the- clubhouse fiasco and may have a target on his back. He is coming off a brilliant year (2.89 ERA and 30 starts). But he was pathetic in 2010 (5.78 ERA) and has been kind of an every-other-year guy for the last seven seasons.

Lester is a bona fide ace and his stats over the last four seasons put him among the best lefties in the game. But his mental midgetry near the end of 2011 (he had a 5.40 ERA in

his six September starts) raised more than a few eyebrows.

Clay Buchholz is coming back from injury and I have to reserve judgment until I actually see him throw. And last year’s big pickup, John Lackey, is out of the year.

So there is Beckett and Lester and then a ton of question marks. And because stalwart Tim Wakefield retired the Sox are going to be relying on journeymen duds like Carlos Silva, Brandon Duckworth, Aaron Cook or Vicente Padilla to fill out the rotation. That’s not good. At all.

The bullpen will have a different look with former Oakland closer Andrew Bailey adopting that role in Fenway. Bailey has had some injury issues. But he has excellent stuff and is 75-for-85 in his career in opportunities. Beyond his health, the biggest issue will be how he adjusts mentally. Closing for the A’s is quite a bit different than shutting the door for the Sox.

Hitting

On paper the Red Sox have one of the most fearsome lineups in baseball. They managed the most hits and most runs of any team in baseball and their team OPS of .810 dominated everyone else in the sport, including lineups like Texas and New York. Boston did all that despite the fact that studs like Kevin Youkilis and Carl Crawford had down years. So there may even be room for improvement.

Jacoby Ellsbury had an MVP season and Adrian Gonzalez should build on last year’s .338-27-117 stat line. David Ortiz will not match last year’s production. But that should be cancelled out by a rise in output from Youk and Crawford.

Finally, the only position change from last year will likely be right field, where Ryan Sweeney and Darnell McDonald will compete and/or platoon.

Outlook

This isn’t the same clubhouse that was winning titles and threatening 100 wins each year for the latter part of the last decade. The turnover hasn’t been prompt, but this franchise does have a new foundation. And that foundation will be tested this year because no matter how well the Sox play they will be answering questions about last year’s collapse all season long. Or at least until they make it back to the postseason.

I think that Boston is easily going to top 900 runs this year and with their weak overall pitching staff these guys will be an ‘over’ player’s dream.

O/U Wins Prediction: Over 87.5

I don’t know that I would touch this number – yet. But if I had to I would play it over.

I think that their bullpen will be better this year. And if Lester and Beckett are as good as they were last year, and if Buchholz can stay healthy, they will have a lethal 1-2-3 at the top of the rotation. And because it is Boston you have to expect that the organization will go out and find some starters to fill in behind them. This lineup is ridiculous and, as I mentioned, should be even better this year if Crawford and Youkilis bounce back.

The Sox have won less than 90 games just two times in the last 10 years and have won less than 88 games just three times in the last 14 years. They started last year 2- 10 (won’t happen again) and finished 7-19 (won’t happen again) and they still won 90 games. I’ll play them over here.

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