Hey there, sports fans. And welcome to another season of Red Sox baseball.
I’m Rich Levine, and this year I’m joined in the booth by a new broadcasting partner: The biggest, baddest crooner this side of the Charles River and the man behind what many are calling the biggest disaster to hit Fenway Park since Byung-Hyun Kim . . . Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Brian Evans!
Evans: Hello, folks! And only at Fenway, Rich. Only at Fenwaaay-Imadumbum-badabumyeah!
Levine: Right. Well, we’re actually at Yankee Stadium, and I’ll tell you what: You probably have to go back to the spring of ‘97 — right after Roger Clemens’ departure, before Nomar Garciaparra’s emergence and a year prior to the acquisition of Pedro Martinez — to find a time when expectations and overall interest were so sparing on the cusp of a new Red Sox season. Then again, you need only go back to September 2011 or all of 2012 to be reminded of an alternative that’s so much worse.
2012?! Have you lost your miiiind? Last year at Fenwaaay, was totally fiiiiiiiine shebang!
As I was saying, even though the Sox won’t necessarily enter this season with serious championship aspirations, there are still many questions and storylines worthy of our attention. This may not be the year that delivers Boston’s next World Series trophy, but by the time 2013 comes to a close, we’ll have a much better sense of just how far away that trophy is. It’s a bridge year, as they say in the biz, and while Sox fans are currently stuck in limbo, somewhere in the middle of this unfinished monstrosity, there’s reason for hope — even if the reason is as simple as: ”Things can only get better because they can’t get any worse.”
So, before the Sox take the field this afternoon, let’s take a look at five of the more glaring story lines surrounding this team and their dream of making it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
What do you say, Brian?
Ohhh he’s a cuddly teddy beeeear, when he’s around you never feeeear. Oh Big Paaapi you’re a hero until the day we diiiiiee — buymyCDyeah!
OK, so I think you’re talking about David Ortiz, and how long it will take for Boston’s biggest name and most powerful bat to find his way back into the lineup.
First of all, let’s just point out that power isn’t required to win a World Series. For proof, see the 2012 champion San Francisco Giants, who hit fewer home runs than any team in baseball. But power certainly helps (especially in the A.L. East), and a majority of the Sox pop is currently bottled up inside Big Papi’s ailing Achilleseseses.
For now, the plan is for him to spend the next few days with the team in New York before heading down to Florida for extended spring training. Once there, John Farrell hopes that Ortiz will be back in front of live pitching by April 8, and only then will it make sense to start considering his return to Fenway.
In the meantime, don’t hold your breath. It’s far safer to assume the worst from this situation and be surprised by the outcome than it is to maintain hope that Ortiz will return any time soon and/or resemble anything close to the player who was so deadly last April, May and June.
The truth is that not many sluggers of Ortiz’s generation have exited the game gracefully. Instead, they’ve generally fallen off a physical cliff . . . especially those who tested positive for a banned SOMETHING at some point in their career. Throw in the fact that Ortiz is (at least) 37 years old and struggled with the same injury for two straight seasons, and logic suggests that Papi’s Achilles tendons will be his Achilles heel.
Although, on the bright side, some version of the above paragraph has been written about Ortiz many times before, and each time he’s managed to come back from the dead.
So, what’s next?
He’s the man they caaaall Jacoby Ellsburyyyy. And MY, does he ever maaake the ladies squeeeeall!
C'mon, man! Get a get a grip. There are children listening. And I’ll tell you what, kids: I can’t remember an athlete who’s ever started a season in the position quite like the one that Ellsbury’s in right now. He might be the lamest lame duck free agent in Boston history. He’s the leadoff man, the center fielder, when healthy he’s perhaps the best player on this team and one of the best in the entire American League — he’s still in the prime of his career! Yet no one thinks he’ll back next year, or necessarily even wants him back. When we talk about the uncertainties on the other side of this bridge, Ellsbury isn’t one of them. His departure is a foregone conclusion.
On one hand, it might be hard to get behind a guy that you know is on his way out, but, hey, in terms of this season, he’s got every incentive to recreate 2011’s MVP-caliber production. And if he can, who knows what the Sox might be able to get for him at the deadline.
Anything to add, Brian, you old croon dog?
When that other team is that plaaaaate, you just know our boys will be greeeeat, because nothing’s-ever-wrong in Red Sox Nation evvvveeeeerr — buyabrickyeah!
Oh, right. The starters. For all the concerns about Papi, the truth is that if the rest of the Sox can just stay healthy, this team will score runs. They’ll score enough runs to be competitive. Enough runs to win more games than they lose. Ellsbury – Victorino – Pedroia – Napoli – Middlebrooks - Gomes. It may not be the typically explosive first six that Sox fans are accustomed to, but it’s enough. However, if the starting pitching doesn’t pick up the slack, Boston’s headed for last place. Its first back-to-back basement finishes since 1930.
When it comes to the top two arms, I’m not too concerned. Clay Buchholz keeps getting stronger, and that should curtail some of the physical issues that have prevented him from truly making the leap. Buchholz has grown up a lot these last few seasons, with his mind and body finally catching up to his natural ability. His reunion with John Farrell couldn’t have come at a better time.
Same goes for Jon Lester. Maybe it’s crazy to just assume that Farrell will immediately rescue the former ace from the depths of hell, but he certainly looked the part in spring training, and let’s be honest: If the reemergence doesn’t come under the Sox new skipper, it’s not coming. Of anyone on the team — or at least the staff — I think Lester deserves the benefit of the doubt. Just this one time.
As for John Lackey, you know, it’s sort of like the Ortiz situation. Instincts leave you assuming the worst with the hope that you’re eventually proved wrong, as opposed to taking his encouraging Spring Training as gospel.
Best case scenario is that Lackey is just OK this year. Closer to what he was in 2010 than the mess of 2011. In that case, the Sox will still need Ryan Dempster (a career N.L. pitcher) to makes a smooth transition into the more difficult American League or for Felix Doubrount to mature; otherwise the staff on the whole will fall short.
But what about the ‘pennnnn, I’m talking ‘bout the ‘pennnnn. When all else fails . . . you can always set sail . . . on the mother lovin’ pennnnnn.
Sadly, I’m about ready to give up on Daniel Bard. And not because of his control, but because of his velocity. Back when Bard was consistently throwing in the high 90s and into the 100s, his wild streak was a bit of boon. When you can throw 100 miles an hour, it never hurts for the batter to know in the back of his head that there’s a chance the next pitches ends up lodged in the back of his head.
But when you top off in the mid-90s and average out below that, a wild thing equals a mild thing, and results in a trip to Portland. I really hope Bard pulls through, but I’m not optimistic.
And that leaves the fate of the bullpen on the arms and shoulders of two former All-Star closers — Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey — who will now team up to hopefully give Boston a consistent and imposing 8th/9th inning advantage. You know they both want to close; each one thinks he’s more deserving. And you know what? I love it. Players thrive in that type of competition.
Hanrahan had a brutal spring, but the general consensus is that his stuff hasn’t changed much since his success in Pittsburgh. As for Bailey, as always the issue is health; also, in this case, processing and rising above the loss of his job . If those two can set the tone, the rest of the bullpen will do enough to make that unit one of the best in the league, and thanks to Alfredo Aceves, quite literally the most frightening.
Jooonyaahh . . . Ooooh, Jackie Brad-ley Jooonyah! He’ll have us eaten-right-outta-his-haands. Which is cool cuz I don’t have any plaaaans. Oh Jackie, the time has come for you to save us aaaaall . . .
I don’t agree with the decision to start Jackie Bradley Jr. in the majors — even if he did earn it — but now that he’s officially here, there’s no reason to turn his presence into something of a negative issue. Regardless of the team’s record, JBJ represents a reason to tune in, and a hope for the future in the face of any short term disaster.
But avoiding that short-term disaster won’t be so easy. Even if the Red Sox clubhouse is the happiest place on Earth, what happens on the field is all that ultimately matters. And even if Bradley exceeds expectations (which at this point, would probably involve winning the Triple Crown) he can’t do it by himself. He may be a future All-Star, but Boston’s 2013 season rests on the shoulders of a collection of former All-Stars — 12 of them in all — each hoping to, but in no way guaranteed to return to form.
Today in the Bronx, they start the long climb back to the top, or the aggravating free fall back to the bottom.
Either way, I’ve got some good some news.
No more crooning!
At least in this space.
The season starts right now.