As part of our weeklong Red Sox season preview, we asked our baseball scribes -- Gordon Edes and Joe McDonald -- to answer 10 burning questions on the 2011 Red Sox. Below are their responses. Share your thoughts as well by answering the poll questions or leaving comments.
1. How many wins for the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays? Who wins the East? Wild card?
EDES: I’ll say 96 for the Sox, 90 for Yankees, 84 for Rays. Here are my top 10 reasons that winning 96 games in the division will be an impressive achievement for the Red Sox, and why those forecasting 100 W’s are drinking the Kool-Aid: Sabathia, Hughes, Rivera, Price, Shields, Hellickson, Matusz, Tillman, Romero, Morrow. The AL East is loaded with quality arms from top to bottom.
The Yankees have too many potential pitfalls they have to navigate to win the division, however, especially in their starting rotation. I’m predicting the AL Central will send two teams to the playoffs, with the White Sox winning the division and the Tigers claiming the wild card.
MCDONALD: The goal for the Red Sox every season is 95 wins. That should be the magic number to earn a berth in the postseason, especially in the AL East. The East will be extraordinarily tough, with every team improving in some aspect, some more than others. Some Red Sox players believe that the club could reach the 100-victory plateau this season. With that said, I predict the Red Sox will win the East with a 99-63 record and a .611 winning percentage. Forget the Yankees and Rays; I think the Blue Jays are going to have a big year and win the wild card. With John Farrell at the helm, Toronto will finish with a 95-67 record. The Yankees will struggle with their pitching and finish with a 94-68 mark, while the Rays will post an 89-73 record. Even the Orioles will improve, maybe finishing with an 85-77 record.
2.What is the biggest question mark for the Red Sox heading into the season?
EDES: The catching tandem of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek. Salty is unproven; Tek is past the time when he can catch every day. Saltalamacchia was the team’s No. 1 offseason project; the Sox are betting heavily that he’s equal to the task.
MCDONALD: Based on the injury-plagued 2010 season, the Red Sox need to stay healthy to capitalize on the potential success they could achieve in 2011. The additions of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler, along with a healthy Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Josh Beckett, Jason Varitek, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Mike Cameron should make the Red Sox the team to beat. But they need to stay healthy. Boston’s lineup is strong. Its bullpen is stronger, but the Sox have to perform on the field to make what already looks good on paper come to fruition.
3.To which player is a fast start most important: Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka or David Ortiz?
EDES: Ortiz’s sanity will be pushed to the breaking point if he has to endure a third consecutive miserable April and all the accompanying questions of whether he is washed up. One or two good starts will salvage the month for the pitchers; Ortiz has to produce early.
MCDONALD: If the Red Sox want to get where they believe they can go, they need a fast start from all three. Ortiz has struggled at the start of the previous two seasons, but he’s prepared for that not to happen this season. Having Beckett as the No. 4 in the rotation also will help his confidence. Dice-K needs to prove more than anyone else that he can be a driving force on the mound for the entire season and not just in April and May.
4.The performance of _______ will be the biggest surprise for the Sox this season.
EDES: Matsuzaka. The Sox go into a season determined to minimize the surprise element, but the player with perhaps the greatest capacity to surprise is Matsuzaka. Virtually no one gives him the chance to be a star again, but maybe for Daisuke, the fifth year will be the charm.
MCDONALD: Ortiz. The Red Sox picked up his one-year option, and he’ll be looking for a job after this season. He wants to stay in Boston and is looking for a long-term deal. With the additions of Crawford and Gonzalez to the lineup, Ortiz will be protected and should be able to put up some decent numbers. A productive start to the season will be the key, and if he’s able to accomplish that, he should be able to reach the 30-homer plateau and surpass 100 RBIs.
5.What will Adrian Gonzalez’s final stat line be (AVG/OPS/HR/RBIs)?
EDES: I’ll go conservative, giving him time to adjust to the AL East and playing with a surgically repaired shoulder: .290, .915, 31, 105.
MCDONALD: I’ve never seen someone make such an easy transition to a new team than Adrian Gonzalez has with the Red Sox this spring. If that translates to switching leagues, too, the slugging first baseman should have a big year in Boston. I actually picked Gonzalez as the AL MVP this season, too. I predict he’ll hit .333 with an .958 OPS, 34 homers and 112 RBIs. His swing is built for Fenway Park.
6.What will Carl Crawford’s final stat line be (AVG/OPS/HR/RBI/R/SB)?
EDES: Crawford doesn’t need time to adjust to AL East, but the Boston experience will be new. I’ll go .293 (he’ll miss the Trop turf)/.830/16/85/105/41.
MCDONALD: Crawford is another guy who should have a big year for the Red Sox. Crawford was born and raised in the AL East and should have no issues keeping his game on pace with his career numbers. He’s recorded a .300 average in five of the past six seasons and should continue that with the Red Sox. Of course, it all depends where he hits in the lineup, but I predict he’ll hit .306 with an .852 OPS with 16 homers and 82 RBIs. With his speed and such a potent Boston lineup, there’s no reason he shouldn’t score more than 100 runs, so let’s say he’ll reach a career-high 120 in that category. He’ll swipe 56 bases this season.
7.Who will steal more bases, Carl Crawford or Jacoby Ellsbury?
EDES: Ellsbury, because he’ll run more from the leadoff spot. I’m predicting 62-41, Ells.
MCDONALD: Watching this unfold is going to be a lot of fun in 2011. If both remain healthy, no doubt they’ll push each other in a friendly competition in this category. I’ve already said Crawford will get 56 this season, but Ellsbury will be a close second at 54.
8.How many saves will Jonathan Papelbon get? How many will Daniel Bard or Bobby Jenks get?
EDES: I’ll say 36 for Papelbon (with fewer blown saves), 10 for Jenks, 5 for Bard. The addition of Jenks actually takes the pressure off Paps, especially on back-to-back nights when he may not feel up to it.
MCDONALD: Papelbon is set to become a free agent after the 2011 season, so it’s safe to say he’s prepared to have a successful season. I don’t expect he’ll surpass his career high in saves (41) only because the team, especially the bullpen, is stronger and he won’t be relied on as much. Papelbon will finish the year with 36 saves. That’s where Bard and Jenks come in. The eighth inning has become so important in baseball, and with these two guys having the ability to hold an opponent scoreless, it’s going to make the closer’s role for the Red Sox a more consistent one.
9.Who will have the better season, John Lackey or Josh Beckett?
EDES: I think Lackey will be the more consistent of the two, but I expect them to finish with very similar records: 13 to 15 wins with ERAs just north of 4. Jason Varitek says Beckett has his power back, so I’ll give him a slight edge.
MCDONALD: Lackey was OK in his first season with the Red Sox in 2010 after spending his entire career in the AL West. He admitted during spring training that he’s more comfortable this season. Expect him to improve on his numbers from last year. Beckett, however, needs to have a healthy and productive season. Taking some of the pressure off him and slotting him in as the No. 4 guy in the rotation should help. Again, if the Red Sox want to have success, it all comes down to pitching and keeping the opposition off the board, so the Sox need both Lackey and Beckett to have big seasons.
10.Which player is most likely to be the team’s offensive MVP?
EDES: I’m picking Kevin Youkilis, who will have his fourth terrific season in a row. My dark-horse candidate is Ellsbury, who could have a breakout season.
MCDONALD: You can never count out Dustin Pedroia for anything, especially when he’s healthy. I believe he’s going to rebound from his injury-plagued 2010 season and put up some impressive numbers. But I think Gonzalez will take advantage of playing at Fenway Park and run away with this one.