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Red Sox figure as co-favorites in 2011

Theo Epstein on the radio yesterday (via Pete Abraham):

    Pitching and defense, the two expected strengths of this Red Sox team when it began play six months ago, were “not acceptable" this season, according to general manager Theo Epstein.

    “We didn’t pitch like we wanted to, we didn’t play defense like we wanted to, and we allowed our opponents to just score way too much," Epstein said during an appearance on WEEI radio yesterday.

    --snip--

    Epstein acknowledged that Beckett was not the same pitcher because of a back injury that put him on the disabled list for two months.

    “It’s hard to say how much it cost his performance before he went down, and then coming back he clearly wasn’t himself all year," said Epstein ...

    --snip--

    Epstein came to the defense of outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who played in only 18 games because of fractured ribs.

    “All in all, it became a lost season for Jacoby," he said. “We certainly missed his contributions along the way. Importantly, I don’t think there’s any residue of this going forward.

The Red Sox have the fifth-best record and the fifth-best run differential in the American League. They've done this despite -- as Epstein mentioned -- getting little from their two highest-paid pitchers and losing one of their starting outfielders for nearly the entire season. What Epstein doesn't mention -- not here, anyway -- is that the Red Sox lost another starting outfielder (Mike Cameron) for most of the season, their best player (Dustin Pedroia) for half the season, and their best hitter (Kevin Youkilis) for a third of the season.

Many things went terribly wrong for the Red Sox this year, and just one thing (Adrian Beltre) went wonderfully right.

Epstein has to address a couple of huge questions this winter; specifically, who's going to play third base next season, and who's going to catch? But I'm perfectly willing to suggest, even before we know Epstein's answers, that the Red Sox will open 2011 on perfectly equal footing with the Yankees and the Rays.