April 1, 2010

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LONGSHOTS: Offense the biggest question as Sox open 2010
by Dave Long

After what has to be the quietest and all-time most under-the-radar spring training in local history, baseball returns when the Yankees and Red Sox open the season on Sunday night at Fenway Park. Given that how the season will open makes me a bit on the testy side, I might as well get the glass-is-half-empty side out of the way first.

Hey, Bud Selig, is there ANYTHING you won’t do for TV money? I mean what in the name of Thurman Munson is opening day at Fenway doing as a night game on a Sunday? It’s the one game of the year that absolutely, positively should be played during the day and in the middle of the week so kids get to skip school. Now if any can afford to go, they’ll just be dead tired all week long in school until they catch up on their sleep. And why would anyone want to see the Yanks and Sox open the season, or am I the only one who would like to see them get a few games under their belts before these two go at it? I’d prefer mid-May for the first games, but understand the schedule doesn’t allow it — so why not wait until the end of April, Bud? Either way, since baseball is again treating the fans who’ll be sitting outside at night in early April like schmucks, I refuse to watch. And I ask you to join me in the boycott as I give them the Popeye treatment right be fore he goes for the spinach — “thatz all I can standz, I can’t standz no more!”

Having gotten that off my chest, now to the glass-is-half-full side, as I say this should be an interesting season if for no other reason than to see how all the question marks the Red Sox have fall into place. Here are my thoughts and predictions for those among the everyday players.

The Annual New Shortstop: I have mixed feelings over Marco Scutaro. He’s an improvement over what they started with last year and he’ll make us forget the Julio Lugo era by about April 5. But bells go off when I see a guy have the career year at 34 after playing 140 games once during an eight-year career. Hopefully it was some adjustment or he’s a later bloomer. But even if not, I like that he only had 10 errors last year, scored 100 runs and is only signed for two years. Plus he stole 14 bases, so he can run a little, which should help. So there’s not a lot of down side — although he’s never played in a place where fans care like at Fenway. That ate Edgar Renteria up — but of course he had big expectations and after years of the revolving door at short Scutaro does not. With the offensive bump almost everyone gets from Fenway (except Renteria and Lugo of course), Year One goes well enough. I’m thinking .275, 92 runs, 11 homers and 63 RBI.

The Big Centerfield Switch: I’m on record as saying I don’t like it, as Mike Cameron’s legs are the ones that need to be rested, not Jacoby Ellsbury’s. Of course that can be done in the platoon with Jeremy Hermida (which sends Ellsbury back to center), who I expect to be the biggest surprise of the year as the fourth outfielder. I think they combine for 30 homers, 81 RBI and 151 strikeouts.

Adrian Beltre at Third: I’m more worried about his sanity for still not wearing a cup when he plays third than over him hitting just eight homers again this year. That had more to do with missing 50 games after taking one off the family jewels last year without said protection. While I believe the “run prevention” line is part spin, I do think this was a good signing as Theo didn’t want to gamble and then find out Mike Lowell’s mobility didn’t come back. In addition to his glove, he hit over 19 homers in his first four seasons in Seattle’s big ballpark. And remember Lowell hit only eight his last year with the Marlins. So: . 276, 26 home runs and 88 RBI.

David Ortiz: I’ll be as polite as I can be to folks who think he’s going back to being BIG PAPI: you’re nuts. Many said that about Jason Varitek when the historical record on catchers said no way and was right. While it’s not quite as unforgiving for sluggers, it isn’t all that kind either. It’s a mixed bag on his Baseball-reference.com page, where a few of the guys his career stats compare to at age 33 — like the Cubs’ Derek Lee, Fred McGriff and Carlos Delgado — had at least one big year after 34. But they are different body types. Those more like his — Mo Vaughn, Willie McCovey, Kent Hrbek and Willie Stargell — were either done at 34 or at 75-80% of their peak. After two declining years I expect the same. So, while I hope I’m wrong, I expect .262 with 25 homers and 85 RBI. In other words, a decent sixth hitter.

The Mike Lowell Situation: Once again the hand-wringers are agog over what his presence will do to Beltre’s psyche. They worry if he gets off too slow that the locals will start calling for the popular 2007 series MVP and he’ll press even more. Well, sorry, I want mentally tough guys on the team and if he crumbles under that pressure, then what’s he going to do when it really counts? Besides, given what I just said about the decline of Ortiz, his bat will come in handy and provides injury insurance at three spots — so his injury the other day may be a blessing in disguise. I expect he stays all year and winds up with 300 at-bats.

JD (blood and guts) Drew: The usual — .276, 22 homers, 68 RBI and 40 missed games.

Hitting: It’s not so much batting average but the dominant power hitter that’s lacking to hit clean-up. I like both Victor Martinez and Kevin Youkilis, but I see them as three- and five-hole hitters. So without that they won’t be as dangerous as they were in the heyday of Manny and Big Papi. But even though they won’t hit 212 homers again, that doesn’t mean they’ll be offensively challenged. They’ll just need to rely a little more on the back end of the order than in recent years, along with upticks from Ellsbury (.315, 109 runs scored and 67 steals), Dustin Pedroia (.312, 113 runs, 15 homers and 75 RBI), Youk (.306, 96 runs, 29 homers, 103 RBI) and Victor Martinez (.311, 23 homers and 106 RBI).

Next week I’ll look at the pitching. And as usual, we’ll revisit these the week after the season ends to see how the heck I did.

Dave Long can be reached at dlong@hippopress.com. He hosts Dave Long and Company from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.


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3/18/2010 Mixed bag on Nomar's Red Sox retirement
3/11/2010 Are Sox spinning on the new move to defense
3/4/2010 Mail bags talks of Pats, Celts and the Olympics
2/25/2010 Tigers tail between his legs amid vast public attention
2/18/2010 This and that as the curtain goes up on other stuff besides football
2/11/2010 This and that as the curtain comes down on football
2/4/2010 Peyton's place in historical pecking order on the line Sunday
1/28/2010 The all-decade choices — Part II
1/21/2010 The 2000s decade gets a last blast from the past
1/14/2010 Patriots marching toward an off-season rebuild
1/7/2010 Questions abound as second season arrives for Pats
12/31/2009 Numbers tell the story for 2009 in review
12/24/2009 Holiday presents for the sports naughty and nice
12/17/2009 Life can be like riding a tiger by the tail
12/10/2009 The mailbag beckons in a busy week
12/3/2009 Is hot stove turning into ho seat for Theo?
11/26/2009 Thanks and turkeys are the usual holiday fare this time of year
11/19/2009 Belichick's fourth-down cal lconfounds Patriot Nation
11/12/2009 the mid-year report for the NFL
11/05/2009 Ducks on the pond as Oregon drowns USC title hopes
10/29/2009 Run for the title looks in store for Celtics
10/22/2009 Mt. Rushmore of Patriots moments
10/15/2009 Changes I'd like to see happen
10/8/2009 Predictable ending to 2009 baseball prediction game
10/1/2009 Bay watch on for Sox MVP
9/24/2009 Pitch count police trigger another dreamlike episode
9/17/2009 The mailbags open for business
9/10/2009 Pats now see more clearly what needs to be done for '09
9/3/2009 On the shrink's couch in a near francoma
8/27/2009 Random thoughts and big refrigerator magnets
8/20/2009 Sixty-one years later and Ruth's still in the conversation8/13/2009 Empire strikes back during annual visit
8/6/2009 Ortiz and Manny's steroid story tests fans as well
7/30/2009 Trading places not as simple as "I'll take the old guy"7/23/2009 Mailbag delivers some interesting questions and answers
7/16/2009 Random thoughts for a lazy summer day
7/9/2009 Season's second half is when it'll get interesting for the Sox
7/2/2009 Declaring independence of how others play the game
6/25/2009 Finding the right plan is as easy as A, B, C with Celtics
6/18/2009 A great experience came in the Knick of time
6/11/2009 Ripping key to Rodney's broadcast success?
6/4/2009 The Mt. Rushmores of the red Sox-Yankees rivalry
5/28/2009 First-place Sox are making the grade
5/21/2009 NBA rivalries have no rival in other team sports
5/14/2009 Lying from baseball's Pinocchio prompts questions
5/7/2009 Celtics bull their way into round two — finally!
4/30/2009 Tanked from the headlines, the Fenway series yanks it back
4/23/2009 Draft winds blow NFL teams to make interesting decisions
4/16/2009 Spring cleaning of a cluttered sports mind
4/9/2009 Red Sox Nation springs back to life
4/2/2009 Climbing sports Mt. Rushmore
3/26/2009 Mount Rushmore offerings and other spring thoughts
3/19/2009 B-Ball, Coach B and Baseball in the mailbag today
3/12/2009 Great talent a rush but not all it's cracked up to be
3/5/2009 In Bill we still trust?
2/26/2009 A mountain over this molehill
2/19/2009 Steroids muscle in on game's strength
2/12/2009 Bonner bombs away on Cs in garden party homecoming
2/5/2009 Nation's angst ends as V-Tek says what the heck and rejoins flock
1/29/2009 Super Bowl Sunday brings to mind past and present
1/22/2009 The elusive quality of greatness is the topic of the day
1/15/2009 Spring cleaning of the sports mind a little early
1/8/2009 Will hall have Rice on the menu come July
1/1/2009 Predictions and wants for the year ahead
12/25/2008 A look in the rear view mirror at 2008
12/18/2008 The Pats' playoff run and new Yankees contracts make big news
12/11/2008 Random thoughts and associations
12/4/2008 Pats should consider options when it comes to Cassel and Brady
11/27/2008 Putting the thanks in Thanksgiving
11/20/2008 News of the week has people talking
11/13/2008 Cassel's in the clouds compared to early expectations11/6/2008 Mail bag delivers some interesting questiont10/30/2008"Yankees Suck" - like mentality fuels political discontent10/23/2008 No ray of hope as season closes in Tampa Bay
10/16/2008 Going to the nines a thing of the past
10/9/2008 C-eeing some interesting stories unfold this week
10/2/2008 "How come?" is the main question of the day
9/25/2008 Observations on baseball in 2008
9/18/2008 If I were a QB, a DB, a stat geek or a soccer mom ...
9/11/2008 After disaster Brady's bunch won't pass on season
9/4/2008 Pats start off with high expectation and some concerns
8/28/2008 A race to the finish to take all month long
8/21/2008 National news items of interest for local folks
8/14/2008 A little of this and that from the good side of sports pile
8/7/2008 Manny happy returns from the Evil Empire
7/31/2008 Manny being Manny - the sequel Part XXXII
7/24/2008 Open the mail bag for some Red Sox questions
7/17/2008 Hall-worthy or not the latest question on Schilling
7/10/2008 Baseball season has actually started
7/03/2008 UL editorial in denial — stop the presses
6/26/2008 Boston turnaround makes NBA green with envy
6/19/2008 Letters from the NBA finals
6/12/2008 A Father's Day letter to dad
6/5/2008 Twenty-one and six are the lucky numbers for the Cs
5/29/2008 Sometimes a bat is just a bat
5/22/2008 Some questions for folks right up there in the front row
5/15/2008 Numbers don't add up to supposed Fenway
5/8/2008 Cavalier attitude nearly derails first meeting with LeBron
5/1/2008 I'm so old,I remember ...
4/24/2008 Sox Line-ups, Celtics and ESPN investigations are in the mail bag
4/17/2008 Show me the way to that All-Star Game
4/10/2008 For C'ing a great time ahead as playoffs arrive this spring
4/3/2008 Bill James and the stats for 2008 — Take Two
3/27/2008 Drowning in the NCAA office pool
3/20/2008 Whether forecast is right or not is the question
3/13/2008 Comment sparks wonder over just what I did
3/6/2008 New hires, new trades in pro sports
2/28/2008 Celtics issues far from black and white in the early days
2/21/2008 Congressional ineptitude muscles in on steroid hearings
2/14/2008 Basketball rounds into form under the cover of Pats football
2/7/2008 A giant win leaves Patriots fans feeling blue
1/31/2008 Foxboro lads earn pats on the back, and old Celtics mystique makes sense
1/24/2008 Mail bag asks about Rice, the hall and wild-eyed liberals
1/17/2008 Peyton manning the fort back home as Pats take on Chargers
1/10/2008 Grumpy old Dolphins are lost at sea on this one
1/3/2008 The primary concern is getting a clear picture
12/27/2007 The annual sports awards close out 2007
12/20/2007 Holiday gifts for the deserving and not so deserving
12/13/2007 Jets land in Foxboro as pat go number 14
12/06/2007 To include or not to include Ellsbury — that is the questione
11/29/2007 Yanked from the sports pages in the Big Apple
11/22/2007 Here's what I'm thankful for at Thanksgiving
11/15/2007 Waiting game leads to a series of random thoughts
11/8/2007 OK — it's week nine and I'm ready to talk
11/1/2007 Finally a little shut-eye for a sleep deprived nation
10/25/2007 A rocky mountain high for Red Sox Nation
10/18/2007 Time to go to the mailbag
10/112007 Who'd more popular, Patriots or Red Sox
10/4/2007 IA weekend chock full of nuts, chokes and great moments
9/27/2007 I hate to say I told you so...
9/20/2007 Media and fan bias shades the severity of sports crime
9/13/2007 All round baseball week starts with a look at leaders
9/6/2007 It's Superbowl or bust for Pats in 2007
8/30/2007 The race is on as baseball enters September
8/23/2007 Spine vs. lack of spine theme for school board debate
8/16/2007 Time for thoughts from the summer mailbag
8/9/2007 Will this three make it big in Boston?
8/2/2007 Trading places all in a day's work for Boston GMs
7/26/2007 Getting out of a slump; an ameteur golfer can feel Sox' pain
7/19/2007 Does second chance guarantee a great outcome?
7/12/2007 Masse still a honeymooner in local baseball culture
7/5/2007 Brown Monster a big Fisher Cat hit
6/28/2007 Rambling along with some random thoughts
6/21/2007 The future is now for the C's come Thursday night
6/14/2007 Homers create bonds among fans for generations
6/07/2007 Sox win by losing two of three this weekend
5/31/2007 Lutz of things to think about
5/24/2007 Down 2-0 M’s for playoff payoff
5/17/2007 Baseballs' conventional wisdom is for the birds
5/10/2007 The Rocket lands in Gotham during Monarchs' playoff break
5/3/2007 Raiders say "No Moss" in fight with talented wideout
4/26/2007 A little history on the ancient Sox and Yanks rivalry
4/19/2007 Lessons to be learned from Robinson, Monarchs and I-Man
4/12/2007 A few questions for the sports gods
4/5/2007 Stanton his case on a variety of current topics
3/29/2007 Sox spring back into action on Monday
3/22/2007 A guide for having fun on NCAA hockey weekend
3/15/2007 The madness of March kicks off on Thursday
3/8/2007 Jumping through hoops after an odd season
3/1/2007 A trip to the mail bag for Hippo Sports
2/22/2007 Six degrees of Muhammed Ali
2/15/2007 Monarchs rule as streak reaches 12
2/8/2007 Talking a good game ahead on all-sports WGAM
2/1/2007 Manning the Super Bowl watch more difficult in '07
1/25/2007 Winning and what else matters in college coaching
1/18/2007 ESPN polls are fanning the flames of national lunacy
1/11/2007 Patriots marching to MIami promised land
1/4/2007 Predictions for 2007
12/28/2006 REcognizing the best on the national front
12/21/2006 Present under the tree for all
12/14/2006 Mailbag open for busines at a time filled with questions
12/07/2006 Lions and Gators and Bears, oh my
11/30/2006 Does Fenway frankness roll to the negative side?
11/23/2006 Turkeys and thanks as the big day arrives
11/16/2006 Green-around-the-gills Celts looking to earn some respect
11/9/2006 Blame game reaches new local low
11/2/2006 A week of highs and lows in sport
10/26/2006 Curses! The U is foiled again
10/19/2006 Time for a trip to the sports mailbag
10/12/2006 U turns Granite Stare around on football
10/05/2006 James' gang riding into town to face the Celtics
09/28/2006 Words to describe a lost Red Sox season
09/21/2006 Football Friday can't stack up to Saturday
09/14/2006 A lesson to be learned in remembering a somber day
09/07/2006 Usual pat choice to win AFC East questioned
08/31/2006 Whining won't yank AL East away from NY
08/24/2006 Spring forward or fall behind for Sox
08/17/2006 Trash talking abounds in the Empire over Sox and Pats
08/10/2006 Monarchs call press conference to crown new leader
08/03/2006 Deadly Fenway duo leave mark on history
07/27/2006 Word of the wise gets lost in sports translation
07/20/2006 Looking beyond the Big Three
07/13/2006 Cream rises to the top of baseball talk at the Dot
07/06/2006 Greetings and salutations toThe Nation at mid-year
06/29/2006 Being dealt is a consequence of the trade
06/22/2006 A year later, Boudreau's cup runneth over
06/15/2006 See dogs and cats battle for a different fan experience
06/08/2006 Not Bad Anymore league makes a comeback
06/01/2006 Luck goes Sox way with Lowell in Massachusetts
05/25/2006 Pitching in to help the Sox trade a few places
05/18/2006 Going to school by cutting Red Sox payroll
05/11/2006 Columnist blows his mind; here are the results
05/04/2006 Yanks stormed Manchester 37 years ago this week
04/27/2006 Regular crowd nowhere to be found come playoff time
04/20/2006 Questions and answers from the mailbag
04/13/2006 Local sports teams spring into action
04/06/2006 Predictable Red Sox season lies ahead
03/30/2006 Analyzing this and that as Pats roster shrinks
03/23/2006 A week of following the bouncing balls
03/16/2006 The beginning of four days of basketball bliss
03/09/2006 Many miss the central point of the story
03/02/2006 Better late than never to jump through local hoops
02/23/2006 Celtic green means raw, not envy as it once did
02/16/2003 An issue that is all black and white
02/09/2006 Nomar curses from the UL's Sullivan
02/02/2006 Super memories from 40 years of watching the big game
01/26/2006 A certain uniformity to the inquiries in the mailbag
01/19/2006 Sudden end to Pats' season leave just one thing to do
01/12/2006 Pats on the back for the football team
01/05/2006 Predictions for Manchester Sports 2031
A lesson for Leo the Lip and nice guys everywhere

Chop House opening is Berra of good news
Event-filled weekend missed en route to evil empire
Hero’s death lays to rest misuse of the word
Saint Theo ascends to new heights in The Nation
Santa sack filled to the brim with sports
Patriots march through injuries toward threepeat
Sports talk should be on the air
Stars shine brightest when winning is in the mix
The Demonization of Johnny Damon
Thirty-seven topics and so little space
Too many holes in Sox for repeat
Trip to the injured list makes it a long weekend for local scribe
Turkeys and giving thanks take center stage this week
Yanked from the edge of your seat