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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.