Playing nine innings while fully believing stardom arrives for Andrew Benintendi this summer . . .
1. I believe Chris Sale is going excel with his new Sox just like he did with his old ones. I believe Rick Porcello will be very good this season but won’t come close to consideration for a second straight Cy Young award. And I have no idea what to expect out of the Red Sox’ presumed third ace, David Price. He frustrated in his first season in Boston because he often did not pitch like the genuine ace he had been for the Rays, Tigers, and Blue Jays in his previous stops. But he was also taken for granted to some degree, or at least failed to get credit for what he did do because it wasn’t on the level of his extraordinary past performance. I can’t imagine where the Red Sox would have been last year without Price, who gave the Red Sox a league-high 35 starts and 230 innings, winning 17 games and striking out 228 batters with an adjusted ERA of 114. Price’s reliability was crucial – after all, this was a team that gave 37 starts in total to Clay Buchholz, Henry Owens, Roenis Elias, Sean O’Sullivan, and Joe Kelly. But in Year 2, he needs to be more than reliable. He needs to excel, like he did before coming to Boston, and like he is being compensated to do, and I’m not sure he still has the stuff to do it.
2. Pablo Sandoval has had two spectacular seasons in his career. In 2009, as a 22-year-old, he slashed .330/.387/.556 with 25 homers and 44 doubles in 153 games, finishing seventh in the National League Most Valuable Player balloting. Two years later, he put up a .315/.357/.552 line with 23 homers in just 117 games, finishing 17th in the MVP race. The rest of his career, save for his superhuman postseason performance, has fallen somewhere between mediocre and good, including the ’10 season sandwiched in between his two best years. That season, Sandoval submitted a .268/.323/.408 slash line, with 13 homers and 63 RBIs in 152 games. If you told me right now that he would put up those numbers this year with capable defense at third base, I’d take it in a heartbeat. His days of excellence have been gone for a while. The best we can hope for is a summer of dependable adequacy.
3. The Red Sox have accumulated more legitimate power arms in their bullpen than I can recall them ever having at one time. (Yes, I’m sure Tigers fans said that about Dave Dombrowski’s bullpens before their inevitable annual implosion. Quiet over there. We’re trying to be optimistic.) It should be fun to watch, perhaps even a true strength of the team, and I’ve even joined you in actually having some faith that perennial tease Joe Kelly could be a force if he can continue to harness that vicious slider. But I do wish they had a change-of-pace righty in the mix, someone like Koji Uehara or Brad Ziegler to occasionally keep fastball-geared lineups off balance. I don’t think this current setup, where everyone out of the ‘pen throws smoke, is going to do a lot of favors for the likes of Matt Barnes and Heath Hembree.
4. I’ll take the Red Sox’ word for now that Hanley Ramirez’s sore throwing shoulder is nothing more than one of those nagging aches of the early spring. But they had better be careful, and that should start with telling him he’s not going to be anything more than a bystander for the World Baseball Classic. Ramirez and David Ortiz combined for 68 home runs last year. They’ve already got to find a way to cover for Ortiz’s lost production. They must be cautious with Hanley, because they can’t afford to lose him too.
5. Have to admit, I’m a little paranoid about the potential of injuries after reading Alex Speier’s piece on the lineup’s historically good fortune health-wise last season, when seven players played at least 145 games. Dustin Pedroia had an outstanding and healthy 2016 season. That’s a rare double-play for a second baseman in his age-32 season. It did amuse me, in the kind of way that leads me to mutter about Don Zimmer under my breath, that the ’78 Red Sox are one of 11 teams in history to have seven players play at least 145 games. It’s not that they were healthy. It’s that Zimmer wouldn’t take the injured guys like Butch Hobson out of the lineup when they were hurt.
6. Looking at the 2016 Red Sox baseball-reference team page, there are a few overlooked stats that jump out. (Sandy Leon really had an .845 OPS? That actually happened?) But here’s one I’m kind of amazed by in retrospect: Jackie Bradley Jr. hit 26 home runs last year. That’s more than center field predecessors/forefathers Ellis Burks, Dom DiMaggio or Johnny Damon ever hit in a single season with the Red Sox.
7. There’s still some mystery about Bradley as a hitter because of his steep peaks and deep valleys – he did bat just .233 after the All-Star break, including .198 in August. But he was fairly consistent with his power, hitting 8 homers in May and no fewer than 4 in a month the rest of the way. It might actually be repeatable, and a 25-plus-homer center fielder with that glove is an extremely valuable player.
8. Disappointed to discover recently that Will Middlebrooks and Garin Cecchini are not among the Brewers’ third base candidates along with fellow Red Sox refugee Travis Shaw. Both fizzled-out hot corner prospects were with the Brewers last year, but Middlebrooks has moved on to the Rangers, while Cecchini is in the Royals’ system. Waiting for word on whether Wilton Veras, Cole Liniak or Ted Cox might be in camp with Milwaukee, however. Will report back.
9. Xander Bogaerts is playing third base in the World Baseball Classic? I’m just going to assume it’s because Stephen Drew has dual citizenship in the Netherlands and has taken his rightful place at shortstop. Or, they have Andrelton Simmons, who knows how to wield a glove with rare flair. One or the other.