Congratulations Red Sox fans, we’ve made it through the long ALCS hangover known as the off season and we are standing on the precipice of another brand spanking new baseball season. While not all of us will be able to get over to Fenway at 1:00 today to see off the gear and the flatbed that will lead it out with Wally, Fenway Ambassadors (I hope that means the new hooker service in the EMC club) and some people who paid to be called “official” members of Red Sox Nation, we can all bask in the fact that it is less than a week until the fields of Ft Myers will be teaming with pitchers and catchers.
This brings me to my main point of the day: The Boston Red Sox will win the AL East this season. The division features the three best teams in all of baseball (yes, all of baseball, Phuck you Phillies Phans), and the rules say that one of them has to be left out. It will be the Sox who rise to the top of the division this season, for these three reasons (among others):
1. Starting pitching. “You can never have too much pitching,” according to Theo Epstein (our resident genius), but the Sox come close. The starting rotation is led by Beckett, He Who Shall Not Be Doubted, and the Wiggler. Any of those guys can step in and be a stopper on any individual day, and if you add to that the fact that Beckett is cooler than the Fonz in odd numbered years (’03, ’05, ’07) you have three aces. The back end of the rotation is a fluid situation, with Timmmmmaaaaaaaayyyyyyyy, and Mr. Dushku taking the lead and the physical freak (Smoltz, who’ll be available in June), Suchholz, Bowden and Masterson (who’s gonna start the season in the pen) all available to fill in.
The Yankees filled their previously struggling rotation out for around $243.5 Million this winter but didn’t get a single actual proven commodity in those two signings. Other than last season and, to a lesser extent, his previous walk year of 2005, AJ Burnett has not been impressive. Yes, he has nasty stuff, buit he also smells a lot more like Carl Pavano than Josh Beckett (all three of them won the Series with the ’03 Marlins). He broke down his first two years in Toronto and only showed up when there were dollars on the line. CC Sabathia, on the other hand, is a horse (and might weigh as much as one once the pressure of pitching in the AL East gets to him). He has thrown nearly 500 innings in the last two seasons and shat the bed in the playoffs both years (2-3 with a 7.92 ERA), not to mention the fact that he sucks against the Sox. Does not inspire a ton of confidence. The Rays had an entire rotation full of career years last year, except for Kazmir, and are adding the truly frightening David Price, so nobody has any clue what they are going to do, any anyone who tells you that they do is full of shit.
2. David Ortiz is a bad man. He is pissed at all of those people who said that he was done, and he knows how to make them hurt. He is healthy, jacked, and has Youkilis’ beard (already taking his cuts at City of Palms) and the Buzzard (it’s my new nickname for Jason Bay), both 30 HR guys protecting him in the lineup. Don’t sleep on this lineup or you’ll end up in worse shape than Squeak after the Beers won the Denslow Cup.
3. But the real reason that the Sox are the class of the division, and therefore the league is the bullpen. Who would you rather have: a fading Mariano Rivera (still the best closer ever but at the end of his time on top of the mountain), Dan Wheeler (no, seriously, they expect Dan Wheeler to be a shut down closer, ha), or the Papelbeast? I thought you’d say that. Not only do the Sox have the clear advantage in the closer department, but the rest of the guys playing the drums out in right field are a formidable force themselves. Since Masterson stepped into the seventh inning role last summer, Delcarmen (2.35 ERA in the last 35 games) became more reliable as a shutdown reliever and should be able to hold down the sixth and seventh, Oki got more comfortable and bounced back from his slow start, and Javier Lopez became one of the better lefty match up guys in the league. They will be joined by fireballing young righty Ramon Ramirez (2.64 ERA last season) and former Dodgers closer Takashi Saito. The group goes seven deep with two players who can effectively close on nights when the Papelbeast is unavailable (hungover). The Rays have problems at the back end of their bullpen, where Wheeler was exposed last fall and David Price stepped in. Price, who is still a rookie, is going to be moving into the rotation, leaving a hole in the late innings. JP Howell and former Sox righty specialist Chad Bradford, both had career years last season but are middle relief guys, and nobody really knows what Grant Balfour (who is still nuttier than elephant turds when he is on the mound) is going to be able to do. There are too many question marks here, as in their starting rotation, to be confident about much. The Yanks on the other hand, have Mariano Rivera at the back end of the pen to shorten games. He is coming off of a scope of his shoulder and is already starting to fade at age 39 even though he posted 39 saves last season with a WHIP of .665 and and ERA of 1.40. Beyond him there are a lot of empty spaces and question marks. Damaso Marte was great at the end of the season, but we have yet to see if he can duplicate that on the big stage and after AL hitters have gotten a better look at him. Jose Veras and Edwar Ramirez are both middle relief guys and have had control problems in the past, so neither can be expected to step into the set up role. Brian Bruney, Phil Coke and some minor leaguers round out the group but none of them has a proven track record at anything and leave the Yankees depth in question. Of course, they’ll probably pick up somebody from a struggling club at mid season, but for now their bullpen is a real concern. The Sox go seven deep, and only have one real question mark out there in the form of Saito, who has been very successful in the past but is coming of an injury plagued season. The less uncertainty the better and the Boston bullpen ranks last in the number of question marks.
Be happy. The Boston Red Sox will win the AL East. They have a stronger pitching staff than their competitors and the lineup is going to be better than all of the worrywarts think. Of course, you don’t have to score many runs when your pitchers are this good. The long dark teatime of the soul is over. It’s Truck Day, the sun is shining and somewhere, on green fields, under blue skies and with B’s on their caps, people are going to be playing baseball really really soon. Anyone wanna have a catch?