In honor of the Red Sox opening up Fenway Park for the 2009 season ... uhm, it hasn't been that long has it? Sorry about that folks, real life has been absolutely crazy the past few weeks which is why the TV countdown and the baseball previews have been stagnant.
So without more talky-talky, let's get to the reason why you guys are here; half-baked attempts at prognostication!
Daisuke Matsuzaka 15-12 4.40 – Better. For as much crap as Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett get for being hard-headed and unresponsive to suggestions from pitching coaches, Matsuzaka may be more so. All last year manager Terry Francona and pitching coach John Farrell have been begging Matsuzaka to throw his change up more often and for some reason he wouldn't. That's why he had decent, but not spectacular numbers. Do I think that he'll change his approach this year and listen to what Francona and Farrell have to say? I certainly hope so because he has the stuff to be a staff ace, I just hope he has the head too.
Tim Wakefield 17-12 4.76 – Worse. Wakefield pitched very well last year and at times he looked like Tim Wakefield circa 1995. I don't think that it will happen again this year and the main reason is that injuries are starting to nip at the knuckler's heels. He was scratched from a World Series start and opened the year on the DL. He didn't pitch very well in Toronto, though with the knuckleball things can be different from start-to-start. My gut tells me that Wakefield had his last good year in 2007 and that 2008 may be his last year period. I don't think that going from Doug Mirabelli to Kevin Cash is going to hurt him at all.
Josh Beckett 20-7 3.27 – Same. This guy was an absolute monster in the post season in 2007 and without him, Boston would've lost to the Cleveland Indians in five games. The reason why he outpitched Indians' ace CC Sabathia wasn't because he had better stuff, it's because he threw 40 innings less than the large lefty. Boston was wise to keep him off the Japan roadtrip and while it may look like he got rocked by the Blue Jays on Sunday, he really didn't pitch that badly. I expect a better performance for his next start and that will catapult him for the rest of the season.
Jon Lester 4-0 4.57 – Better. I've never really been sold on Jon Lester as a lights-out prospect. I thought that he could be a decent mid-rotation starter, not someone that you don't include in a trade for Johan Santana. Over the last two seasons, he's impressed me at times—the guy came back from cancer in less than a year and won game four of the World Series, how can you not be blown away by that. But there have been times when he's been maddening—I'm not going to say that he's Pat Rapp or Frank Castillo, but quit f*&*%$ing nibbling out there and throw the ball. His first two starts were decent, let's see if he can keep it up.
Clay Buchholz 3-1 1.59 – Worse. He's not going to throw a no-hitter every other start, and truthfully if Schilling didn't get hurt, he'd be in Pawtucket. But the kid does have electric stuff and could be the best home-grown pitcher the Sox have produced since William Roger Clemens. This kid could be a top-of-the-rotation guy, but it won't be this year. Expect to see him struggle, expect to hear people ask “What's wrong with him?”, expect to see him dominate next year.
Curt Schilling 9-8 3.87 – Worse. Like him or hate him, he's been everything the Sox asked for since they acquired him during the dark winter of 2003. He's not going to throw a meaningful inning until July—if at all—so anything you get from him is going to be gravy. Because of his pride and respect for the sport itself, I have a feeling that Schilling will pitch again in 2008, even if it's just to get the standing ovation that he richly deserves. A borderline Hall of Famer coming into the 2007 season, I think that his candidacy was cemented last October.
Bartolo Colon 6-8 6.34 (with LA Angels) – Better? One day you hear that he's topping out in Pawtucket at 96 mph, the next day he goes on the seven-day minor league disabled list. He looks like Lard Lad, but apparently his arm is ok. I have no idea what to make of this guy. If I was a betting man, I would say that he'd make a few good starts in Boston, get the fandom completely pumped up and then go on the DL with some sort of ailment. Basically he's the fatter version of Brett Saberhagen, David Cone, Ramon Martinez or any other pitcher that used to be really good and then came to Boston on the backside of their career.
Jonathan Papelbon 37 saves 1.85 – Worse, but not much. The only reason why I say he's going to do worse is because of that ERA. Look at it. That's amazing. Can he do that for two straight seasons? It's a tall order, but if anyone on this staff can do it, it'll be him. The one thing that I'm worried about is if success has gone to his head. Going on David Letterman, offers for “Dancing With the Stars”, hanging out with the Dropkick Murphys—you saw what happened to Ricky Vaughn. I wish more people would realize that “Major League” was a cautionary tale and NOT a comedy.
Hideki Okajima 3-2 2.22 – Worse. Like Papelbon, how can Okajima be much better? For the first four months of the season, the guy was lights out. Then he got very tired, was rested and came back strong for the postseason. Say what you want about Mike Lowell, David Ortiz and Beckett, but Okajima was the MVP of the season. But he's not going to get a lot of pub for that, and that's ok because he likes being the “Assassin in the Dark”, which is a nickname that the inner comic book geek in me loves. That being said, he'll have another solid year but it won't be as great as 2007.
Mike Timlin 2-1 3.42 – Worse. This has to be it for Timlin, right? He's coming up on his 20th season and that's a bit old for a middle reliever. I think that the 2007 stats belie his effectiveness though as Timlin had a decent year, but he wasn't as good as his numbers say. I'd expect a few more trips to the DL and some worse numbers, but like always, he'll be effective.
Manny Delcarmen 0-0 2.5 – Better. A lot of responsibility is being dumped on Delcarmen's shoulders this year as the front office wants him to be the new Mike Timlin—ie the guy who gets to either Okajima or Papelbon. And with the first few games already in the books, that little experiment isn't turning out the way that the front office intended. Hopefully it's just the jet lag and not the winter spent being the toast of Jamaica Plain.
Javier Lopez 2-1 3.10 – Same. Lopez is a strange cat, he's a LOOGY who can't get left-handed hitters out, but is nasty on righties. Do you waste a roster spot on him hoping that he gets his act together and use him against right-handed hitters? Or do you send him away and pray that you can find someone that can get lefties out? I think that Francona is the type of manager who likes what he has and stays with it, instead of beating the bushes to see if he can get someone better.
Bryan Corey 1-0 1.93 – Worse. He only pitched a handful of innings last year and so far this year, he's thrown just as well. However, he's not going to keep that sub 2.00 ERA. He's a good back of the bullpen type of guy. You can't worry much about your 10th or 11th guys on the pitching staff, otherwise you'd go crazy.
David Aardsma 2-1 6.40 (with Chicago White Sox) – Same. And here's your 11th pitcher. There are times when he throws extremely well and times when he's should be boarding the Lou Merloni shuttle to Pawtucket. The problem is he doesn't have options left and the Sox like him. They like him so much that they DFA'ed Kyle Snyder last week instead of Aardsma. I think that says something.