Tuesday, March 18, 2008

2008 Red Sox Preview: Offense

  1. Dustin Pedroia
  2. Kevin Youkilis
  3. David Ortiz
  4. Manny Ramirez
  5. Mike Lowell
  6. Jason Varitek
  7. JD Drew
  8. Jacoby Ellsbury
  9. Julio Lugo

    The lineup will go through some massaging and various permutations, but in 2008 it’s probably going to look something like what you see here. JD Drew and Mike Lowell may flipflop, or Jason Varitek could fall to the 7th spot. Jacoby Ellsbury might hit second or even leadoff and Kevin Youkilis could hit lower in the order. But this is the starting nine, and this order is roughly how Terry Francona has it set up now.

    Until someone else challenges them, Ortiz and Ramirez remain the most fearsome 3-4 combination in the game, and rank as one of the best offensive double punches ever. They rank with Mays-McCovey, Aaron-Matthews, and yes, Ruth-Gehrig. Those aren’t my rankings. Reggie Jackson suggested the comparison last fall. With Big Papi and Manny anchoring your lineup, every starting pitcher in baseball will agree that they’d rather stick needles in their eyes than face Boston.

    After a slow start, Dustin Pedroia figured how to become a pesky, determined hitter. Although he has a huge swing, he’s established himself as the leadoff guy. Kevin Youkilis has at least a couple batting titles in his future. He’s a more emotional Wade Boggs, still in the maturing stage. He concentrates on each at bat as if the game is on the line, he takes a lot of pitches (The Greek God of Walks, as he was dubbed in the book Moneyball), and he’s learned how to spray the ball around. Mike Lowell remains a deadly force, with a perfect Fenway Park swing. Expect another 20 HR/100 RBI year from him.

    In my mind, the question marks are Jason Varitek and JD Drew. ‘Tek had a dreadful 2006, and rebounded with a barely average offensive 2007 (.255 average, 17 HR, 68 RBI, .367 OBP). My fear is that his offensive numbers will continue to degrade as he ages and the games pile up. There are often long stretches where ‘Tek becomes invisible offensively, and he’s prone to the dreadful at-bat where he waves feebly at high fastballs which can easily overpower him. Then, suddenly, he snaps out of it with clutch doubles and homers. The other big unknown is JD Drew. If you look at his career numbers, (lifetime, his typical year is .284 avg, 25 HR, 84 RBI, .390 OBP), April through August 2007 has to be seen as an aberration, and his performance in September through the postseason is more of what you’d expect. We forget how tough an environment Boston can be. Perhaps it simply took the majority of his first year to become acclimated. If Drew rebounds with a typical JD Drew year, the bottom of the Red Sox order gets much thornier for opposing pitching staffs. Julio Lugo was dreadful in 2007. Again, his typical numbers (.271, 12, 62, .333) suggest he should perform better in 2008.

    What I like the most is what comes off the bench. Alex Cora doesn’t give at bats away, and he is not just a smart hitter, but one of the best baserunners on the team. Also, you should love Sean Casey. His nickname is The Mayor, and he’s widely considered the single nicest guy in baseball, along with being a dependable contact hitter. He’ll spell Youk at first, either when Youkilis or Mike Lowell gets a day off. Casey was a good pickup, and I think he’ll shine in Boston.

    This is a good offense. Manny, Drew and Lugo all had sub-par years by their personal standards, and even though he had 35 homers and 117 RBI, David Ortiz was hurt last year. If they all just rebound to their expected norms and stay healthy (always the biggest unknown), this remains one of the American League’s toughest lineups top to bottom.

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