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A few spring training observations

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff  February 15, 2013 08:51 AM

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“It’s a marketing slogan but I think this one has the added virtue of being true and transparent. We know last year, and the final month of the preceding year, were the beginning of a very downward trend for this franchise, a historic collapse, a disastrous 2012. It was no secret things needed to be repaired, reset, rebuilt, reloaded, whatever ‘R’ word you want to use. Acknowledging it was probably an honest way to approach the season.”
- Red Sox president Larry Lucchino to reporters on Thursday



Now there's a novel concept. The Red Sox want to be "true," to be "transparent," to be "honest." Maybe they will surprisingly find that sincere humility can be rather endearing.

Expectations for this team cover a wide range as the Red Sox step onto the fields of Fort Myers for their first full workout of the spring this Friday, so let's ask the obvious question: as a fan, exactly what are your expectations? The Red Sox have not entered spring training with this much uncertainty in a very long time, prompting an array of thoughts, observations and concerns as we methodically march toward Opening Day.

So here goes:

* Manager John Farrell has indicated he may bat David Ortiz in the third spot against righthanded pitching, with Dustin Pedroia or even Jonny Gomes in the No. 3 spot against lefthanders. Does anyone else find the prospect of Gomes as a No. 3 hitter to be utterly ridiculous? Yes, Gomes kills lefthanded pitching. But he strikes out a ton and is a .223 career hitter against righties. He batted an even worse .209 against righthanders last year.

Is that the kind of vulnerability you want in the No. 3 spot when managers start matching up with their bullpen in the late innings?

Here's what Farrell should do: hit Pedroia third, Ortiz fourth. End of story. If Farrell wants to platoon and play matchups, do it in other spots. Pedroia is the best pure hitter on the Red Sox and it's a terrible sign for any team if the third spot in the lineup is a matchup spot.

One set of opinions:

Vs. RHP

Jacoby Ellsbury, cf
Stephen Drew, ss
Dustin Pedroia, 2b
David Ortiz, dh
Will Middlebrooks, 3b
Mike Napoli, 1b
Johnny Gomes, lf
Jarrod Saltalamacchia/David Ross, c
Shane Victorino, rf

Vs. LHP

Ellsbury, cf
Victorino, rf
Pedroia, 2b
Ortiz, dh
Middlebrooks, 3b
Napoli, 1b
Gomes, lf
Saltalamacchia/Ross, c
Drew, ss

As always, lineups are merely a starting point. Maybe Pedro Ciriaco bats for Drew in the late innings against lefthanders. Maybe Daniel Nava starts in left field over Gomes against righties. You get the idea. But it doesn't seem to make much sense to have a platoon player like Gomes in the No. 3 spot when you might have to pinch-hit for him late in the game.

* We said it before and we'll say it again: the relief corps for Baltimore (32-11) and Oakland(30-14) ranked 1-2 in the American League last year in wins and an identical 1-2 when it came to fewest losses. The Red Sox' best chance to mask any deficiencies on their roster - in the lineup or starting rotation - is with a back-end of the bullpen that includes Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey, Daniel Bard, Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow and Andrew Miller, among others. Alfredo Aceves goes back to being a swingman, where he is most effective. If it comes together, the bullpen could be elite.

* In the last two seasons or so, Clay Buchholz has now had two hamstring injuries, a back injury and a stomach problem. This is why the Cleveland Indians wanted Justin Masterson (422.1 innings over the last two years) instead of Buchholz (272 innings during the same span) in the trade that sent Victor Martinez to the Red Sox in 2009.

* Hard to know if Hanrahan is out of shape from back here atop the ivory tower in New England. But according to website data, Hanrahan has almost the same body as Bobby Jenks.

Is anyone else scared about that?

* Just so we're all clear on this: Red Sox pitchers finished first in the AL in ERA in 2007, the year Farrell took over as pitching coach. Over the next five years, Farrell's teams have finished fourth, seventh, ninth, 11th and 11th in the league in ERA.

The moral of the story? You can't make chicken salad out of ... well, you get the idea.

* Anyone else surprised that Saltalamacchia is still here?

* Middlebrooks is absolutely, positively one of the biggest keys to the Red Sox offense. Take a good look at the Boston lineup. Ortiz is 37 and coming off an Achilles injury. Napoli has worrisome hips. Gomes can't hit righties. If Middlebrooks is healthy and productive, it will go a long way toward stabilizing the middle of the Boston lineup.

For that matter, Pedroia and Ellsbury must stay on the field, too. The Red Sox look awfully vulnerable in too many other places.

* One thing about the Drew Brothers: for all of the criticisms about them - OK, J.D. - over the years, they all have a head for the game. Stephen Drew and Pedroia could be an awfully fun double-play tandem to watch.

* For all of the talk, this is really not a contract year for Jon Lester. The Sox hold a $13 million option on Lester for next year. Unless Lester blows out his arm in July, August or September, one has to assume he will be back here next season.

Unless, of course, the Red Sox trade him.

* Can the Red Sox make the playoffs? Sure. But it's hard to say they should. The Angels, Rangers, Yankees, Rays, Blue Jays and Tigers all look better than the Red Sox on paper. What the Sox should be is a middle-of-the-pack team in the American League team, and that's all it takes these days to be in contention for a playoff spot.

And with a couple of breaks, who knows?

Tony's Top 5

Favorite blog entries

5
The final chapter on Teixeira and How Red Sox pitchers work the strike zone Jan. 7, 2009 and July 17, 2009. Some actual reporting – an obsession with Mark Teixeira and the art of pitching.
4
For 2011 Red Sox, there was plenty of blame to go around Oct. 1, 2011. The disgraceful collapse of the Red Sox stoked the fire in all of us.
3
Behind Garnett and James, Celtics and Heat are digging in June 4, 2012. Improbably, the Celtics pushed the Heat to the limit.
2
Thrill is back for Patriots Jan. 30, 2012. Another Super Bowl has even Bill Belichick musing.
1
You’ve got to believe June 15, 2011. On the morning of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, we all had reason to believe.
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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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