By Andy Lindberg
Mr. Matt Noonan kindly asked me this weekend if I would write a top-10 list for the Boston Red Sox from the 2011 season; a top-10 list, which would highlight the good things from the 2011 season. After informing Mr. Noonan that was impossible because there was no way there are 10 good things to take away from last season, he simply requested a top-5 things to look forward to this upcoming 2012 campaign. In no particular order, here they are.
1. Will Carl Crawford recover?
To say Carl Crawford had a poor season in 2011 would be the definition of an understatement. In 130 games for Boston, Crawford hit a career-low .255, had a career-low on-base percentage of .289, and stole a measly 18 bases. For the Red Sox to be successful next year, Crawford has to turn into the solid #3 hitter the Red Sox envisioned he would be. Crawford needs to get on base and score runs. The upcoming season will be the one that labels Crawford a bust or a solid investment.
2. Who will catch?
Jarrod Saltalamacchia did more than I expected of him, playing in 103 games and cracking 16 home runs while driving in 56. Jason Varitek rounded out the catching platoon over the course of the season. With Varitek seemingly out of the picture as a player in Boston, the emergence of young Ryan Lavarnway (who was the one player during the final Baltimore series who actually played like he didn’t want to go home) has created a catching controversy. The Red Sox also went out and signed Kelly Shoppach to a short-term contract. I anticipate Lavarnway will start the year at Pawtucket while Saltalamacchia and Shoppach platoon for Boston, but Spring Training may dictate otherwise.
3. How will Daniel Bard and Alfredo Aceves perform as starters?
Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, and Clay Buchholz are the only two certainties in the pitching rotation for the upcoming season. Buchholz is coming off of a lost season due to stress fractures in his back. John Lackey is lost for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery and Daisuke Matsuzaka will be out until at least the All-Star break having undergone the same surgery earlier in the 2011 season. Alfredo Aceves was arguably the best pickup of the year for the Red Sox and provided quality depth and spot-starting ability. Daniel Bard not only has an electric fastball, but his slider is devastating to opposing batters and his changeup is coming along as well. If Boston is rebuilding, Bard’s transition will hopefully provide the Red Sox an outstanding starting pitcher for the 2013 season.
4. How will Jacoby Ellsbury follow up 2011?
If the Red Sox had made the playoffs, Jacoby Ellsbury would have won American League MVP honors. Ellsbury hit .321, slugged .552, hit 32 home runs with 105 RBI, stole 39 bases, and amassed 212 hits while leading the league with 364 total bases from the leadoff spot in the lineup. Ellsbury bounced back after a lost season in 2010 and his production at the top of the lineup in 2012 is imperative for Boston’s success.
5. Will David Ortiz reach 400 career home runs?
Ortiz may not match his excellent production from 2011, but he currently sits at 378 career homers, only 22 away from 400 all time, a number that would greatly increase his long-shot chances at the Hall of Fame as a designated hitter. For some perspective, recently elected Hall of Famer Jim rice hit 382 homers with 1,451 RBI in 16 years with Boston. Ortiz was signed to a two-year contract with Boston and his RBI total is 1,266 and he has 1,760 hits. It is possible for Ortiz to eclipse Rice’s RBI and home run totals and it is also possible for Ortiz to reach 2,000 career hits. If he does so, he will go from close but no cigar Hall of Fame chances to possible Hall of Famer. The DH position, however, severely hurts Ortiz’s chances.