Winter Is Over: Spring Training Has Begun!

Hey Punxsutawney Phil! Go Jump In A Lake!

I don't care what the famous rodent from Pennsylvania has to say about there being six more weeks of winter (actually, as I write this, even if he is right, we've only got four weeks to go). I don't care that it is presently snowing, and portions of Maine are predicted to get more than a foot of snow tonight and tomorrow. I don't even care that officially spring doesn't arrive until March. You heard it here first folks! Spring is here because they're playing baseball in Fort Myers, Florida. The Beantown Bashers are back. It's time for Red Sox Baseball!

You've got to understand something about me. I've been a Red Sox fan since birth, passed on from my father to me through genetics. I can't say the same about the Patriots, because my dad was a Giants fan before the Patriots existed. And Dad has never really gotten into Basketball, Hockey or Quidditch. So for me, the winter season begins the day after the World Series and ends when pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training.

So now the question becomes, where are the Red Sox likely to finish in the AL East, which could be the toughest division in baseball? I don't have a crystal ball, so I could be just as wet as Punxsutawney Phil after he takes a dip in that lake. But we can get a pretty good idea of where we stand by reviewing each position and see where the holes are. In this hub, we'll be looking at the Red Sox Starting Pitching Staff.

Starting Pitching

Jon Lester - This guy established himself as the true ace of the Red Sox last year. Although Daisuke Matsuzaka may have led the team in wins during the regular season with 18, Lester became regarded as the ace of the staff, winning 16 games in the regular season. Just the fact that this guy is pitching at all is amazing, considering the fact that he is a much publicized cancer survivor. He's got the kind of intestinal fortitude to go all the way, and I wouldn't be surprised if he wound up winning a Cy Young Award at some point....hopefully this year! If he does, the Sox win the AL East, and probably win their third title of the 21st Century.

Josh Beckett - Two years ago, Becket was the guy we thought we were getting when we traded to get him from Florida a few years back. Last year he slipped, still winning double digits, but hardly the dominant pitcher he was in '06. Most pundits think that was an anomoly. He's still young, he's still got good stuff, and perhaps with the pressure off of him with the rise of Lester, he'll be able to return to form. If he does, watch out. This guy can be deadly.

Daisuke Matsuzaka - When the Red Sox outbid all other Major League clubs for the exclusive right to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka, the hype surrounding this guy was so intense, I don't care whether he was the greatest pitcher in Japan and a "national treasure" over there. He would have to have ice water in his veins to keep focused on the game during his rookie season. Still, he had a respectable 15 win season, but he was not the go-to guy in the rotation.

Today, despite the fact that he led the team in victories, it always seemed to be an adventure with Daisuke. He still throws too damned many pitches, he doesn't give a damn about what sage advice Captain Jason Varitek gives him, and he operates in a world all his own. Once Daisuke realizes that he belongs to a team, he'll be a 20 game winner.

John Smoltz - will not have an immediate impact on the Red Sox starting rotation, as he is projected to be ready to face major league hitters by late spring or early summer. When he does come, however, I expect he will prove to be an invaluable presence on the Red Sox staff. This guy is just plain a winner. During his 20 years in Atlanta, he won 210 games while losing 147. His win total most certainly would have been substantially higher if he had not assumed the closer's role for a few years, amassing 154 saves in the process. He has a career Earned Run Average of 3.26. This is a guy who will be a first ballot Hall of Famer, unless we find out he was shooting up ala A-Roid and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named-Who-Had-An-Amazing-Turn-Around-For-Toronto-And-The-Damned-Yankees. I doubt seriously we'll find any skeletons in this guy's locker. He can just pitch, and if he can win 10-12 games for us down the stretch this year, it will give us a tremendous boost.

Tim Wakefield - Manager Terry Francona is eternally a supporter of veteran ballplayers. Tim Wakefield has been on the Boston Red Sox longer than any current ballplayer. He's closing in on the record for most number of wins in a Red Sox uniform (a fete He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named....missed by one win before he took the money and ran to Toronto). Wakefield will be a part of the Red Sox starting rotation as long as he is healthy, and can be effective. When his knuckle ball is knuckling, he's nearly impossible to hit. When it's not knuckling, it's batting practice.

Brad Penny - In 2006, Brad Penny had a 16-9 record, and a 4.33 ERA for the L.A. Dodgers. In 2007, he went 16-4 and lowered his ERA to 3.03. Then came the train wreck that was the 2008 season. Penny suffered injuries, which he now claims to have overcome, and posted a 6-9 record with a 6.27 ERA. So the question becomes, can Penny revert to his old form in 2006 and 2007? If he can, he could be an amazing pick up by GM Theo Epstein. Only time will tell on this one, but I have a hunch he's not blowing smoke when he says he's healthy. If not, we've always got.....

Clay Bucholtz - Boy, ya talk about a Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde situation. When Clay Bucholtz joined the Red Sox in 2007, he established himself as a rising star not only for the Sox but in all of Major League Baseball. In just his second major league start, Bucholtz tossed a 10-0 no-hitter vs. the Baltimore Orioles. In 2007, he was 3-1 with an ERA well under 2.

Then there came 2008. It's anybody's guess what happened to this young guy, In short, he was a disaster, and the more he bombed, the more his self-image suffered. He ended the year with a 2-9 record and a 6.75 ERA.

Now, I don't think it's fair to assume that this guy is a bum, at least not yet. After all the hype that accompanied his impressive September run in 2007, it's easy to imagine that young Mr. Bucholtz got shell-shocked. This year will be a critical year for Clay Bucholtz, If he can regain some of his confidence, he's got the stuff to be successful. Since they say that in Spring hope burns eternal, I'll bet he will look a lot more like the 2007 Clay Bucholtz. If I'm wrong, he gets designated for assignment, and the Sox wind up trading him for a draft pick.

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