April Fools: the Boston Red Sox

Never one to drink Kool-Aid, CrankyPants has decided to weigh in on the prospects of his favorite baseball team for the 2011 season. No, not the Mudville 9. The Boston Red Sox. There has been much fanfare, a fair share of ballyhoo and a smidgen of jumping up and down about this team. Every Boston Globe beat writer picked them to win the division this season. Even all of the New York Post writers picked them over the Sox hated and overpaid rivals, the Yankees, and those guys wouldn't vote for their own wives in a beauty contest. CrankyPants just doesn't understand the hype.

Here are the facts:

The Red Sox lost their best two hitters from last year's team. When that happens in most cases you would expect sportswriters to smell the coffee, see the writing on the wall and to taste whatever metaphor relates to taste. But this hasn't happened. Why? I don't know. The Sox replaced one of those hitters, their incomparable catcher, Victor Martinez, with a guy named Jared Saltalamacchia. As Grandpa Schlomo likes to say, "who?" He's a guy who got sent to the minors or Transylvania by the Rangers last year and occasionally has trouble throwing the ball back to the pitcher. Not good. They replaced their third baseman all-star, Adrian Beltre, with a shiny new, hot hitting first baseman named Adrian Gonzalez. All sorts of great things are predicted for Adrian the 2nd. He might, for example, hit .321 and drive in 102 runs and lead the league in doubles. You know: exactly replicate the numbers put up by Adrian the 1st from last year's third place team. Hmm. Still not sure how that means this team will win 100 games. Oh yes: they also signed a guy named Carl Crawford for more money than Bill Gates makes every 19 seconds to play left field. Crawford's on-base percentage in his new home park is .301. That means he'll probably put up worse numbers than the minor leaguers who played left last year did. He's also penciled in to bat third. I have no idea why, since he's probably better suited to bat 7th or 8th (or pinch run?). Adrian Gonzalez is the real deal, but it will take Terry Francona -- the coddler -- until the team is hopelessly out of contention to move Crawford out of the three slot. David Ortiz, the DH, is getting old and the team is too heavy on lefties. Oh -- did I mention all four infielders are coming off surgeries? What are the chances all four will be right as rain in 2011?

I must be missing something, right? Well, certainly the Red Sox must have the best pitching in baseball, then. That's why everyone and his sister is predicting a one hundred billion win season, glory, parades and underwear strewn lawns. Well, let's examine that. The hitters last season filled in rather well for their injured mates and the team finished 2nd in runs and 3rd in on-base percentage. But the pitching was 22nd in the majors and the team was among the leaders in blown saves. In fact, for all the crying about injuries, the primary reason the 2010 team didn't make the playoffs was their pitching. This happened because Josh Beckett has lost the ability to pitch in the major leagues and Jonathan Papelbon can no longer get sixth graders out. But both are back on this team. As backup, they have 97 year old knuckleballer Tim Wakefield in case Beckett has to go on the DL (I give that two weeks). And to replace Papelbon they have a castoff from a bad Chicago White Sox team named Jar Jar Binks (or something), who weighs more than Bessie the cow and has a reputation for not getting along with his teammates. In other words, the pitching looks worse than it looked last year. Even the team's ace, Jon Lester, is anything but. He's an okay pitcher, but he's never seen an important match-up he couldn't lose. Game 7 of the ALCS in 2008: loss. Last outing of 2010 for a chance to win the Cy Young: hammered. He's good but he's not Roy Halliday or one of the true aces in the game. (Jumped in after the game started today to update: Lester got smacked around in the opener).

The Yankees, meanwhile, got A-Rod, the team's most important player, back and healthy, added the Rays closer from last year (the Rays came in 1st, mind you) and have the best lineup money can buy. They've shown year after year, in fact, that the key to winning in the AL east is to stock up on hitters that grind pitchers into tiny pellets, put together a reasonable if not-great rotation and stack the bullpen. The Yankees will probably win 104 games this season. Or more. The Sox: 88?

Enjoy the Sox season, but don't expect the playoffs. If you do, you'll give yourself an ulcer watching Beckett and Papelbon give up homeruns to A-Rod and his band of merry moneymakers.