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Tag:Theo Epstein
Posted on: March 12, 2010 1:12 pm
 

Nomar Leaves Behind a Historic Legacy

In a list of greatest players in the history of one of baseball’s most storied franchise, the names at the top of Boston’s list are Hall of Famers. Williams. Yastrzemski. Rice. Doerr. Young. So it is not everyday that a player comes along with enough caliber to crack the top of such a list.

One such player did emerge in the summer of 1997.

Nomar Garciaparra’s emerging talent preceded him. During the mid-90s, the Red Sox had a more than decent option at shortstop in John Valentin. But the prospects of Garciaparra’s bright future earned him the job for Opening Day 1997.

Garciaparra spent parts of nine seasons in Boston from his debut in 1996, but due to an injury in 2001 and being traded in 2004 accumulated only six full seasons. So how can he be considered among the greats of a franchise that has been around for more than a century?

As will likely be the case for sometime, the impact of player like Garciaparra may not be completely recognized until a later point because he played during the steroid era. At the time he was an excellent contact hitter and the star player on a star franchise.

In retrospect, he may have been the most dominant hitter in the game during his tenure in Boston.

Garciaparra’s numbers over that time certainly paint an impressive picture - .323/.370/.553, 178 home runs and 279 doubles during his time in Boston. But it is his versatility as a hitter that made him the best during that time.

Garciaparra was most naturally a gap, line-drive hitter. But he changed his offensive approach so that the team could get the most out of him. During his first two seasons with the club he hit 30 and 35 home runs, respectively, a feat that at the time had been accomplished only four other times in the history of baseball (and two, Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, have been linked to steroids). He set records for RBIs by a lead-off hitter and home runs by a rookie shortstop on his way to the Rookie-of-the-Year award.

After those seasons of great power numbers, Garciaparra changed to still be able to put up good power numbers, but increase his on-base percentage and cut down on strikeouts. By his fourth season, the Sox had signed a rather well known power hitter by the name of Manny Ramirez, which took some of the burden of being a power hitter off of Garciaparra.

After that transition, he became a much more balanced hitter. He crossed the 50 doubles plateau twice, and also twice pulled off the very rare accomplishment of recording more doubles than strikeouts. He cemented his legacy as one of the most dangerous hitters by leading the league in hitting in back-to-back seasons in ’99 and ’00 at .357 and .372 respectively (Nobody has finished the season in the A.L. with an average above .372 since George Brett in 1980).

Garciaparra had the ability to do whatever he wanted as a hitter. If he wanted to hit 40-45 home runs, he could have. There were times where it seemed like he could take every single pitch he was given and bang it off of the Green Monster, something he did better than maybe any player in Red Sox history. Ted Williams, in an interview during the 1999 All-Star Game festivities in Boston, said that if any player were to ever hit .400 again, it would be Garciaparra.
 
Red Sox fans are well aware of the impact that Garciaparra had on the diamond for Boston’s teams in the late 90s and early 2000s. But his impact stretched much further than just that. He was drafted and signed by John Harrington and Dan Duquette, the predecessors of the John Henry/Larry Luccino/Tom Werner ownership and Theo Epstein at general manager.

The current Sox ownership saw what affect drafting quality players and revamping the minor league system could have on a franchise. In Garciaparra, the Sox not only got a great player, but someone who was taken as the fan favorite and face of the franchise.

No matter where you rank him in the “Trinity of Shortstops” of the late 90s and early 2000s (to say nothing of Miguel Tejada, Omar Vizquel and others), Garciaparra will get some votes for the Hall of Fame - and deservedly so. A player like Garciaparra exemplifies the reason why players remain on the ballot for 15 years. He is not a first-ballot player, but he will be there eventually.

He was a dominant, versatile hitter, and it is in Boston where he deserved to end his career.

Posted on: December 30, 2009 12:42 pm
 

In a Less Than Desirable Situation, Mets Sign Bay

Jason Bay agreed in principle to a four year, $66 million contract with the New York Mets on Tuesday, officially ending his season-and-a-half stint with the Boston Red Sox.

 While GM Theo Epstein never explicitly stated that the Sox were out of the bidding war with Bay, the writing was on the wall. Epstein signed veteran outfielder Mike Cameron to a two-year deal, and used the money that would have gone to a long-term deal with Bay to sign right-hander John Lackey.

The Bay signing has wide-ranging implications for several clubs, but the actual move should raise some perplexing questions. Of the free agent hitters available at the beginning of this off-season, Bay was second best behind Matt Holliday. Bay wanted to stay in Boston and the Red Sox hoped to keep him. But Bay insisted on the prospect of a fifth year of any type of contract, and the Sox remained resolute against it. When the Mets came calling with a similar four-year deal to what the Sox were offering plus a vested option for a fifth, Bay accepted the deal that he had been looking for.

But once the Sox had signed Cameron and Lackey, they were effectively out of the discussions for Bay. The Sox are less than $10 million away from the luxury tax limit for the 2010 season, and re-signing Bay would have put them over that limit. The St. Louis Cardinals have focused solely on re-signing Holliday, thus removing one potential buyer for Bay. The Angels, Mariners and Yankees also went after other players and dropped out from the Bay sweepstakes as well.

In the end, it appears as though the Mets were bidding against themselves. Due to a rash of injuries last season that sidelined seemingly the better half of their lineup for extended amounts of time, the Mets were in desperate need of a power-hitting outfielder, and it showed in the negotiations with Bay.

One of the biggest snag-ups about Bay was his defense, which often went unnoticed in the strange dimensions of Fenway Park. With no designated hitter in the N.L., Bay will have to play the outfield until he is 35 or 36, a prospect that deterred the Sox, especially for $16 million a year. Bay also displayed an unfortunate inability to connect on off-speed pitches and was prone to very cold slumps.

The Mets’ new CitiField is quickly becoming known as a right-handed hitters nightmare. Just ask David Wright: his home run total dropped from 33 in 2008 (the last year in Shea Stadium) to 10 at the new CitiField. Bay has spent most of his career in the N.L., so there should not be a terrible layover while he tries to become acclimated with new ballparks and pitchers, but the Mets would be foolish to expect a home run total in the high 30s from Bay.

But at least the Mets got their man. For the Red Sox, the search is on for some spark in the middle of the lineup. They remain the number one buyers for third baseman Adrian Beltre, who is an excellent fielder with some offensive upside. But if Beltre is the answer, that means that Cameron and Florida Marlins cast-off Jeremy Hermida will patrol left field for the ’10 campaign. Combined with speedy Jacoby Ellsbury and the mediocre J.D. Drew, the Sox may field an outfield that has a legitimate shot to account for less than 30 home runs.

Other names are possibilities, such as ex-Yankee Xavier Nady, who would be a decent option in the outfield, but injuries limited him to only seven games in 2009. If the Sox were unwilling to go after Bay, they will definitely stay clear of Holliday, which means that any other move would have to come via a trade. And if the Sox were unwilling to unload the farm system to acquire Roy Halladay, then the same can likely be said for the PadresAdrian Gonzalez.
Posted on: December 14, 2009 7:04 pm
Edited on: December 14, 2009 7:06 pm
 

Big Day of Baseball Means Big News for Sox

Phew!

Baseball is recovering from the biggest day of this off-season thus far. The Boston Red Sox were at the middle of a lot of the day’s news, even if they were not involved with the biggest name.
 
The Sox were considered the top bidders in the Roy Halladay sweepstakes and that the GM’s winter meetings came and went with Halladay still donning the baby-blue uniforms came to some insiders as a surprise. When Curtis Granderson went to the New York Yankees in a three-team trade last week, many thought that that removed one a top competitors, as the Yankees gave up two young pitchers and a top prospect to land their new centerfielder.
 
But the Sox did not swing a deal for Halladay as the asking price was ultimately too high. The Philadelphia Phillies made the big splash, acquiring the high priced right-hander in yet another three-team deal that is reportedly sending Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners .
 
The Sox were however able to land a very valuable right-hander in John Lackey. Lackey came to Boston to undergo a physical and it was reported hours alter that he had agreed to a five-year contract.
 
The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but it is believed it is similar to the contract given but the Yankees to A.J. Burnett , who received $82.5 million over five years (16.5 per year). Both pitchers have had similar success, but Lackey is younger and has been more consistent over his career.
 
Lackey has put together five straight seasons with at least 10 wins and a sub-4.00 ERA, which is tied with Halladay for the second longest active streak (Johan Santana ). Lackey also has solid post-season experience having played in October ball regularly with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Lackey owns a 3.12 ERA in 78 post-season innings pitched.
 
Lackey would begin the season as the Sox third starter behind Josh Beckett and Jon Lester . Daisuke Matsuzaka becomes the fourth starter, with Clay Buchholz and Tim Wakefield vying for the fifth spot.
 
The impact of Lackey’s signing is big for Boston. For several seasons, we have been able to say that the Sox possess a great deal of depth in the rotation. But when July comes around, injuries and trades combined with players that do not pan out (see Penny, Brad and Smoltz, John), the Sox have realized that solid starting pitching is a scarce commodity.
 
Behind the trio of Beckett-Lester-Lackey, the Sox have one of the elite rotations in baseball. And if Matsuzaka can return to the 2007-08 form when he won 33 games, and Buchholz can pitch the way he ended 2009, then the Sox have the best starting five in baseball.
 
The strength of the rotation and the siging of Lackey also takes some of the burden off of the offense, and indeed, the ability of Theo Epstein to sign a big-time hitter, which leads us to the other big news for Red Sox nation.
 
It was reported that Jason Bay has declined Boston’s most recent offer, believed to be around 4 years/$60 million. The New York Mets offered Bay $65 million over four years earlier this week, but were not considered real players to acquire Bay.
Bay is looking for five years, and it seems like whichever team is willing to invest that money in him will be where he lands.
 
Bay will be 31 years old next season, and a five year deal will mean that he is 36 in the final year of his contract, which is older than both David Ortiz and Mike Lowell , who is practically on the Texas Rangers roster as we speak.
 
The Sox foresee Bay having to move to designated hitter possibly as early as the third year of his next contract, which means that the Sox will be paying upwards of $15 million for yet another aging DH. An extra year means the Sox have to commit a significant amount of money to a very limited player, while home grown players like Lester, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis all will be up for new long term deals by that time.
 
Bay’s agent has stated that he and his client are moving on from the Sox. Given Bay’s talents and his excellent power numbers last year, there will always be suitors. But the Yankees are likely off of that list after trading for Granderson, and the Mets will return several players from injury with an already swollen payroll.
 
Matt Holliday still remains available and he is likely the next target on Epstein’s list. Holliday would be a slight upgrade from Bay, but is represented by Scott Boras, so any contract will likely reflect it. Epstein has typically shied away from Boras-represented players (that he didn’t draft), but without Bay, there is a gapping hole in the Sox lineup.
 
The Sox also made a $15.5 million offer to Cuban right-hander Aroldis Chapman, considered to be the most prized foreign player. 

Chapman is 21-years-old and recently defected from Cuba. He is known for regularly recording triple digits on the radar gun with his blazing fastball.

Posted on: December 8, 2009 3:22 pm
 

Casey Kelly chooses pitching over shortstop

The Boston Red Sox have been cursed to find a consistent and reliable shortstop ever since trading Nomar Garciaparra in the middle of the 2004 season. 

Scratch one more player off of list of possibilities at the middle infield position.

The Red Sox announced yesterday that Casey Kelly, who split last season between the mound and the infield, will focus on being a starter for the remainder of his career. GM Theo Epstein made the announcement at this year's general manager meetings in Indianapolis.

Kelly is heralded as the top prospect in the Red Sox farm system and was involved in the heaviest of trade rumors between the Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays for ace pitcher Roy Halladay. Epstein emphasized that Kelly is not on the trading block.

Kelly went 6-1 with a sparkling 1.12 ERA with 39 strikeouts in 48 innings during his time at Greenville in the second half of last season. Greenville is one of Sox single-A affliates (considered as A++, i.e. a step above A+ Salem).

It was also announced that Kelly will be offered an invitation to Spring Training to get him acclimated to the feel of big league pitching. Epstein said that they feel that Kelly has an excellent possibility of pitching in the "upper minors" this season, meaning making it at least to double-A Portland and possibily triple-A Patwucket.

Kelly will be only 20 years old when he reports to Fort Myers in February. The decision of which position to play, according to Epstein, was ultimately left up to Kelly, who called the GM earlier this week with his decision. While the Sox have been looking for a long-term option at shortstop, Kelly's decision was not altogether suprising. While compiling excellent pitching statistics, Kelly batted only .136 with three home runs and 16 RBIs in 136 at-bats in the minors last year.

Posted on: November 25, 2009 6:54 pm
 

Report: Halladay deal looming for Sox

The holiday season may be coming early for Red Sox Nation.

Or maybe, I should be saying: the Halladay season is coming early. The reports came out Tuesday from the New York Daily News that the Boston Red Sox were in strong pursuit of Toronto Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay. The Daliy News stated that the Sox were "in a full court press" to get a deal done by the start of the winter meetings of baseball's general managers, which is set to begin on December 7th.

ESPNBoston.com's Gordon Edes reported similar news today, but also stated that if trade talks started heating up between the Sox and Blue Jays, then they should expect other suitors to be close on the Sox's heels.

Typically teams pull off deals including players of Halladay's stature during the regular season, as GM's begin to loose sleep on the prospect of loosing their franchise player to free agency without any compensation. Once July rolls around, that's when the phone calls usually start being picked up.

But Halladay's situation is different. First of all, the Blue Jays fired their GM a few months ago. J.P. Ricciardi set the price tag extremely high for one of the game's best picture when last year's deadline came around and stuck to his guns and refused to back down. Naturally, given Halladay's eligibility for free agency following the 2010 season, teams were unwilling to unload the farm system for roughly 45 starts.

New Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos has a different mindset and different options. He could take a few seasons to revamp the team under a new outlook and new management. It should be clear to him, however, that it is extremely unlikly that Halladay will re-sign with the Blue Jays at any point. Any amount of money that Anthopoulos can offer will easily be matched or topped by the Red Sox and New York Yankees with a much better prospect of postseasons appearences.

It is likely that, given the fact that Halladay now has only one season before free agency,
Anthopoulos will be seeking less than what Ricciardi was looking for. If the Red Sox are the favorites in the sweepstakes right now, they should figure on being asked to trade Clay Buchholz and another top tier prospect. This is still a step price, but it is far from what Ricciardi was asking for, which was Buchholz, Daniel Bard, and two top tier prospects, one pitching and the other being an offensive player.

But, the Red Sox also are benefitting from the Yankees having won a World Series and already having two top tier starters. Of course, the Yankees will throw themselves in the mix to drive up the price for the Sox, but they will not be making a legitimate strong move for Halladay. Their minor league depth is not as strong as the Sox, and they would not give up what the Sox are going to without being in a position to re-sign him. That would add another $20 million plus to an already staggering payroll.

The Sox are of course no mean spenders, but their payroll was less than usual last year compared to teams such as the Detriot Tigers and New York Mets, both of whom missed out on the playoffs. Adding Halladay would give the Sox the best rotation in the A.L. East, and perhaps in all of baseball, behind Halladay, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester leading the way.

The Sox should put themselves in a position that the Mets did a few seasons ago with Johan Santana. Get your man but only if the long term contract is all but guaranteed. Knowing Theo Epstein, he will not part with long term projects like Buchholz unless he gets him man exactly how he wants him - no where near free agency.
Posted on: July 24, 2009 12:04 pm
 

How the Sox can get Halladay and keep Buchholz

Roy Halladay is on the trading block, and there are only about 29 teams who would be interested in his service.

If the Red Sox swung a deal for arguably the best pitcher in baseball, they would be able to march out Halladay, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester in a playoff series, which is enough to make any opposing manager wish they weren’t in the playoffs.

The problem with trading for the best pitcher in baseball is that it will come at no easy price. The Red Sox and GM Theo Epstein are reluctant to part with prized pieces of the minor league system, and none more so than Clay Buchholz.

Buchholz has been nothing short of remarkable in the minor leagues this season, compiling a 7-2 record with a 2.06 ERA. He was the leading vote getter among all minor league players for the Triple-A All-Star game and was tabbed to start before getting called up to the big leagues.

The Sox have spent a great deal of time and effort on Buchholz, priming him for what hopes to be a long and productive major league career. Naturally, they do not want another team, especially a fellow A.L. East team, to reap the benefits of the work that they put in for him.

Ignoring the fact that Buchholz will never be Roy Halladay and the Sox should go offer him up for Halladay, it is possible to put together a deal without Buchholz. It will still be painful, as several key contributors would have to be a part of the trade.

If I am Theo Epstein, and I am told that if I trade Buchholz then I will be fired and hung out by my entrails over Gate A on Yawkee Way for all of Red Sox Nation to throw overpriced sausage and pepper sandwiches at me, then I can manufacture a New Deal.

The Jays want at least one starter in return. If it is not Buchholz, then the next best piece in the Sox farm system is Michael Bowden. Can we make a trade and avoid both top prospects all together? Let’s try.

Any trade for Halladay will include players who can make an immediate impact as well as future prospects. For players who can make an impact now would be: Justin Masterson, Daniel Bard and Jed Lowrie. For future prospects: Lars Anderson and Casey Kelly.

The Jays, understandably, want a starter in return. Scouts see Masterson as a starter who needs regular rest. The Sox use him in the bullpen based on their needs, but he has shown that he can be stretched out. Kelly also fills the need for a starter and has been very impressive in the minors.

Bard gives the Jays a shut-down guy out of the bullpen, and a potential future closer. Bard is the player that hurts the most to see go in this scenario, but the Sox bullpen was considered to be the best in baseball before Bard was called up.

Before Sox fans say that the bullpen takes a terrible hit, remember that Bard’s replacement in Pawtucket is Fernando Carbrera who is 17-for-17 in save opportunities with a 1.73 ERA, 40 strikeouts in 41 innings pitched and a .193 opponent batting average. The Sox also have Junichi Tazawa, who is a great young Japanese prospect.

Lowrie’s impact on the team since his call-up last year was more out of need rather than desire. He plays excellent defense, but is below average as a hitter. He was injured, and may simply be slumping this season, but Lowrie was never viewed by the organization as the shortstop of the future. The Jays reportedly want a shortstop/middle infielder who can play defense. Of course, Nick Green’s play has certainly been solid enough so that the Sox are not loosing much if Green is officially the everyday shortstop.

As for Anderson, there is not much room for him in Boston. Scouts tout him as an excellent hitter who uses all fields, but still learning defensively. In Boston, the Sox have their first baseman in Kevin Youkilis, although some have said that Youkilis will move back over to third when Mike Lowell’s ailing joints give out and Anderson would take over at first.

The Sox would love to have Anderson mature into an excellent hitter, but he is a piece that they see as possible trade bait. They will certainly not hesitate to trade him for a player like Halladay.

Masterson, Bard, Lowrie, Anderson and Kelly for Halladay. It gives the Jays exactly what they are looking for position-wise. Talent-wise, it does not have the same big names like Buchholz and Bowden, but the Jays get a great core of young players to compliment the ones they have. (They can also have Brad Penny if they want him, too).

Tell me what you think – is this plausible?


Posted on: June 22, 2009 2:52 pm
 

Matsuzaka has a strain, just not in his shoulder

Daisuke Matsuzaka went on the disabled list Sunday with a mild strain in his pitching shoulder.

He should have gone on the DL with a mild (or major) brain-strain. Or maybe a strain in his $100 million contract. As in - the Red Sox are straining to cope with the fact that they have already forked over about $75 million for Matsuzaka and still owe him another $25 million.

Regardless of how Red Sox fans feel about him, Matsuzaka is one of the most interesting players in baseball. During the off-season prior to the 2007 season, Matsuzaka was very much alike the character portrayed in the "Dos Equis" as his reputation was expanding faster than the universe.

At 26, MVP of the World Baseball Classic, and the national hero of Japan, Matsuzaka really was the most interesting man in the world.

So the Sox ponied up $51 million for the rights to offer Matsuzaka a contract, and after a great deal of Theo Epstein and Co. finagling with uber-agent Scott Boras, not to mention massive amounts of (butt)-kissing to the Japanese media and public, and another $50 million later, the Sox got their man.

Although never obtaining completely smooth sailing, Matsuzaka enjoyed a great deal of success during his first two years in Boston. He finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting in 2007 while winning 15 games and helping the Sox to their fourth World Series title in four years.

He followed that season up with a sparkling 18-3 record and a minuscule 2.90 ERA in 2008 which placed him fourth in the Cy Young balloting. Matsuzaka racked up more strikeouts (355) and a better winning percentage (.688) than any other starter during his first two seasons in the big leagues.

Everyone knew that a Matsuzaka start was never going to be as smooth or as dominant as a Josh Beckett start, one thing was apparent about Matsuzaka - he simply knew how to win games. Despite leading the league in walks, and only tossing five innings more than what is the minimum requirement to qualify for the ERA title, he lead the league in lowest opponent batting average and always got out of tough jams.

Unfortunately, the luck, or aura of Dice-K being Dice-K, finally wore out. If it were not for the Yankees Chien-Ming Wang, Matsuzaka would be the worst starter in the major leagues this season, with a 1-5 record and a 8.23 ERA.

So how has somebody who has, in his first two seasons, compiled a 33-15 record and a 3.72 ERA all of a sudden become the rest of the A.L.'s whipping boy?

While this article is not about the inevitable failure of import pitching, the answer to that question comes from major league coaches and catchers not being satisfied with having a Japanese pitcher throw Japanese starts in an American ballpark. They want Matsuzaka, who they feel has enough talent to be Beckett or Jon Lester, to start pitching like somebody who has been in the big leagues for 2+ seasons.

For anyone who has watched him pitch, particuarily this season, and compared those performances to the WBC, it is clear that Matsuzaka is scared of major league hitters. He is scared of giving up the big hit, or the home run, and for two seasons, his style was to pitch around hitters. After enduring this for two season, the Sox have made him start attacking hitters.

The only problem is, despite his success, Matsuzaka has no confindence in his pitches and the result is one meatball after another down the heart of the plate.

Matsuzaka does indeed have a strain, but it is north of his shoulder. The Sox are planning on keeping him from pitching in the big leagues for quite sometime, because even without him, they still have a logjam in the rotation. If he does not sort out the problems in his head, he may find himself pitching in a Japanese ballpark again.

Posted on: April 9, 2009 5:33 pm
 

Red Sox Recap 4-9-09

Last season, I put together a recap following each Red Sox game. This season, I’ll take a look at the Sox games and post a recap at the conclusion of each Boston series.

The brightest spot of the early season for the Sox was Josh Beckett and his opening day start. Beckett racked up 10 strikeouts in seven innings while allowing only one run on two hits. Beckett had an average season last year, compiling a 12-10 record with a 4.03 ERA while averaging almost exactly a strikeout per inning pitched. But, by the standard of the 20-win campaign he had in 2007, he fell far short of expectations. He does look poised to return to his 2007 form, and we have to remember that Beckett started last season injured. He was held out almost entirely from spring training, which is vital for starting pitchers. A good indication of where Beckett is this season in comparison to last season is his reliance on only two pitches. He had to go to his change-up last season and a two-seam fastball, which is not Beckett’s game. He is effective if he can go through a start using his fastball and curveball 65-70 percent of the time. He threw very few change-ups on Tuesday.

Today’s starter, Daisuke Matsuzaka, got off to a less desirable start of the season. Although putting up solid raw numbers with an 18-3 record and a 2.90 ERA, he finished a distant fourth in Cy Young voting and received no first place votes. This was due mostly to his relative inconsistency on the mound, which led to a very high number of walks (94 in 164 IP). The high walk total combined with the fact that Matsuzaka is a strikeout pitcher led to high pitch totals and short outings (He average a little under 5 and 2/3 IP per start). Although he has very good stuff, it seems that this is simply the type of pitcher Matsuzaka is. He will nibble at the corners, rely on his breaking pitches, and only go after hitters when he must. Today, however, the Sox would have gladly taken last season’s version of the Japanese import. Matsuzaka was leaving a lot of pitches up in the zone, and the Rays hitters had many aggressive swings off of him. No pitch seemed to be working, and he gave up home runs to Evan Longoria (slider), Matt Joyce (fastball) and Shawn Riggans (slider). Walks were not an issue, but Matsuzaka’s pitches were very flat and up in the zone. Although he had significant work in winning his second consecutivce World Baseball Classic MVP award, Matsuzaka looked today like a starter who was not quite ready for the regular season.

The bullpen has lived up to its billing through the first series. Tabbed by some as the best in baseball, the Sox have finally put together a clear path for the middle innings to get to Jonathan Papelbon. New addition Ramon Ramirez was effective today and will play an integral part of getting to the ninth.

A few things about the offense:
-Kevin Youkilis has gotten off to a red-hot start. He had record eight hits in his first 11 at-bats this season, and he continues his recent string of productive Aprils. Although there are question marks with David Ortiz, Mike Lowell and Jason Vartiek in the lineup, Youkilis is the most pivotal member of the big part of the lineup. Depending on his production, it will affect how teams pitch to Ortiz and other members of the lineup.

-Speaking of Varitek, I hate to be the bearer of unwanted news, but I am hearing a lot of talk about Varitek having a good solid comeback year in which he puts up numbers such as a .250 BA, 15 home runs and 70 RBIs. GM Theo Epstein made a great move bringing back Varitek this off-season, he did not re-sign him because of his offense. Varitek’s numbers will be startlingly similar to his numbers from the 2008 campaign, which were .220-13-43. If the Sox had wanted more offense from their catcher, they would have kept Josh Bard. It is a great sign that he has two home runs in the first three games, and both left-handed, but any offense from the catcher’s position is gravy.

The A.L. East is by far the toughest division in baseball this season, with some speculating that the top three teams in all of baseball are in that division. No one is writing off the Rays, but it seems that most have them finishing third behind the Red Sox and Yankees. The Rays however should not finish lower than second. They have the same team as they do last year, and have added a big bat in Pat Burrell. David Price is waiting in the wings, and he will be called up sooner rather than later, ala Longoria last season.

Check back after the series finale Sunday against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. (All recaps will be posted here .)
Keep the Faith.

(P.S. I am also in the market for a new avatar, as mine was also a casualty of the wonderful new restrictions set forth by cbssports, so if anyone has ideas, I’d appreciate them.)

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com