I was asked six questions about the Royals by BoSox Injection staff writer Derek Stykalo (BoSox Injection is the FanSided Network’s Red Sox site, of course) which you can read here:
So if you’re looking for a hint of what’s to come over the next four days while Boston visits Kansas City, that’s a good place to start. While at work all day today, I missed news of Kevin Youkilis going on the disabled list – but BoSox Injection gave me the heads up before I started catching up on other baseball news.
I also asked Derek six questions of my own and he has filled me in on what Red Sox fans are thinking right now:
1. What’s it like to contend every year? We haven’t been close since 1994…
It certainly feels good to know that Theo Epstein will do everything in his power to acquire and develop the top talent that he can get for the Red Sox. Quite often it leads to a contending team, although last year’s squad was decimated with injuries which proved to be too much to overcome; the result was a long year with a lot of close calls and high hopes but eventually ended with a missed postseason. With the expectation to contend every year does bring a sense of nervous anticipation. Take this year for example. A 2-10 start had many wondering if this would be the greatest team to bust in a season. Even now with the Red Sox getting dominated by the Rays this past series, it begs the question of whether this team has the right pieces to seriously contend for a World Series. So while it’s nice to know that the team will be competitive every year, it comes with a lot of lofty goals and expectations of winning and when the team doesn’t, it’s a huge let down.
In all honesty, you could put Jacoby Ellsbury’s name on that list as well and he could very well be the Red Sox MVP. Prior to the All-Star break, I would have said Adrian Gonzalez hands down is the team’s MVP and most likely the AL MVP as well. But, call it a coincidence, ever since Gonzo participated in the home run derby, he has found himself entrenched in a bit of slump. He’s still hitting for average as witnessed by his .346 batting average and leads the majors in multi hit games. So where does the slump come in? Well, he was leading the majors in RBI, but has now slipped to third on the list thanks in part to him not driving in a run in his last 8 games and only 1 in his last 10. Gonzalez hasn’t homered since July 30th and only has 2 homers in last two months. So he’s still in the MVP conversation based on his numbers, aside from his lack of power and sudden run producing slump.
Ellsbury on the other hand has been hot since the start of the year and appears to only be getting better. He is on pace to set career marks in every offensive category, except stolen bases and he continues to flash the leather in the outfield, proving he is one of the best centerfielders in the game.
Pedroia and Ortiz have been just as hot lately, with Ortiz coming on with some power over the last few weeks. Pedroia struggled the first couple of months and it wasn’t until his bruised knee was medically cleared of all major risks that he started to catch fire. All four are worth for Red Sox MVP, but if I had to pick one right now it would go to Ellsbury, with Gonzalez a close second. If Gonzo can get hot for the final six weeks of the regular season, then my vote would go to him.
For the remainder of this year I think it’s a draw, but over the next few years I think the Royals will be the winners of the deal. Mike Aviles was an insurance piece that the Red Sox needed with both shortstops, Jed Lowrie and Marco Scutaro battling injuries this year. Aviles can also give third baseman, Kevin Youkilis and second baseman, Dustin Pedroia some much needed rest down the stretch, so his services will have an immediate impact. Next year though with Jose Iglesias on the verge of cracking the Red Sox lineup and toted as the “shortstop of the future” for this ballclub, Aviles will once again be used sparingly.
Navarro on the other hand has some tremendous potential and could fit right in with the Royals plans to build for the future with a core group of players. He never really got a shot in Boston and some feel that he is ready to make the transition to the Majors from AAA. Volz needs more time to develop, but could be a prospect for the Royals future.
4. Is there a sense that the Red Sox have an opening to get some separation from the Yankees for once with the Bombers getting up there in age? Does Toronto step in as the next nuisance in the AL East?
I think that window of opportunity has passed and I see the AL East being a dog fight until the last week of the season. I do still believe the Red Sox will win the division, but it won’t be easy. The Yankees are playing great ball despite a starting rotation that leaves even the experts scratching their heads. The two clubs play each other six more times, with a series each at home. The way the Red Sox have manhandled the Yankees thus far, one would think they’d have a commanding lead in the division. A grueling August schedule for Boston has proved that they will be satisfied to be within a game of New York at the end of August, let alone in first place.
I see both Toronto and Tampa Bay as a nuisance for both Boston and New York. Case in point, the brief three game home series that Tampa Bay came into Fenway and took two of three from the Red Sox; while all Boston could muster up was three hits in every game. Thank goodness for a three run bomb from Ellsbury in the first game or it would have been a sweep. Tampa plays both New York and Boston tough and the Rays rotation is potentially one of the best in the bigs.
The Jays have always played the Yankees tough, and maybe a little tougher than the way they play Boston. None the less, the Jays are full of power in their lineup and are only a few pieces away from contending for the division in the next couple of years. Both Toronto and Tampa will be pivotal opponents if the Red Sox hope to win the AL East.
5. What’s the biggest weakness facing the Red Sox as they make their way towards the playoffs? If they don’t go all the way or get knocked out in the first round, what will be to blame?
Without a doubt it is their starting pitching. Before the year started, Josh Beckett was pegged as the number four starter. He’s bounced back in a huge way and has probably reclaimed his title as the staff ace. Both Beckett and Jon Lester are a solid one-two combo, and arguably one of the best in the game.
With both Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka lost for the year, that’s where things get interesting. John Lackey has confused everyone this year. With more garbage outings in the first half than perhaps his entire career, Lackey looked like he might be better suited for the bullpen and used in games that are out of reach. A trip to the DL and a cortisone shot later, he’s actually pitching half assed. But don’t get fooled like I have. Lackey is far from being the pitcher he was when Boston went out and signed him to a ridiculous 4-year, $80 million dollar deal.
The acquisition of Erik Bedard will help this club, but only if he can stay healthy. In his three starts for Boston he’s gone a total of 16.0 innings of work, allowing 17 hits, 6 earned runs while only walking four and fanning 17. Needless to say he’s been steady and he very well could be the legit number three starter, should the Red Sox get to the ALDS. In a short series, three pitchers may be all you need to get through to the ALCS.
Should the club stumble and make an early exit, I will once again say it will be because of the starting pitching. The Red Sox bullpen is one of the best in the game right now, thanks to a reformed and refound Jonathan Papelbon. As I mentioned, after Beckett and Lester, there are too many uncertainties at this point to feel 100% confident in the rotation, and it could be the Achilles heal for this club.
6. If you were GM and could have predicted how his first year in Boston would go, would you still sign Carl Crawford?
I would say yes to this question and I would sign Crawford over and over again, any chance I had. He is a true talent and an All-Star outfielder. His transition from warm, sunny Tampa Bay to chilly, spring temperatures in Boston haven’t done him any favors. He has shown signs lately that he’s regaining his form, but still falters when he finally does get a notch or two ahead. None the less, he’s in year one of a seven year deal and most Red Sox fans that he will come around. Everyone would like it to be this September rather than next April.
Another reason for needing Crawford is the JD Drew syndrome. Drew will most likely retire after this year and every Red Sox fan is probably okay with that. He’s constantly on the DL and when he does get in the lineup, he hasn’t delivered a lot this season. No one would’ve predicted the type of player we’d see in Josh Reddick, so with too many question marks surrounding Drew and Ellsbury’s health going into this year, Crawford was brought in to shore up the outfield.