EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 30, 2011

Red Flops

Dave Dyer

1Call me cynical or call me pessimistic, but I think your Red Sox are overrated and far from a shoo-in to even win the American League East, much less roll to their third World Series title of the modern era.

Although their lineup is a bit overloaded with lefties, I like the Red Sox everyday lineup. It is stacked top to bottom.

But where most Red Sox fans have lost their way is when it comes to breaking down their pitching. It isn't that good. And I'm talking about all of them, starters and relievers.

Starting with the five-man rotation, I see a bunch of problems. Jon Lester is clearly a star with tremendous "stuff," and Clay Buchholz may be in the same category. But Buchholz hasn't shown he can be effective on a yearly basis and his performance against the Marlins last week (4 innings, 11 hits, 4 home runs) is troubling.

John Lackey has shown that he can pitch a lot of innings, but he rarely has a standout performance and he is not much better than an average No. 3 pitcher.

And then the real problems.

Josh Beckett is coming off the worst year of his career and hasn't shown much in spring training (5.02 earned run average) and Daisuke Matsuzaka, while better recently, has a 6.05 ERA and once again has had some maddening control problems.

It's a shaky starting five by any measure, which is one reason why the Sox — like nearly every team outside of Philadelphia — are shopping around for pitching depth.

And please don't mention Tim Wakefield as a backup. He's a nice guy, and a good clubhouse "presence," but he hasn't been effective on a consistent basis for years.

Yes, Wakefield can still confound batters on occasion, but that's becoming rarer and rarer as he's shown during spring training. In his first four appearances, he gave up 16 hits and 11 runs. Out of loyalty, the Sox will probably keep him on board all summer, but they shouldn't.

Now, let's talk about the bullpen, which is similarly shaky.

Daniel Bard is growing into one of the best around and could clearly be a closer for almost any team in major league baseball, but please don't brag about anyone else.

Jonathan Papelbon had the worst year of his career last year, giving up more walks and home runs than ever before as well as blowing more games. Now in his contract year, he's been even worse in spring training, walking five and hitting two batters in six innings while posting an unseemly 10.50 ERA.

Newcomer Bobby Jenks is supposed to be the replacement closer if Papelbon struggles, but he had arm troubles last year, got demoted by the Chicago White Sox late in the season and hasn't impressed in spring training.

Beyond that, who do the Sox have in the bullpen?

Based on last year, newcomers Dan Wheeler and Dennys Reyes have potential, although consistency is not a given with relievers. Matt Albers has been hit hard recently and apparently is on the roster primarily because he's out of options.

And then there's the knuckleballer Wakefield, who even manager Terry Francona admitted last week can be dangerous to insert in relief because of potential passed balls and the long ball.

On paper, the bullpen clearly is not as good as the Yankees' (Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain, Rafael Soriano) and I'm not sure their top starters (C.C. Sabathia, Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett) aren't every bit as good or better than the Sox starters.

As for their everyday lineup, I'll take the Yankee catching duo of Jorge Posada and Russell Martin over the Sox and Jarrod Saltalamacchia any day.

And is a batting order with Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira much worse than Boston's?

Also in the AL East, Toronto is up and coming, Tampa Bay is still formidable, especially on the mound, and even the Orioles are improved.

Maybe the Red Sox will indeed trump them all, but I wouldn't write them down as American League champions just yet, much less pencil them in for 100 wins, as so many have. With so many questions on the mound, that's just plain foolish.