EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 20, 2010

10 reasons not to give up on the Red Sox

Bill Burt

Agreed. It doesn't look good.

Theo Epstein, the architect. Terry Francona, the manager. Josh Beckett, the ace. Marco Scutaro, the shortstop. David Ortiz, the power hitter. Mike Lowell, the teammate. Mike Cameron, the center fielder. Jonathan Papelbon, the closer. Victor Martinez, the catcher. And John Lackey, the free agent.

All in slumps.

I could probably go on — see Dice-K, Jacoby Ellsbury and Hideki Okajima — but I won't.

Your Boston Red Sox, 3-2 winners last night over the visiting Twins, appear to be headed toward disaster, which means no October baseball.

The Tampa Bay Rays not only appear to be great, they are already postseason tested. I predict 100 wins, period.

And the New York Yankees, despite the weaklings in the back of their lineup, are headed for 95-plus wins.

From this vantage point, it appears the Red Sox might actually be out of the race in the middle of May, which is crazy.

These years happen, sometimes, for a reason. You can't win 'em all, or at least the division, every year.

So let's dig deep — and I mean really deep — and find some plausible reasons that it really isn't over, that they do have a chance at running off a 23-win month.

1. Varitek fooled us.

Guilty as charged. I didn't think Jason Varitek had this in him. He appears to be more refreshed and could be a key player in July and August, with his playing time probably doubling from the expected 40 games to nearly half of the schedule. His batteries appear to be recharged. At worst, if Sox never make a run, it will be nice seeing Varitek go out with respect.

2. Pedroia is the future.

I apologize before being repetitive here, but this is the face of the franchise, he and Kevin Youkilis (see No. 3). Pedroia brings it every game. And even in these difficult times, he's on pace for 30 homers and 100 RBI. Unfortunately, it's lost in the negativity. When this team settles down, particularly with a set lineup, we may see bigger numbers.

3. Youkilis is in his prime.

Kevin Youkilis is 31 years old. It won't get any better than this year and next. He has fulfilled everything we've come to expect. He too is on the 30-homer, 100 RBIs pace, and that's including a miserable .234 , 2 HR and 7 RBIs start through the first three weeks of the season. He has made himself into an All-Star.

4. Ellsbury is returning.

This might not seem like a big deal, but Jacoby Ellsbury may be becoming a man before our very eyes. The fact that Ellsbury will return to center field, which is where he belongs, is secondary. The Red Sox need Ellsbury on base, particularly in the first inning of big games. His speed on bases have been badly missed.

5. Lester is ascending to role.

It's official. Jon Lester is "the man." During this roll of mediocrity, the Sox have won four of the last five games Lester has started, and should be 5 for 5. Lester isn't at "ace" status yet, but he has ascended to being the best pitcher on the team. It will be interesting to watch him his next two or three outings. He has been good for two-plus seasons going 34-16 and 3.40 ERA. He needs to be better. It could happen very soon.

6. Offense better than expected.

We have bashed the Run Prevention Red Sox because of the theory, which really is what old-timers called pitching and defense. The offense has averaged five runs a game, about 1.5 runs more than we expected. It might not be pretty, but it's been efficient. The Red Sox have done this without Ellsbury and Cameron as well as struggling Ortiz, who has gotten hot lately. The bottom line is the Red Sox problem isn't offense. It's run prevention, or whatever it's called.

7. Bard is getting better.

After some early stumbles, Daniel Bard is beginning to get it. He's allowed one meaningful run — Sox blew a 4-3 lead to O's — over the last four weeks. He's taken over the setup role for good and now is the time we watch him develop into the closer-in-the-waiting. He still needs a second pitch he can trust. His slider-curve is decent. Bard turns 25 next month. It is going to be fun watching him flirt with 100 mph the next half-decade or so.

8. Yanks are not great.

I will not rip the Yankees here. They are good, maybe very good. But they aren't great. They are not the team, particularly on offense, that they were a year ago. Their pitching, particularly in the bullpen, appears to be haphazard. While I'm not guaranteeing anything, I see the Yankees faltering before the Rays.

9. Help could be on the way.

It is still early. The Red Sox could easily add a worthwhile bat in the middle of the lineup (see 30-year-old Adam Dunn, at $12 million in '10 with Nationals) if they can get within striking distance of the Yankees come July. It's not to say the Red Sox should make a mammoth deal at the trade deadline just for the sake of making a trade (they would have to be 100 percent healthy and missing one key player).

10. Pitching is key.

The Red Sox, while a wallowing in mediocrity, have too much proven pitching to be a .500 team. If Beckett gets healthy, the Sox should make a run at 90 games (71-51 the rest of the way is doable). If Lester, Lackey and Beckett do anywhere near expected, say a combined 50-30, it will happen.

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