2012 MLB Season Preview: Boston Red Sox

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2012 Boston Red Sox Season Outlook

Who knows? That might the starting point on the Boston Red Sox season outlook. No one knows if the Red Sox will have a mental hangover from the disappointing end to the 2011 season or not. Heck, no one knows if the fans will boo the home team when it shows up at Fenway Park.

And no one knows, certainly not manager Bobby Valentine, who will fill up the starting rotation, just for starters. The Red Sox have a glut of names on the 40-man roster with some experience pitching in the big leagues. A bunch of them are just names right now, though, because of injuries. Sure-fire starter John Lackey is out for the year. Rich Hill might get well by mid-season. Reliever Bobby Jenks is going on his second season of being injured and just recently got nabbed for DUI. Daisuke Matsuzaka had Tommy John surgery and while said to be progressing nicely in his recovery may or may not pitch for the Sox in 2012.

That’s one group of arms. With Tim Wakefield‘s retirement, three are really only three starters being counted on right now. Josh Beckett and Jon Lester anchor the franchise. Clay Buchholz rates slightly behind, at least partially because he was hurt last season, too, and couldn’t throw at the end of the year. Groomed as the No. 4 starter, kind of on a hope and a prayer, is Daniel Bard, known for his 100 mph fastball coming out of the bullpen in short relief. As spring training rolls to an end, he’s still a questionmark as a starter.

The fifth starter could be southpaw rookie Felix Doubront, but he hasn’t impressed in spring training and may need a little bit more minor-league time. Or the fifth starter could be Alfredo Aceves, but he hasn’t impressed this spring either. Then there are guys lurking in the background like Michael Bowden, who has shown flashes in recent years, but is being looked at as a possible middle reliever. Left-hander Andrew Miller is in the same situation. The organization would love to see these two succeed in some pitching capacity, but they have not shown enough to be major players in the major leagues.

Star closer Jonathan Papelbon signed a big-bucks free-agent contract with the Phillies. So the Red Sox went out and traded for Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon. Bailey is the closer, but Melancon has had a rocky spring.

There are some journeymen hopefuls such as Franklin Morales and Mat Albers, who would like to stick with the big club, too. But all in all, the Red Sox do not appear to have a pennant-winning pitching staff. A lot of maybes have to come through or even making the playoffs as a Wild Card entry could be jeopardized.

When it comes to hitting, the Red Sox have got the goods to batter holes in the left-field Green Monster wall at Fenway Park, celebrating its 100th anniversary as the team’s home field. While Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, and Adrian Gonzalez are coming off outstanding years, there are some iffy spots in the order. Kevin Youkilis missed a chunk of the season with injury, though he should regain top form. Carl Crawford underachieved and then underwent surgery this year, so hasn’t been designated as 100 percent ready to go. The Red Sox have been skeptical of aging David Ortiz for a couple of years now. But Ortiz turned in a sweet rebound season, hitting .309 with 29 homers and 96 RBIs, so he is back for another go-around with the hope that although he is 36 he will remain unofficially ageless.

Shortstop is an area of concern. Mario Scutaro played very well last year and the Red Sox dumped him. Jed Lowrie was his back-up and the Red Sox dumped him, too. So by the process of elimination Mike Aviles starts at short and it’s not clear how that will turn out. Likewise, catcher is a position to be scrutinized. Clubhouse leader Jason Varitek retired and Jarrod Saltalamachia probably isn’t the everyday answer.  Right-fielder J.D. Drew left as a free agent and Ryan Sweeney is pencilled in as his replacement. With one homer per season the last two years, it’s not as if Sweeney is being counted on to make anyone forget that long-ago Sox part-time outfielder Babe Ruth.

With players still recovering from injuries, with a shortage of dependable arms on the roster, and with replacement players not seeming to measure up to those who left, 2012 is shaping up as a year when the Red Sox will be focusing harder on somehow reaching the playoffs behind the Yankees and Tampa Bay rather than challenging for first place in the always rugged American League East.

Celebrations galore will no doubt be conducted for Fenway’s 1o0th birthday, but many a time over the years when the Red Sox fell short of expectations the cold-hearted noted that the grand old ballpark opened for business the same week the Titanic sank.

Find your team’s 2012 season preview or when it will be published here.

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