Brief 2011 Recap
September collapse or not, this was still one of the best teams in the American League.
Unfortunately for Terry Francona, the beer and chicken-fueled downward spiral cost him his job and has provided Bobby Valentine with a new opportunity. The offense paced the junior circuit in runs scored per game, and was also tops in hits, doubles, raw OPS, OPS+ and total bases, and it shouldn't be too different of a story this year.
The pitching staff, which carried a collective 4.20 ERA in '11, was slightly below average, but had plenty of standout contributors such as Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Jonathan Papelbon.
Papelbon has fled for new digs, but Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon should be sufficient replacements. This pitching staff should be as good or better than last season.
Losing Tim Wakefield (retirement) and John Lackey (injured) will actually be beneficial in that regard.
Brief 2012 Prediction
The lineup from top to bottom should be among the game's best, and the bullpen has potential to vault itself into the ranks of the league's elite. This isn't the best-constructed Red Sox team of the past decade, but it isn't the worst, either.
Projected Starting Lineup
Top Bench Options
Top 101 Prospects (According to Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus)
SS Xander Bogaerts (32nd)
OF Brandon Jacobs (46th)
3B Will Middlebrooks (55th)
C Ryan Lavarnway (98th)
Why the Red Sox Will Contend in ‘12
This is still a team—controversy aside—that's strong offensively, pretty solid in the rotation and has a very nice back end of the bullpen (which ranked 12th in FanGraphs' recent bullpen rankings).
The offense won't get much help from shortstop or right field, but the catcher platoon should be a good one, as Saltalamacchia hits righties well and Shoppach absolutely terrorizes port-siders.
There is some help on the way as well, as Lavarnway could be the full-time catcher before the end of the season. And Middlebrooks is on the cusp of establishing himself as a threat—albeit a bit of a feast or famine one—for everyday playing time as well.
Make no mistake, this may be Ben Cherington's first go-round as a GM, but he's built a team that can win today AND tomorrow.
Why the Red Sox Will Not Contend in ‘12
For the Red Sox not to contend this season, the offense would have to have absolutely no production out of its catcher, shortstop and right field slots, as well as a breakdown from either Ortiz or Youkilis—each of which seem possible but not completely plausible.
Similarly, it's hard to rely on Ellsbury to be as good as last season, but by the same token, Crawford should be markedly improved.
On the pitching side, the rotation is very top heavy, with Bard a great unknown and Aceves and Cook battling for the fifth slot. The bullpen is really, really good on the back end, but the bridge to Bailey could be a bit shaky and could be the difference in what should be a tight AL East race.
Final Prediction: Second, AL East (Out of Five)
O/U Wins: 90.5