2008 Record: 95-67 2nd AL East (AL Wildcard) red-sox-logo
2009 Prediction: 2nd, AL East

Impact Player: Dustin Pedroia
Impact Pitcher: Daisuke Matsuzaka
Top Prospect: Lars Anderson, 1B

Significant Acquisitions: P John Smoltz, P Brad Penny, P Takashi Saito, OF Rocco Baldelli, C Josh Bard, P Ramon Ramirez
Significant Loses: P David Aardsma, P Paul Byrd, 1B Sean Casey, C Kevin Cash, P Bartolo Colon, INF Alex Cora, OF Coco Crisp, P Mike Timlin

Two World Series titles in five years and a real shot at making it three in six have all but put the BoSox in a class by itself.   A very strong pitching staff, lineup, and great leadership may give Boston its third Series in six years.

Pitching
The top of the rotation will look the same as it did at the end of the ’08 season with Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett, and Jon Lester.  Those three combined for an astounding 46-19 record, a 3.37 ERA, and 7.79 K/9 in ’08.  Lester had a breakout year finishing 16-6 with a 3.21 ERA and was the only Sox pitcher to log more than 200 innings (210.1).  Outside of those three, Boston has no shortage of outstanding arms.  Ageless John Smoltz (42), who signed a one-year, $2.5-million deal to leave the only team he’s ever played for in Atlanta, should be the #4 starter, but is coming off of shoulder surgery that caused him to miss almost all of last year.  The 5th spot could go to any of three pitchers depending on health and spring training performance: Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield (42), who was 10-11 last year and provided some solid starts for the BoSox down the stretch; Brad Penny (31), who was acquired from the Dodgers and when healthy is still capable of 15 wins; and youngster Clay Buckholz (24) who may find it hard to crack the rotation barring injuries to other, older pitchers, but has thrown a no-hitter and has the most upside of any Boston pitcher.

The bullpen will be one of baseball’s best again with Jonathon Papelbon at its back end.  Papelbon had another outstanding season in ’08 recording 41 saves in 46 attempts and posting a 2.34 ERA and 9.99 K/9.  Lefties Hideki Okajima and Javier Lopez return after each posted ERAs under 2.75 in ’08, and young righties Justin Masterson and Manny Delcarmen also return having put up solid number last year.  One addition comes in veteran Takashi Saito who signed a free-agent deal in the off-season.  Saito, although 39-years-old, posted 81 saves in 91 attempts in three years with the Dodgers and has a diminutive Major League career ERA of 1.95.

Rotation (Throws)
Daisuke Matsuzaka (R)
Josh Beckett (R)
Jon Lester (L)
John Smoltz (R)
Brad Penny (R)

Bullpen
Jonathon Papelbon (R) — CLOSER
Hideki Okajima (L)
Takashi Saito (R)
Javier Lopez (L)
Justin Masterson (R)
Manny Delcarmen (R)
Tim Wakefield (R)
Ramon Ramirez (R)

Lineup
Returning nearly the same lineup that ended last year, the Red Sox will once again be a force to be reckoned with offensively in ’09.  The outfield of Jason Bay (LF), Jacoby Ellsbury (CF), and J.D. Drew (RF) will be one of the more talented in the American League.  On the infield, 2008 AL MVP Dustin Pedroia comes back at second after putting up great numbers in only his second full season posting a .326 BA, 17 HR, 83 RBI, a .376 OBP, and a .952 SBP.  Veteran Mike Lowell returns at third but might have trouble coming back from off-season hip surgery and Kevin Youkilis is back at first after leading the team with 29 HR in ’08.  The only question mark is at shortstop where veteran Julio Lugo will battle in spring training with Jed Lowrie for the starting job.  The loser might see time at third if Lowell has troubles with injuries.  At catcher, Jason Varitek is back after signing a one-year, $5-million deal with an option for a second year and the team brought back former draft pick Josh Bard from San Diego after he was dealt there almost two years ago for Doug Mirabelli.  At DH will be “Big Papi” David Ortiz who is coming off an injury-riddled ’08 where he still put up 23 HR and 89 RBI in 109 games.

On the bench, besides who loses the battle at shortstop, will be Bard, veteran OF/1B Mark Kotsay, and another off-season signing, injury-prone Rocco Baldelli. Youngsters Lars Anderson, Argenis Diaz, Jeff Bailey and journeyman minor-league outfielder Jonathon Van Every will also vie for spots with the big club in the spring.

Lineup (Bats)
CF  Jacoby Ellsbury (L)
2B  Dustin Pedroia (R)
1B  Kevin Youkilis (R)
DH  David Ortiz (L)
LF  Jason Bay (R)
RF  J.D. Drew (L)
3B  Mike Lowell (R)
C    Jason Varitek (S)
SS  Julio Lugo (R)

Bench
C   Josh Bard (S)
OF/1B  Mark Kotsay (L)
OF Rocco Baldelli (R)
INF Jed Lowrie (S)
1B  Jeff Bailey (R)

Outlook
The Red Sox will again be in the race for October baseball in ’09 in spite of being chased by both the Yankees and Rays in the tough AL East.  There are very few recognizable holes on this team (at least on paper) and barring injury should clinch a playoff spot at season’s end. Final Prediction – 93-69, 2nd AL East