Red Sox Clinch Wild Card

With the Red Sox officially in the playoffs, it’s time to make some predictions. First off, can they repeat as World Champions? With a strong rotation, the second-highest scoring lineup in the American League, and a +30 home record, it’s surely a possibility. But, how do they match up against the 2007 and 2004 World Champion teams? The 2008 Sox are definitely not the same potent hitting force that the 2004 and 2007 Sox were. The main reason for the offensive drop-off is the trade of Manny Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers. While Manny consistently provided 35 homeruns and 120 RBI’s, he also gave David Ortiz protection in the lineup. As a pair, they became the most feared back-to-back force in the majors. Ramirez was World Series MVP in ’04 and without him, Ortiz’s performance had dipped until lately. However, the Red Sox are still one of the best teams in baseball. With new addition Jason Bay hitting consistently with power, rookies Jed Lowrie and Jacoby Ellsbury playing well, and great seasons from Kevin Youklis and Dustin Pedroia, the lineup is still one of the best in the majors. The rotation hass also improved since the previous World Series years, with standouts Josh Beckett (172 strikeouts), Jon Lester (15-6, 3.26 ERA), and Cy Young candidate Daisuke Matsuzaka (18-2, 2.80 ERA). While the ’08 Sox are not the same goofy sluggers of the past, they are still a formidable opponent to face in the playoffs. It seems to me that the Boston should fare well in the playoffs. They have great postseason experience in players like Jason Varitek, Mike Lowell, and Beckett—a missing component in teams such as the Tampa Bay Rays. If Beckett, Lester, and Matsuzaka all pitch as well as they did in the regular season, opponents will be devastated in a short series. Pedroia and Ellsbury could also be the key to the Red Sox’ success. Ellsbury’s speed on the base path could be a huge difference maker in the postseason. If Pedroia can consistently get on base as well(208 regular season hits to lead the AL), the table will be set for Youklis, Bay and Ortiz to pick up RBI’s. While the bullpen has deteriorated since last year, and Jonathan Papelbon has not pitched as well as his unbelievable ’07 season, these problems can be minimized if the starters can go deep into the games. Delcarmen and Okajima will be the two most important relief pitchers. If they can combine to get through the 7th and 8th innings, the Sox will have all the confidence in the world turning the ball over to Paps. It will also be important for the Red Sox to get healthy returns from Lowell and J.D. Drew, who should each drive in runs. Hopefully, getting only the Wild Card and not winning their division out-right will not hinder the ’08 team. After all, the ’04 champs also entered as the second-place team in their division. If the Red Sox can pitch well and receive timely production at the plate, they will have a good chance to go deep into the postseason.