11 January 2010
With lots to prove in 2010, the Red Sox could have five 15-game winners come October.
Over the weekend, Dasiuke Matsuzaka admitted that he hid a thigh injury, incurred during the World Baseball Classic, through much of his lost 2009 season. Red Sox Management and the fanbase assumed the he simply threw his arm out too early while pitching for the Japan team and then struggled to stay in shape while arguing with the coaching staff about his training program. Much of that turned out to be true, but he specifically says that the leg injury forced him to throw more with his shoulder and less with his legs - killing his fastball and effectiveness.
With all of that drama behind them, Matsuzaka have made amends and have agreed to begin his 2010 season with a stint at the renowned Athlete's performance institute in Arizona before joining the rest of his teammates in Fort Myers. Matsuzaka says he is determined to bounce back and "become a world champion again."
Dice-K won 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA in 2008. After such a drama-filled 2009, he should be the most motivated player on this team in 2010, but he's not alone.
Josh Beckett will be pitching for his last big contract in 2010. Beckett lead the Red Sox staff with 17 wins in 2009, but he's been on a strange career path over the past five years, pitching great in 2005, 2007 and 2009 and struggling in 2006 and 2008. In short, Beckett has struggled in even-numbered seasons, but he has every reason in the world to snap this trend in 2010.
Jon Lester emerged as the co-ace of the staff. That alone would motivate any teammate. But Beckett and Lester are no longer the only candidates for the role of ace. Fellow Texan, John Lackey signed an $82 million deal with the Red Sox this offseason and spent the last five years as the Angels ace in L.A. Just having another quality pitcher in the rotation would normally offer plenty of friendly competition, but Beckett will be pitching for that same contract during the 2010 season.
Lackey is 31. Beckett will turn 30 in May. If Beckett has a mediocre season, winning 10-15 games with an ERA around 4.00, he'll still land a deal close to Lackey's thanks to his postseason success. But if Beckett has a 20-win season and leads the Red Sox to another World Series he could earn $100 million in 2011...
Speaking of Lackey... he too has alot to prove in 2010. The Red Sox couldn't get a deal done with Jason Bay or Matt Holliday, so they gave the money to Lackey. Now Red Sox Nation is wondering how the Red Sox plan to keep up with the New York Yankees without Bay and his 100+ RBI.
The answer? They don't.
John Lackey is one of many additions the Sox made to ensure that they have the strongest "run prevention" team in the league. Lackey gives the Sox three potential aces - four if Matsuzaka bounces back. But Lackey is 31 and struggled with injuries in 2008 and 2009. Lackey has the stuff to win 15+ games, but he's only done it once in his career (19-9 in 2007). He's not a strikeout pitcher, so he'll be relying on the improved defense to help him out in his first season with Boston.
If he pitches well and stays healthy, Boston will quickly embrace Lackey and his firey spirit. But if he struggles or continues to breakdown physically, the fans could turn on him (and the front office) and the Red Sox will certainly feel it in the standings.
Then there's Jon Lester. After battling back from cancer, I don't think Lester needs any more miotiovation, but if you think that he is going to let Beckett and Lackey battle it out for the top spot in the rotaion, you're crazy. At age 26, Lester is just a few months older than Buchholz, but he lead the team in strokeouts last season with 225 and would have been a Cy Young candidate with a little more run support. He's still growing as a pitcher and already has two 15+ win season under his belt. One If By Land recently pointed out how much the improved defense in the second half helped Lester in 2009... with the 2010 defense looking even better, Lester might be the favorite on this team to win 20 games this season.
Lastly there is Clay Buchholz. and Tim Wakefield. Wake doesn't have anything to prove to Boston... he'll simply provide depth at the back of the rotation, as long as he is healthy. That said, he did win 11 games in 21 starts last year. If a starter shold go down along the way, Wake could get 25 starts and win 10-15 games.
Buchholz is the guy we really want to focus on here. Buchhy went 7-4 with a 4.21 ERA last season, but pitched very well in September, posting a 4-1 record with a 2.87 ERA while fanning 26 batters and walking only nine. He'll be granted a starting role in 2010, but Buchholz may have as much to prove as any other starter.
Buchholz has been the centerpiece of a number of proposed trades over the past few years, the biggest being the trade for Johan Santana that never happened and the current potential trade for Adrian Gonzalez. Theo Epstein has repeadedly refused to trade Buchholz, 2010 may be the year he is rewarded for his faith in the young starter. But Buchholz and Epstein will be in a awkward position through the first half of the season...
If he Buchholz pitches well, Epstein might be convinced that Buchhy to the future of the Red Sox. But his success will also make it easier to convince Jed Hoyer and the Padres to send A-Gon to Boston... If Buchholz struggles in the first half, his trade value will decrease and Red Sox Nation will be wondering wht Theo didn't trade him for proven talent when he had the chance. Either way, it's in Buchholz best interest to pitch well in 2010 and if he's given 30 starts and keeps the ball down in the zone, like he did in September, he could defintiely win 15 games.
Greg Maddux (18-9, 2.22)
Tom Glavine (20-6, 2.47)
Denny Neagle (16-11, 3.55)
Kevin Millwood (17-8, 4.08)
John Smoltz (17-3, 2.90)
The 2010 Red Sox might be closer to the 2003 Athlietics (Zito, Hudson, Mulder and Lilly), but with the proper motivation and the talent to get it done, the Red Sox could end up with the best rotation baseball has seen in 20 years.
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