Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Hope springs eternal... even though it's still winter

Hello and welcome back to the blog. It's been a while, I know... been a little distracted with what's happening in the economy and such. Apparently we - i.e., America - are having a little problem with loans and credit and such. Probably nothing to worry about, right?

But I digress...

Spring Training is here , and all Red Sox fans thoughts turn to... umm, how frickin' cold it is in Boston right now!

Seriously, though, the Sox are down in Fort Myers getting ready to kick off the 2009 campaign, and I couldn't be happier. Not because it means lots of stories about who will be the shortstop (Lugo... duh) and who will pick up the "Manny Slack" (it will be the Bay/Lowell/Drew combo), but because it means warmer weather is on the way and with it, the promise of another good season of Sox baseball.

Moreso than even the 2007 season - when the arrival of J.D. Drew & Dice-K and Jacoby Ellsbury's planned ascendance had Sox fans expecting big things - there is a quiet confidence oozing from the pores of everyone associated with the Sox that good things will come this season. The continued growth of the Sox young guns - Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jonathan Papelbon and (most of all) Jon Lester - and the expected "bounce-back" campaigns from Josh Beckett and Big Papi have everyone thinking this team will be dominant.

For me, though, the real excitement and reason(s) for great expectations lie with the new faces on the roster who will most assuredly be difference-makers down the stretch. Faces like:

- John Smoltz - personally, this was the "holy s**t" moment of the off-season for me. Smoltz's stats and awards are known, but it's the so-called intangibles that have me giddy. He is - arguably - one of the two most successful big-game pitcher of his era (the other being Curt "WEEI Speed Dialer" Schilling) and a bulldog competitor to boot. The fact that he signed with the Sox for short money and is expected to be at full-strength by May/June (just in time to start the "shut-it-down" process for the rotation) has me positively giddy. I can't wait to see him pitch at Fenway.

- Brad Penny - say what you want about his injury history, but remember two things: He is just two seasons removed from a dominant season, and he is now in a rotation with his old Marlins buddy Josh Beckett. Remember when the Marlins had a rotation of Beckett, Carl Pavano, Brad Penny and A.J. Burnett and won the 2003 World Series? Good to have 1/2 of that quartet with the Sox.

- Takashi Saito - if he stays healthy, this guy is an unbelievable reliever who has struck out 245 guys and walked just 52 (almost 5-1 ratio) in his 3-year major league career. He is yet another reason to LOVE the Sox bullpen.

- Rocco Baldelli - gotta love this story... superstar in the making loses 3-4 years in his prime to a debilitating illness and some freak injuries, keeps working and seeing the doctors, and now finds himself playing for his hometown team (he's a Rhode Island native) in a perfect role for him: 4th OF, part-time DH, and major force off the bench. Plus he's a great clubhouse guy, from all accounts.

- Ramon Ramirez - yet another shrewd pick-up for the bullpen. Power arm, doesn't allow homers (just 2 in 70+ innings in '08) and average 1 K per inning. He'll get plenty of chances to rack up K's as Pap's set-up guy.

Remember that this is a team that came within a game of the World Series last season despite being decimated by injuries. Considering the talent they have all over the diamond defensively and the depth of the pitching rotation and bullpen, it's hard not to like this team's chances at getting back to the playoffs and even the ALCS.

Go Sawx!

No comments: