February 26, 2015

Playing Pepper 2015 edition

(Photo from blog.homerunmonkey.com)

As mentioned previously, the Cardinals blog C70 at the bat at Cards Conclave hosts an annual series where bloggers from each team answer some specific questions in previewing their team's seasons.

As in previous years, other Baseball Bloggers Alliance members also participated including BBA Red Sox Chapter President Christine from Boston Red Thoughts, John at The Mighty Quinn Media Machine, and Michael at The Pesky Pole.

To see how these Red Sox bloggers answered these questions, take a look at the Red Sox "Playing Pepper" page at C70 at the bat.

Below are the questions with the answers that I provided. As always, I welcome your comments and thoughts:

1) What are your thoughts on the team’s offseason?  Did they do what they needed to do?
Last year the team tried breaking in several young players, and too many of them predictably struggled, and the team sputtered offensively. After this offseason, that should not be a problem with Pablo Sandoval's and Hanley Ramirez' bats added to the middle of our lineup. The pitching rotation was also overhauled, the only thing that is missing is a bonafide ace. However with the offensive firepower, they will have a chance to win most games, with league average starting pitching.  Would it have been better if they had signed Lester or traded for Hamels? Sure. Did they need to? No. They did enough to be able to contend this season, and be set up for future seasons.

2) What do you expect out of Joe Kelly and Allen Craig this season?
Unlike Mr. Kelly's own prediction, I don't think he'll quite win the Cy Young Award this year! I do admire his confidence and attitude however. And I think he'll be a solid member of the rotation. Most depth charts have him as the #4 or 5 guy in the rotation, but I expect he'll be no worse than the de facto #3 by the end of the season. I'm convinced he's the guy Ben Cherington wanted when he sent John Lackey to St. Louis last season.
As far as Allen Craig, I think he was someone whose salary the Red Sox had to take on to receive Joe Kelly.  He was a superb player, but suffered a foot injury in September 2013, and he's never been the same since. There is some hope that he can return to his pre-injury numbers, but I think it's foolish to count on that. I think he will bounce back somewhat from the .128 he had for the Red Sox after they acquired him, but he is no longer a star. And on a team with the outfield depth which Boston now has, there is no room for him as a starter. I expect he'll have some pinch hitting appearances, and may play some first base to give Napoli a rest, but his main role on the team is as injury insurance. Anything he provides offensively will be a bonus.

3) Has it been tough following the roller-coaster of this team over the past few years?
The way 2011 finished was heartbreaking and a shock. 2012 was not a very likeable team starting with the manager, but after the Punto trade and Bobby V's dismissal at the end of the season, there was at least optimism that it would be fun to follow the team in 2013. Of course, winning the World Series that year was that much sweeter because of the pain of the previous two seasons. In spite of finishing last again in 2014, the team was a lot of fun to watch. Seeing the prospects develop and the team setting up for the future was very enjoyable, and I'm now optimistic that the Sox have a solid core for the next several seasons. And regardless of whether they finish last again, or win it all, it will be fun to continue to follow them.

4) What player do you expect to make the greatest strides this year?
There are huge expectations for future "first ballot Hall of Famer" Mookie Betts and Red Sox Nation is justifiably excited about seeing what he can do over a full season.  And I am too, but he's only had about 200 major league plate appearances at the age of 21, so there's a good chance he may hit a slump and not quite be the superstar everone is expecting just yet. After being similarly hyped last season, Xander Bogaerts struggled most of the year, until September when he finished very strong. I expect him to continue to make strides and have a breakout season this year.

5) What’s your projection of the team’s record and where will they finish in the division?
88 Wins. Enough for first place in the suddenly mediocre AL East. But don't expect them to go far in the playoffs.

6) What do you like best about being a Red Sox fan?
Not living in the New England area, I often run into someone wearing a red "B" on their hat and that gives us an instant connection, and an excuse to start talking with a stranger. I suspect running into someone in Boston wearing Red Sox gear and saying "Hey, what a coincidence, I'm a Red Sox fan too!" would seem a little strange or even creepy. But 2500 miles away from Fenway, it's a great icebreaker. I've made many lasting friendships with people who I met solely because they too were fans living far away from their team.

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