Five questions and predictions for the 2012 Red Sox

Will Josh Beckett bounce back after a poor showing last September? (Winslow Townson/AP)

For a team that spends freely, and routinely makes a big splash in free agency, the 2012 Boston Red Sox certainly enter the season with big questions marks hovering over their heads. We examined Boston’s catching situation, and Kevin Coughlin examined Boston’s shortstop dilemma.  But there are other important questions for the 2012 Red Sox.

Here are five questions and our predictions entering the 2012 season:

1. Will Josh Beckett and Jon Lester rebound from a horrible September?

Lester is saying all the right things. He seems more embarrassed than Beckett. Lester recently said it’s time he become one of the leaders in the Sox clubhouse. Whether this is true contrition or simple PR remains to be seen. Beckett, on the other hand, seems more pissed off the “chicken and beer” story was released in the first place. He has recently complained of “snitches” in the Red Sox clubhouse. There is not even a sniff of contrition coming from Beckett. But in the end, it boils down to performance. Beckett may have had a great 2011, but fans will remember the 5.87 ERA he posted in September. If Beckett is fueled by the criticism, there’s no reason to think he won’t repeat his 2011 numbers minus the horrendous September. Lester should also rebound. If Lester truly is embarrassed and Beckett can reclaim his 2011 form,  fans will be treated to a rededicated duo of Beckett and Lester. We predict an exciting one-two punch from this beer-guzzling, two-headed monster.

2. How will Boston’s veterans respond to Bobby Valentine’s strong personality?

Boston desperately needs a strong personality like Valentine this season. Terry Francona accused Valentine of playing the PR game with his ban of alcohol in the clubhouse. PR move or not, I’m sure it grabbed the attention of the players. Loving your boss doesn’t necessarily make you a better employee. Toward the end of Francona’s time with Boston, it seemed the players loved him like a parent they knew they could take advantage of. It’s very early, but Valentine has already called out Beckett for taking too long between pitches and criticized Carl Crawford’s batting stance. This happened at the press conference before he even met his team. While Boston’s players won’t fear Valentine, a healthy dose of respect has been restored into Boston’s managerial role. This comes at the perfect time. There will be a leadership void with Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek both retiring. Look for the Red Sox to respond well to Valentine’s leadership – and, especially with the new playoff format, look for the Sox to get back into the playoffs for the first time since 2009 when they were swept by the Angels.

3. Can Andrew Bailey handle the pressure of replacing Jonathan Papelbon?

Boston fans loved Papelbon. He was the closest thing to Charlie Sheen’s “Wild Thing” in Boston’s recent history. When the opening notes of “Shipping up to Boston” thundered through the stadium sound system, fans knew Papelbon was about to emerge from the bullpen. He almost always took care of business. Papelbon didn’t just handle the pressure of playing in Boston — he thrived in it. Papelbon could be electric. Last season, he posted a 2.94 ERA, with 31 saves and a 0.93 WHIP.  He had a career 2.33 ERA with Boston. But now the Red Sox have Bailey. Bailey is four years younger than Papelbon, but that’s about the only edge he has over Boston’s former closer. Health is always a concern with Bailey, and his numbers, while decent, just don’t match his predecessor: 3.24 ERA with 24 saves and a 1.10 WHIP. Bailey has the raw stuff to be a top closer, but Red Sox fans won’t see the “Shipping up to Boston” adrenaline rush Papelbon provided.

4. How will Cody Ross and Ryan Sweeney fill the void in Right Field?

J.D. Drew felt like the invisible man during his time in Boston. That may not be fair but fans respond to passion and personality. If you don’t have overwhelming numbers, and never truly show grit, you just aren’t going to get a fair shake in Boston (or anywhere else). Drew played an above-average right field and put up solid numbers during his five seasons with the Red Sox. But last season was a disaster: he only played in 81 games, hit .222 and had 4 HR with 22 RBI. The Red Sox will now look to Ross and Sweeney to take over in right field. The player Sox fans should be excited about is Ross. Ross is three years removed from his great 2009 season where he hit .271 with 24 HR and 90 RBI. Ross will have a chance to approach those numbers once again playing in Boston’s high-powered lineup. His numbers were down last season (.240, 14 HR, 52 RBI) but he was also playing on a Giants team with an anemic offense. Sweeney is a gritty player Sox fans will fall in love with. While Ross will get the bulk of the starts, look for Sweeney and Ross to be an exciting surprise for the 2012 Red Sox.

5. Can Carl Crawford bounce back from a disappointing 2011 season?

In 2010, Crawford was a Gold Glove winning, Silver Slugger winning All-Star for the Tampa Bay Rays. He hit .307, with 19 HR and 90 RBI. When you tack on 13 triples and 47 stolen bases, there was good reason Boston signed him to a seven-year, $142 million deal. Although the length and amount of the contract were controversial, there was no question the Sox were getting a high-impact player. Fast forward to 2011. Crawford couldn’t get on base. Since he couldn’t get on base, he couldn’t steal bases (18 SB). He couldn’t figure out his batting stance (he hit only .255). In a game that is supposed to have peaks and valleys, Crawford never even sniffed the peak. This year is not starting off much better for Crawford. He had surgery on his wrist late in the offseason, and a recent setback makes it likely he won’t be ready for opening day. There is no spring renewal for Crawford this year. The setback is cause for concern. Crawford just couldn’t get going last year, and he has already stalled in 2012. Crawford really has nowhere to go but up – but, unfortunately, that ceiling seems much lower than what the Red Sox were hoping for when he signed last season.

Contributor: Brian Hendrickson



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