There'll be no "managing expectations", as the media is trying to reload the monkey on the Sox' back, making them the consensus favorite to win the World Series, if not the intergalactic championship should baseball-loving aliens arrive in 2011.
Name some reasons why the Sox could underachieve, and what the likelihood of that is.
- Injury. Who thought that the Sox would lose critical parts of the team (V-Mart, Pedroia, Youkilis, Ellsbury) for substantial parts of the season. Sure the Red Sox are viewed as innovators and leaders in sports medicine, but that doesn't prevent fluke injuries...or injuries to key players.
- Statistical randomness. This can work in either direction for the Red Sox and for their opposition. For example, Mark Belanger was a career .228 hitter, who hit .287 in 1969. Dwight Evans, a .272 career hitter, hit .242 or less three times during his career. Guys have bad years. Even Teddy Ballgame hit .254 in 1959, admittedly at age 40 with 331 at bats. Also, outcomes in close games can also make a huge difference.
- The "Tigers Effect". IIRC, in 1984, the Detroit Tigers won 35 of their first 40 games, ran away and hid from the field.
- Breakdowns from key players. Last year Jonathan Papelbon had his ups and downs. Will the real Pap please stand up? The trend isn't good, with rising WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) and falling strikeout to walk ratio (9.63 in 2008, 3.17 in 2009, and 2.71 in 2010). Red Sox data has shown that K/BB ratio predicts ERA better than prior ERA itself.
- Chemistry breakdown. Certainly rumors abound about a pitcher sent out of town for ECA (extracurricular activities) and a position player who crossed certain lines never violated.
Despite the Sox hype about winning more than a hundred games, I don't expect that to happen with a much improved AL East including the ever potent Yankees and the underrated Rays.
Do I have any "surprises" for the Sox this year?
- I think that the biggest surprise will be that Daisuke Matsuzaka will be better than the 'consensus'. Of course, I don't think that consensus view is much above .500.
- I think that the right-handed duo of Mike Cameron and Darnell McDonald will prove to be a lot more productive than is generally perceived. With the Sox so 'left-handed', getting these guys in the lineup (e.g. RF and DH) may be the smartest move that Francona can make.
- Jed Lowrie will get a lot more at bats than currently expected. Marco Scutaro is a 'nice' player, but Lowrie has a higher ceiling. Will Scutaro's injury recur and will the manager just rotate in Lowrie to allow for optimal rest and recovery.
- Clay Buchholz will end up being the 'best' Sox starter. Simply, Buchholz has hellacious stuff, with two good fastballs, and two excellent complementary pitches, including a dynamite changeup. What made him so effective last year was the evolution of his cutter, which gave him another weapon against lefthanded batters. I saw him outduel Greinke in a 1-0 Fenway classic last year, and he was dynamite.