Saturday, January 15, 2005

Pitchers and Catchers in One Month

Stuck at work on a pretty (if a bit chilly) Saturday, so I'll take a moment to stretch my bloglegs and start easing my way back into baseball. Of note:

1. The Boston Red Sox are the reigning world champions. That'll just never stop sounding sweet.

2. Number 1 above colors everything that happens in the coming season in a hazy pastel of reduced urgency. The seat of the pants, end of the world tones by which every Sox fan painted his or her personal canvas in years past are now a quaint memory - but that particular box of crayons is what made the mural of 2004 so particularly sublime.

I can be a baseball fan now, not some Sisyphean character in a passion play. Will I care? More than I should. Will I rant, rave and fulminate? Less than I used to, but as sure as the salmon flock to Capistrano, the first time Millar swings through an eye-high fastball for strike 3, or Wakefield walks 3 straight Yankees, the ire is sure to follow. It's hard to unlearn 34 years of mania.

But here's the thing: this team is going to be good, very good, again in 2005. If they stumble into September 8 games behind the Yankees, let the record show that this corner of MLC will be steaming.

3. And here's why they'll be very good this year. Despite losing Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe, the pitching staff may be even better this year than last. The acquisitions of Matt Clement, David Wells, and Wade Miller (especially Wade Miller, if he's as healthy as the Sox think he is) give the Sox a potentially dominant rotation, in combination with holdovers Curt Schilling and Bronson Arroyo. If Miller is healthy, Wells can give Boston 30 starts, and Arroyo continues his development, this rotation might be the best in baseball. But even if those things don't happen, Tim Wakefield waits in reserve and the offense and bullpen are both good enough to carry this team. Theo Epstein's done a great job of taking acceptable risks and having a fallback plan in the event the wrong ifs become reality.

On offense, the Sox replaced Dave Roberts and Gabe Kapler with Jay Payton, welcome Edgar Renteria in place of Orlando Cabrera, and resigned Jason Varitek. There's still some speculation about which of Kevin Millar and Doug Mientkiewicz stay with the club to man first base, which matters, but not that much. In short, the offense will be as good as last year's, and the defense will be close, depending on who plays first.

Can the Sox recapture last year's idiot-driven chemistry, especially if Millar moves on? Who knows? Will it matter? Tough to say, knowing that this team doesn't have to establish an identity based on overcoming 86 years of angst. They are the World Series Champions, after all. (Have I mentioned that? Couldn't remember.)

Pitchers and catchers in a month. Can't wait. Can not wait.

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