2008 AL Preview: Can Anyone Beat Sox?

Matt Matsumura

The Boston Red Sox may not appear to have much to play for in the American League. Curt Schilling doesn’t need to wear another sock to be known as one of the greatest postseason pitcher of his generation, and Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell showed they were worth trading away Hanley Ramirez. While there’s a chance the young Sox – Ellsbury, Pedroia and Lester – are still blinded from the World Series flashbulbs, two of the team’s biggest profiles ought to have quite a fire burning. Manny Ramirez and Daisuke Matsuzaka are the yin and the yang, or the yang and the yin, respectively. One of them apologizes to his fans when he can’t pitch better than two earned runs over five innings, while the other laughs out – not runs out – his underestimated doubles. Despite a vintage postseason, Manny hardly seemed interested in continuing his dominance with a paltry 88 RBI-by Ramirez standards. Dice-K struggled with his fastball command and ended up tiring at the end of the year while still tallying 15 wins and 201 strikeouts. If these two bounce back as expected and the rest of the team doesn’t fall off significantly from their 2007 performance, the Sox should win the AL East in consecutive years. There’s also a good chance Jon Papelbon will dance too.

The Contenders

Boston Red Sox: They’re largely the same team that silenced the rolling Rockies in last year’s finale. They made a good decision by not trading for Johan Santana, allowing them to keep lead off man of the future Jacoby Ellsbury. The non-move also allowed Boston to keep enough funds in line to sign Manny Ramirez after this season. No team would be the same if they lost one half of the second greatest one-two punch in the history of baseball. There’s no reason the Sox shouldn’t win the whole thing again this year. They’re one of the most complete teams in recent memory. I predict for them to win the World Series over the Mets.

New York Yankees: As Yankee Stadium begins its swan song, the wood should still crack loud and often in the Bronx. Unfortunately for the Bombers, gray jerseys will do their fair bit of cracking as well, at least before the Yankees can get to Joba and Mariano. As the regime trades in their Joe’s, the game should still be well managed but Girardi may find the bullpen just as tempting as Torre by season’s end. Chien-Ming Wang is a solid pitcher, but just not the type of talent you want starting game one. Pettitte seems to have a little more left in the tank but his veteran counterpart Mike Mussina has probably run out of fumes. Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy figure to be better than terrible, but they probably shouldn’t be counted on to be Clay Buccholz. The back end of the bullpen is terrific, but their offense better be all systems go to get them there. I think they’ll miss the playoffs this season.

Detroit Tigers: The Motor City mashers added a few pistons to their engine with the addition of Miguel Cabrera and Edgar Renteria. They’ll be teaming up with Curtis Granderson, Magglio Ordonez, Gary Sheffield, Placido Polanco and Carlos Guillen to form the most dangerous lineup in the majors. The starting pitching has received its fair share of criticism over the past year, but most MLB clubs would be happy with their rotation. Their bullpen, however, has many question marks as Joel Zumaya recovers from injury and Todd Jones continues his age (and talent)-defying closing act. It’s hard to see them not at least compete with the Indians for the Central title with their combination of hitters and starters, but their bullpen might show more than just a little rust in October. They will bow out in the Division Series round.

Cleveland Indians: The Indians may have been just a Kenny Lofton third base turn from playing in the World Series, but the Tribe still has much to be happy about. C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona are a nasty duo at the top of the rotation, and Paul Byrd and Jake Westbrook showed they could make outs even against the big, bad Sox in the ALCS. While Joe Borowski still maintains the title of closer in the Indian’s pen, the rest of their relief arms are electric. Rafael Perez and Rafael Betancourt have excellent fastballs. While the Indians look better built for October, they may not be able to keep up with that Tigers offense during the regular season. They will win the Wild Card and lose to the Championship Series to Boston.

L.A. Angels of Anaheim: While some traveling fans might get confused trying to find them on a map, one big-time free agent sure didn’t this offseason. Arte Moreno added center fielder Torii Hunter and traded for starter Jon Garland to bolster their power and run prevention, hoping to avoid another sweep in the divisional round of the playoffs. The Angels still have lots of speed and have more power this time around, but their defense continues to be a concern. They are also still looking for a bona fide ace. Vlad is still the man in sunny SoCal, but some are starting to believe that his postseason slumps are more than a coincidence. They will lose in the Division Series round.