5 Reasons I’m Optimistic About the Red Sox Season

The 2011 Red Sox left a bad taste in the mouth of every New Englander. And it wasn’t just the way the final game ended, either (although that would have been bad enough on its own). The epic collapse in the final month of the season, the offseason revelations of misbehavior, poor conditioning, and general bad attitude permeating the clubhouse, and the firing of arguably the greatest manager in Boston Red Sox history don’t exactly have most experts predicting a 2012 World Series run.

But fear not!  There are plenty of reasons for Red Sox fans to expect big things from the team this season.  Here are five reasons the Boston Red Sox will win the World Series this year:
1. The Starting Pitching Isn’t As Bad As It Looked Last Year. One year ago, the Red Sox went into the season with many saying they had the strongest rotation in the AL. With a top three of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, and Clay Buchholz (not to mention a strong back of the rotation in workhorse John Lackey and gyroball master Diasuke Matsuzaka), THIS was the rotation that should have been Theo “Run Prevention” Epstein’s wet dream. So what happened? Lester bombed in September, Beckett and Lackey decided they liked chicken more than baseball, Buchholz couldn’t stay healthy, and Dice-K earned a new nickname: Tommy John.

So why should we be optimistic? Well, Jon Lester is still a stud. He’ll rebound. Beckett will be pitching with a chip on his shoulder. And Buchholz will be out to prove he can stay healthy and be a top of the rotation guy.  The real question is who will round out the rotation. The sexy pick looks to be Daniel Bard, whose 100+ MPH fastball could put him up there with Justin Verlander in terms of pure ability to blow batters away. As for the fifth starter, look for Alfredo Aceves to get the job.  Aceves was the best long reliever in baseball last year, often pitching 4 or 5 innings in a night, usually when Lackey couldn’t hack it.  With Ben Cherington trading for every late reliever in baseball this offseason, there will be plenty of options, even with Aceves in the rotation.

2. Bobby V. Let’s just get this out of the way: I hate Bobby V. He’s an overrated, showboating, infuriatingly arrogant manager. But he will kick this team into gear.  Much as we all loved Francona, Tito had a very passive management style.  You can bet Bobby V won’t be calling into WEEI and calling Dustin Pedroia “Pedie.” You can bet Beckett won’t be disappearing into the clubhouse during games. And you can bet David Ortiz won’t be busting into any press conferences demanding an extra RBI.

The more I think about it, the more I think Bobby V’s ego might be the best thing for this team in 2012.  David Ortiz throws a public fit? Bobby V will sit him down.  You don’t upstage Bobby V.

3. Jacoby Ellsbury Might Be Trying to Play His Way Out of Boston. Does this not sound like a positive? Let me explain. All the reports at the end of the season seemed to indicate that Ellsbury was a loner on the team and didn’t really have any friends aside from Jed Lowrie.

Naturally, Ben Cherington traded Lowrie, leaving the Red Sox with no shortstop and Ellsbury with no friends. Ellsbury had a breakout season last year, but he isn’t eligible for free agency yet.  He doesn’t seem eager to sign a long term deal with the Sox and has started the process of floating by on one year deals, Papelbon-style.  While Ellsbury is one of my favorite players and I’d hate to see him go, if he’s angling for big free agency deal in the future, he’ll likely be inclined keep up his incredible pace, even if it’s out of pure spite.

Or I could be wrong, and Ellsbury will be happy to stay in Boston for years.  Either way, if Ellsbury’s 2011 season was any sign of things to come, we’ve got a budding superstar on our hands, and that can never be a bad thing.

4. They’ve Got at Least a Month to Figure Things Out. They Red Sox blew so much fan capital last year that they actually fell below the Bruins on the radar of many Boston fans.  With the Bruins sitting high in the conference this year and a lock for the playoffs, the Red Sox will have at least until the end of April to sort themselves out while the city focuses on the Bruins’ playoff run.  That will take a little bit of the pressure off of the team while the new manager figures out the lineup, the new closer settles into his role, and our traditional slow starters (looking at you, Lester and Ortiz) work their way into the season.

So, strange as it may sound, the Red Sox can probably afford a slow start this year. Whether that happens or not, the players can take some comfort in the fact that they won’t have to shoulder the burden of an entire city’s sports dreams on their own.  They might want to send the Bruins a thank you note.

Thanks, B's.

5. They Can’t Get Worse…Can They? The end of the 2011 season was the worst Red Sox fans have seen since 2003, harkening back to the lovable losers of old.  Except this team wasn’t lovable.  They were selfish, petty, and out of shape. They griped. They threw fits. They drank. They formed cliques. They got their manager fired, then whined about the new manager. In one year, the Red Sox went from the darlings of Boston to being the most disliked team in the city.

So it can’t get worse, right? Jon Lester was publicly remorseful. All reports indicate Pedroia has worked harder than ever this offseason. Crawford has pledged to be the guy the Red Sox thought they were getting last year. They’ve cut ties with some longtime weak points, like JD Drew, Jason Varitek, and Tim Wakefield. The team knows they screwed up. They know they’ve lost the city.  And they’re smart enough to leave their mistakes in the past and play like the team we saw glimpses of last year.

Follow the author on Twitter at @Rescue_Shane

Tomorrow: 5 Reasons I’m Pessimistic About the Red Sox Season

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