Sunday, February 11, 2007

Four Beautiful Words: Pitchers and Catchers Report

I miss football, dammit. It's Patriots football and Red Sox baseball that rule year-round here in Boston, and when you think about it, it's both amazing and embarrassing how long our two winter sports teams have been completely irrelevant. Thankfully, the void between the end of the football season and the start of spring training is only 12 days. That's the amount of time the local college hoops teams, hockey teams, Bruins and Celtics have to strut their stuff in front of maybe a few more eyes. It's the Black Hole of sports. I just can't get into college basketball ('cept for Final Four), I love college hockey, I watch the Bruins sparingly and I haven't watched a Celtics game all year long - though it's becoming more tempting as their car wreck of a season continues. After tonight's tough 2-point loss to Minnesota, the Celtics, folks, have officially lost 18 consecutive games. Very hard to do, but the injuries this team has suffered this year have absolutely ravaged them. If you're wondering, the NBA record is only five defeats away. Both the expansion Vancouver Grizzlies in 1995 (remember them?) and the 1997-98 Denver Nuggets lost 23 games in a row. So as far as the NBA goes, we're already salivating over the potential choice between Ohio State's Greg Oden and Texas' Kevin Durant. (even though we're also students of history - and remember that lotteries haven't always been kind to us (Tim Duncan in 1998 and Massachusetts State in forever).

Praise to the Lord, this is the week where we'll see the obligatory photo in the Globe or Herald of the Red Sox truck leaving for Fort Myers. Pitchers and catchers report on Friday and it's time to put baseball back on the front-burner until early November.

It's going to be very interesting to see how this team gels in 2007, and I think one thing in our favor is Terry Francona's ability to to bring people together. This is what the lineup currently looks like:

Coco Crisp, Julio Lugo, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, J.D. Drew, Kevin Youkilis, Jason Varitek, Mike Lowell, Dustin Pedroia. Not too shabby. The open questions are leadoff, the order of 6 through 9, and the unknown quantity in Pedroia, who some reports say has dropped more than 20 pounds. Youkilis, overrated in my book, may also see some time higher up in the batting order. This is why acquiring Helton made so much sense in my mind because he stretches the lineup. As far as bench players, we've got Wily Mo, Alex Cora, Eric Hinske and Doug Mirabelli. Not inspiring, but the regular lineup is much improved.

The pitching rotation looks pretty sweet with Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling, Jonathan Papelbon, Tim Wakefield, and maybe Jon Lester all in the mix. Would have been nice to grab one more No. 3 or 4 lefty starter during the offseason. Lester's recovery from non-Hodgkins lymphoma will be closely monitored.

The closer sweepstakes looks like it's on again and will be a source of daily debate. With the Sox sticking to their plan to make Papelbon a starter, the likely candidates for the role are Mike Timlin, Julian Tavarez, Joel Pineiro, Brendan Donnelly, and Craig Hansen.

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