I've been thinking a lot about the Sox melt down last year - sure they were long out of it by then, but it could happen again. Our offense is virtually the same. The addition of Pedroia has been nice, but Drew and Lugo could arguably be downgrades. But whatever. These are the things that I fear as we wrap up the last 30+ games of the season.
1. Papelbon's arm. The kid broke down at the end of the season, and we had an unexplained episode earlier this season where he wasn't put in in a save situation. Rumors swirled, then eventually disappeared. To date he has been been under worked compared to last year (63 innings to 46 thus far) - so that is good. We acquired Gagne to take the some heat off on back to back save situations. But, this team can ill afford to lose Paps now or down the stretch. He hasn't looked as intimidating to me lately like he did at the beginning of the season. Is this a sign? Who knows.
2. Papi's shoulder/knee injuries. Wow, there is a huge power outage in Boston this season - from Manny, Papi, Drew, almost everyone. To date they have 124 HRs - which is a pace to hit 156 HRs. That is compared to 192 last season. Last season Ortiz and Manny had 89! This year they could miss that mark by 35! Lowell/Tek/Youks are at their averages, but Drew and Lugo suck. Crisp doesn't seem to have any power either. Just imagine going into the playoff stretch run and having no power? Pitching will only get better against us, so we need to hit. Also, a hurt Papi is no longer a threat to be as clutch as he was two/three years ago. Against TB with 1 out in the ninth and down by one he took a walk. He had a chance to tie it and took the pass. All I'm saying is with a hurt Papi this team can not win a WS.
3. The unavoidable bullpen meltdown! They have been the most consistent group on this team. They had a minor bad stretch about a month ago - but rebounded. Timlin's ERA actually is below 3, MDC is hovering in the mid-2's, Snyder is at 3.50. This is too good to be true. Will it keep up? It has to. Our starters have not been impressive in innings 5-7 and as we start playing better teams, Tito should be quicker with the hook - especially with a great bullpen. We need this group to stay tight! All hail the Okie! The man is a God-send!
4. Inevitable managerial brain farts. Luckily we seem to have made the right decisions so far. But with a strong bullpne, the pitching staff has managed itself. Personally I think we have left the DiceK or Schilling in a little too long, but honestly that is a hard predicament to get right when you have a 20 year vet and a guy who once threw 275 pitchs in ONE game. We have no bench to speak of - Cora is very good in the utility role having Ellsbury and maybe Moss up in Spetember adds some speed/pop. Kevin Cash handled Wakes great and adds a decent back up to Tek. Bye Mirabelli - you've been taking up a roster spot too long!
5. No bottom of the order production. Our #9 guy makes $9M a year. He's hitting in the right spot too. Although he's coming out of it, he needs to start getting more timely with his hits. And he needs more damn doubles. Coco needs to stay on hit .280 tear and just get on base. Drew needs to add some pop - he's well rested and has no excuse. For $14M a year I shouldn't have to see Hinske in RF 2 times a week. Kevin Cash has to just not ground into DP's and not K too much (4 in his first 9 abs are ugly).
6. SP injury. Right now we can squeek by using Tavarez/Buchholz/Snyder/Lester as our #5 starter. But an injury would force us to start 2 of those guys more frequently - and that CAN'T happen. For the stretch run we need guys healthy. Let's not be afraid to use the bullpen. 5 innings is a quality start with our pen. Last year we had 3 guys over 100 innings (Schill and Beckett at 204 and Wake at 140) - this year already we have Beckett at 160, DiceK at 170, Schill at 118, Wake at 157 and Tavarez at 116. That is either a great sign or a sign of doom.
If none of those 6 happen we will lock up the East and be serious contenders. If one of those happen, we could sqeek it out and be competitive. If 2 happen we will struggle. If more happen we are doomed and this season will end in disappointment.