MLB Betting: 2011 Boston Red Sox preview

By: Michael Robinson | Saturday, March 26, 2011

Boston Red Sox fans can officially stop complaining about the New York Yankees payroll. Owner John Henry has opened up the checkbook this offseason, helping make Boston a favorite to win its third World Series in eight years.

Oddsmakers at have the Red Sox as the second-favorite (plus 320) to win the World Series behind Philadelphia (plus 220). Their regular season win total is 95.

The AL East odds have Boston (minus 200) significantly ahead of the Yankees (plus 150) and light-years in front of Tampa Bay (plus 1000), Toronto (plus 1500) and Baltimore (plus 2500).

Boston’s payroll is second in the majors at $161 million and that’s before it signs Adrian Gonzalez to an extension at around $22 million per year (up from $4.9 million). Both sides have held off until now to avoid the luxury tax for this year. The Yankees lead MLB with a $207 million payroll, but the gap is no longer as big with the Gonzalez increase.

The Red Sox went 89-73 last year, which was only good for third in the AL East behind Tampa Bay (96-66) and the Yankees (95-67). Finishing behind the Bronx Bombers is one thing, but it’s always embarrassing to be looking up at a team like Tampa Bay with a fraction of Boston’s payroll.

General Manager Theo Epstein made two big moves over the winter, one expected and one not so much. The first bullet was acquiring first baseman Gonzalez from San Diego for prospects. That move was long rumored with Padres GM Jed Hoyer a former Sox employee and intimately familiar with the farm system.

The second move was signing free agent Carl Crawford to a seven-year, $142 million deal. Crawford is a great all-around player, but his OBP of around .355 is not usually what Boston looks for and that’s a lot of money to pay a leftfielder whose career-high in homers is just 19 (last year).

Crawford is also another lefty in a lineup that includes Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury, David Ortiz and J.D. Drew. That’s five of the top seven hitters and makes them vulnerable against great southpaws in the division like C.C. Sabathia and David Price. Having New York lefty Andy Pettitte retire (at least for now) was a good thing.

The Red Sox finished second in MLB in runs scored last year (818), down from 872 in 2009. They should easily be in the 850-900 range this year.

Brother, can you spare a dime?

While Boston looks strong offensively, the starting staff has several questions despite some expensive talent. Lefty Jon Lester (19-9, 3.25 ERA last year) is the current No. 1 at age 27. Right-hander Clay Buchholz is just 26, but he had a breakout campaign (17-7, 2.33 ERA) and looks to build from there.

The question marks come from John Lackey, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka, who all sport eight-figure salaries and who should be making some no-interest loans to Lester and Buchholz for bailing them out last year.

Lackey struggled (14-11, 4.40 ERA) last season after signing as a high-priced free agent from the Angels. He should be better this year after adjusting to the harder AL East, but he’s nothing more than a No. 3 starter.

Beckett was downright awful (6-6, 5.78 ERA) after signing a lucrative extension. Some of it was injuries and some of it was being too predictable in his pitches. Beckett is the emotional leader of the staff, but needs to revert to 2009 ace form (17-6, 3.86 ERA) to be taken seriously.

Matsuzaka went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA in 2008, but was constantly pitching out of jams with 94 walks. The 30-year-old Japan native still frustrates coaches by nibbling around the plate and his ERA is around 5.00 the last two years.

Veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield is ready to go if any of these guys get hurt. That’s a good bet for both Beckett and Matsuzaka.

The elephant in the room in regards to the pitching is the catching situation. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is the starter, but he’s never had more than 308 at-bats in a season and guys like Beckett aren’t shy in expressing their desire to pitch to backup Jason Varitek.

The almost 39 year-old Varitek will play more than the average backup according to manager Tito Francona, but there’s pressure on Saltalamacchia to start well offensively and defensively.

New pitching coach Curt Young comes over with a great reputation from Oakland, but the scrutiny he’ll be under here will be infinity greater.

Rebuilding the bullpen

Boston’s bullpen finished with a 4.24 ERA, ranking 23rd in MLB. Closer Jonathan Papelbon wasn’t his normal self (3.90 ERA, eight blown saves) and it’s the worst kept secret in baseball that he’ll leave at year-end via free agency.

Daniel Bard is the closer-in-waiting and he pitched great in many big situations (1.93 ERA). Bobby Jenks was also signed from the White Sox and he’s another option if Papelbon implodes. Jenks is scheduled to be a seventh-inning guy.

Epstein’s philosophy for the rest of the bullpen is ‘throw stuff against the wall and see what sticks.’ Dan Wheeler is an underrated guy who migrates from Tampa Bay. Alfredo Aceves, Hideki Okajima, Rich Hill and Dennys Reyes are names for the final spots.

Betting stats and predictions

The Red Sox were 46-35 at home (minus 6.3 units). The road record was 43-38 (plus 0.3 units).

Boston struggled mightily as a favorite (minus 10.6 units), while doing much better as an underdog (plus 4.6 units).

The ‘over’ (80-75-7) had a small advantage, 42-37-2 at home and 38-38-5 away.

The pressure is sky-high for Boston as fans expect/demand another title. Crawford and Gonzalez are both coming from small markets and might have trouble adjusting to the bright lights. Throw in some questions in both the starting staff and bullpen, and Boston’s World Series odds are a bit overvalued.

Prediction: ‘under’ 95 wins.

Follow Don Best's season preview of all 30 MLB clubs by checking out the following links: Florida Marlins ... Tampa Bay Rays ... Atlanta Braves ... St. Louis Cardinals ... Kansas City Royals ... Texas Rangers ... Houston Astros ... Arizona Diamondbacks ... San Diego Padres ... Los Angeles Angels ... Los Angeles Dodgers ... San Francisco Giants ... Oakland Athletics ... Seattle Mariners ... Colorado Rockies ... Minnesota Twins ... Milwaukee Brewers ... Chicago Cubs ... Chicago White Sox ... Detroit Tigers ... Toronto Blue Jays ... Cleveland Indians ... Cincinnati Reds ... Pittsburgh Pirates ... Washington Nationals ... Baltimore Orioles ... Philadelphia Phillies ... New York Mets ... New York Yankees

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