When a team has the best offseason in the league, adding two major stars, it engenders certain expectations. For the Red Sox, there's no question: if they fall short of the World Series, it will be a disappointment.
It's got to be a lot of pressure to enter into the season with such lofty goals, but really, when since 2004 have our expectations been different? For some reason, at least to this fan, finally reaching the promised land has made it all the more difficult to come up empty-handed at the end of the season.
Partially, this is because we have better teams now. Back during the Duquette days, there were a few years where it just wasn't going to happen with the talent acquired, and a trip to the postseason would have been a pleasant surprise to give meaning to what seemed like a lost season. The other part was likely just the ability to lump it in to the mass of misery that Boston fans had accrued over the long, long drought. They didn't win the World Series? What's new.
Now, though, after two in four years, it's something we've gotten used to, and crave more of.
Good thing we've got a team that can pull it off this year.We've been over the numbers before, but it bears repeating in a less-scientific fashion: the Red Sox are good this year. Really, really good. With possible MVP candidates at four positions, a Cy Young contender for an ace to go with last year's second place finisher for ERA in the AL, there's no question that the Sox have the "star power" that so many said they lacked in 2010.
Even the role players and question marks look relatively good. Mike Cameron and J.D. Drew are not your typical platoon players, nor would most teams feel that an above-average starting shortstop is a weakness. With Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia both having tremendous springs, there's a lot of optimism that this lineup will be even more ridiculous than initially expected.
The team will score, but the question remains whether or not they will pitch, and that's something we're just going to have to wait to find out. Theo Epstein has done a good job putting together a rotation that can be top notch throughout. Unfortunately, neither John Lackey nor Josh Beckett were exactly cooperative over the past year. But Beckett has his odd-year thing going, and Lackey was very impressive in the last months of 2010. With both players just a year or two removed from being called an ace, it's way too early to count them as weaknesses given their position in the rotation.
Likely the weakest part of the team is the bullpen, and that too has been revamped. The Sox are hoping that a rebound year for Bobby Jenks (one can be expected based on his peripherals last year) can make up for any issues Jonathan Papelbon may have (no such luck on the peripherals for Papelbon). Also improved is the depth of the pen at both the major and minor league levels in guys like Dan Wheeler, Dennys Reyes, Matt Albers, and Alfredo Aceves. All the Sox are hoping for there is that they won't have to throw out pitchers like Hideki Okajima and Manny Delcarmen, who seemed to be guaranteed losses in 2010.
Barring another rash of major injuries ruining the season, the Sox can also be expected to be active at the trade deadline should a clear need emerge. While it's true that the Adrian Gonzalez trade dealt a major blow to the farm system, the Sox had a huge draft in 2010, and can afford to trade both some lower-level prospects and, more importantly, have MLB-ready talents which are always important when dealing with teams selling at the deadline. While Ryan Kalish is likely off limits given the team's needs in 2012, Felix Doubront could take on a role similar to the one played by Justin Masterson in the Victor Martinez trade. If Lars Anderson or Yamaico Navarro have good seasons, they too would likely be available to add value to any deal.
There will always be things that can derail any team. Sudden declines, clubhouse issues, injuries, or just plain statistical bad luck. The good news for the Sox is that they have put themselves in a position where they can handle the unexpected better than most teams, and should everything go according to plan, they'll be golden.
But if things do go wrong somewhere along the way, or if the Sox end up on the wrong end of the occasionally roulette-like postseason, then there's no sugarcoating the disappointment. Because for this team, it's the World Series or bust.