Red Sox – more questions than answers

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So, opening day has been and gone, with the highly fancied Boston Red Sox swept away by human-homer-machine Ian Kinsler and the Texas Rangers, to start the season in an 0-3 funk. This after completing their final Spring Training season at City of Palms Park in Fort Myers and heading for a supposed 100-win season.

For a team so highly favoured this is a roster just riddled with questions; only some of which have been answered in the sunshine state? Questions about a team that’s reputed to be the highest spending ball club in 2011? About a team that added Adrian Gonzales and Carl Crawford to an already loaded offence?

Yes. Questions like these.

1) Will the real Diasuke Matsuzaka finally stand-up?

Ever since his acquisition by the Red Sox this guy has been a riddle wrapped in an enigma and drizzled with puzzle juice. He’s the slowest most frustrating pitcher I’ve ever seen. Not in terms of velocity, but in his fastidious pre-pitch preparation and his incessant shaking off of catcher Jason Varitek and presumably now of Jarrod Saltalamacchia. But most of all in his reluctance to throw strikes; his neurotic phobia against the prospect of bat on ball contact. All those base-on-balls mean higher pitch counts and longer … more drawn out innings.

And then of course there’s THE innings; you know the random meltdown inning. The one where he’s walked the bases loaded with nobody out, picks up two peachy strikeouts that have you howling for more then tosses a meatball grand slam ball up the middle.

Oh … and then there’s the other Dice-K. The fearless, fire-hurling matador, painting the corners of the zone and mowing down the batters. The one that shows up one game in a month.

Well … It’s time for the real Dice-K to stand-up. After a rocky first couple of starts in spring training that saw his ERA soaring into double figures the Diceman settled down and delivered three respectably solid outings.

He can thank the size of his massive contract for his appearance in this season’s roster after going 9-6 in 2010 with 4.69ERA, but if he can put in those kind of numbers as a fifth starter in the rotation then he will be a major cog in the Red Sox machine.

Signs are however, that the strike-shy Matsuzaka is slowly getting the message. Two-thirds of his 94 pitches in his final outings were strikes. Let’s hope he keep on that pace.

Indeed after the Rangers tattoed Lester, Lackey and Buchholz in short-order, it’s likely up to the Japanese enigma to steady the rocking Red Sox ship.

2) Can new catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit?

Heck can Saltalamacchia catch? Can he toss back to the pitcher or will the yips that have dogged a promising career consume his shot at Red Sox stardom?

Seems to me that Saltalamacchia’s name has been linked with the Red Sox for ever. Yet when they club finally step in to sign the catcher, it’s to pluck him from the scrap heap, and is met by much gnashing of teeth in Red Sox Nation. He’s no Jason Varitek. Can’t catch, can’t throw and like a torpedo, he hit’s below the Mendoza line.

In actual fact he hits a career .247 and his .405 Spring Training return has settled the nerves of many who doubted he was the answer. Hithertoo his catching and throwing from home plate have been solid. This guy could be the steal of the decade if he continues on this pace.

3) Was Clay Buchholz’s stellar 2010 a foretaste of things to come; or a career season for the ages?

Buchholz’s 2010 season was a joy to watch. Every Red Sox fan must be crossing fingers, toes and anything else crossable that this guy can put it together consistently over the seasons ahead. He looks to have the temperament but an inconclusive Spring Training that earned an 0-2 record (3.64) with 15 SO in 21 IP was backed-up by a shellacking in Rangers Ballpark, Arlington. 5,86 ERA, 4 HR and just 3 SO in 6.1IP.

Like Lackey and Lester before him, Buchholz struggled against the power-hitting of the American League champions.

With the Yankees his next likely opponents, Buchholz will need to get with the programme in double-quick time.

4) Will David Ortiz hit before the All-Star break?

Ortiz’s slow starts have dogged the past two-seasons, with the only bright side being the talk-show fodder that at least gave EEI some content to chew over.

A homer in Spring Training, plus another two against the Rangers, has at least settled the nerves on this one. Big Papi is, it seems, set for a grand tour in his contract year.

5) How will Josh Beckett respond after a disappointing 2010 season?

Have we seen the last of the pitcher that powered a 2007 World Series win? A 1-4 Spring Training record with an ERA over 5 was far from the confidence boost we wanted from Beckett. If he continues on his 2010 pace then the Red Sox can kiss goodbye to a 100-win season. More than that, they’ll struggle to fend of the Yankees and Rays for a playoff spot again.

6) Is Jacoby Ellsbury tough enough to play in Red Sox Nation?

Or is the speedy kid too sensitive to prosper?

After a stellar Spring Training (3HR, .355), which he’s carried into the season proper with a solid showing against the Rangers, I think we can close the book on this one. The kid’s alright.

7) Is John Lackey just happy to be here?

Having confessed to having a normal 14 wins last season, the eyes of the Red Sox fans are boring into this guy. Because they expect a lot more than average for a guy on his kind of dough. A reasonable 2-1/3.43 Spring Training was followed up by Lackey getting his backside tattooed in Arlington as the Rangers lit the laid back righty to all corners; he gave up 10 hits, 2 HR and NINE runs to earn a 22.09 ERA in 3.2 innings.

Not the kind of start he’d have chosen. It’s a tad early to give the guy the thumbs down but the jury is out and the verdict is being penned. Another sloppy start against the Yankees could see Lackey on skid-row.

???? … and there’s more … Carl Crawford, Tim Wakefield, Jed Lowrie … not to mention JD Drew.

It’s going to be a long season … hang on for a wild ride.