Sunday, March 31, 2013

John Lackey's Comeback is Almost Complete

You read it here first.  John Lackey will lead the Boston Red Sox to the 2013 American League Playoffs.  That's right.  John Lackey.  He of the 5.40 ERA in Spring Training this year.  He of the bum right arm who was shelved for 2012.  He of the 26-23 record for the Red Sox since joining as a highly touted free agent signing after the 2009 season.  That John Lackey. 

The Red Sox have a slew of new players this year - Ryan Dempster, Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, one of the Drew brothers.  In fact, only 5 players remain from that moribund 2009 team that was swept by Lackey's Angels in the ALDS.  But the most important piece of the puzzle is and will continue to be the mysterious John Lackey.  Pegged to be either the 4th or 5th Starter for the Red Sox in 2013, Lackey has the ability, if he regains the form from his stellar 2007 season, to be the most valuable Pitcher in the Red Sox organization.

And that's where my review starts...John Lackey winning 15 games as a Number 4 starter.  I figure that the Red Sox will need to win 92 games to make the playoffs in 2013.  And to achieve that, Lackey is going to have to win 15 of those games.  For every game fewer that Lackey wins this year, the Red Sox will win 3 games fewer.  Now I get it.  It has to be within reason and not a direct correlation.  So if Lackey wins just 10 games or fewer, the Red Sox will win 77 games and finish below .500 for the second consecutive year.

How about that spectacle while you're sitting in those $100 box seats - a second straight losing season?

Now if Lackey wins 15 games or more?  The Red Sox are going to the Playoffs.  It might be that questionable one game playoff that began in 2012, or it might be as the Number 1 seed after winning the AL East.  Rest assured, the Red Sox will go to the playoffs if Lackey wins 15 games or more.

How do I know? 

Pitching.  Lester, Buchholz and Dempster are all projected to win 15 games this year.  Based on his Spring Training performance, Jon Lester is looking at the prospect of winning 20 games.  No team has ever had 4 15-game winners and failed to make the playoffs.  OK, I'm lying about that statistic, but you get my point.  The relievers, led by Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey, might be one of the strongest groups in the league.

Stars Realign.  Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia are coming off of subpar seasons.  Pedroia is poised to pick up where he left off in 2011.  Ellsbury might be one of those Brady Anderson types after his break out 2011 season (if you know what I mean), but he is in a contract year, and he seems like the kind of guy who will put up monster numbers in the hopes of garnering a massive multiyear contract in 2014.

Character Guys.  The Red Sox, after the double debacle of "Chicken and Beer" and "Bobby Valentine," have figured out that bringing in solid chemistry team-first guys is good for the club.  In fact, the Red Sox would be smart to duplicate the success of the 1996-2000 Yankees, who built a team of blue collar workers around a small core of good to great players.  Scott Brosius was a decent player.  Not great, but he fit in great for that Yankees' club.  Jonny Gomes and Mike Napoli both fit that profile.

AL Least.  Believe it or not, the AL East is weak this year.  The Yankees are old and hurting, using two Red Sox cast offs as their corner infielders for the foreseeable future, a 43 year old closer and an ace that has never turned down seconds or thirds at the Dinner Table.  The Blue Jays are relying on one hit wonder RA Dickey and oft-injured Jose Reyes to lead them to the playoffs.  The Rays have no hitting to match their solid rotation.  The Orioles will fail to win more than 75 games.  On paper, the AL East looks strong, but in actuality, is dancing on the head of a pin.  I can see the Red Sox squeezing out a Division title, honestly.

But the key remains Lackey.  If the Red Sox don't have a reliable 4th starter, they are going to be pounded in every 3 and 4 game series at least once.  That starts to wear down a team during a long season.  John Lackey will either catapult the Red Sox to the top of the league (if he's healthy and serviceable) or will lead to long lines at the Beer parlors that Lackey knows so well on Yawkey Way and Brookline Avenue (if he duplicates his 2011 campaign).

Prediction.  Lackey wins those 15 games.  The Red Sox win 93 games and make the Playoffs as one of the the AL Wild Card.  Play Ball!

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