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‘RED SOX NATION’ SET FOR 2011 CAMPAIGN

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Hope always ‘springs eternal’ this time of year among Boston Red Sox fans but this season their optimism may be warranted. The Sox finished a disappointing third in the AL East last year but significantly upgraded their offense in the off season and may be in a position to challenge the hated New York Yankees for the divisional crown. Although there are still some questions about the starting rotation, Boston also improved their bullpen and if their veteran rotation can regain their form after a down year in 2010 the Red Sox could contend for the AL Pennant in manager Terry Francona’s 7th year at the helm.
Boston had to give up a number of young prospects to do it, but in the short term at least it’s hard to say that the acquisition of All Stars Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford didn’t dramatically improve the team’s everyday players and should significantly boost offensive production. Crawford gives the team an element of speed not usually associated with Boston baseball—he’s a great base stealer as well as a very strong defensive presence in the outfield. Gonzalez is a two time Gold Glove first baseman who can hit for power and drive in runs. His arrival means that Kevin Youkilis will move across the diamond to third base. 
The Red Sox beefed up their relief pitching by signing former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks. This may be bad news for former closer Jonathan Papelbon since Jenks, along with Daniel Bard, give the team an abundance of right handed power pitchers for late innings but if Francona can work them all in it would give the Red Sox a formidable bullpen. The team also acquired set up men Dan Wheeler and Matt Albers—both right-handers. There are some solid young lefthanders in the system but for now the bullpen looks somewhat overloaded on the right hand side but better to have too many talented arms than too few. 
Starting pitching could be a strength or liability—Boston started at the top by bringing in a new pitching coach after former coach John Farrell left to take the Toronto Blue Jays’ managerial job. They replaced him with former Oakland A’s pitching coach Curt Young—his primary challenge will be to work the starting rotation back into competitive form after they suffered through a ‘down year’ simultaneously in 2010. In particular, Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Tim Wakefield will be expected to bounce back after a substandard season. There’s also a couple of talented young lefthanders in the system in Felix Doubront and Andrew Miller along with righty Michael Bowden. Still, the success of the starting rotation depends on the veterans regaining their competitive form—if that happens, the Red Sox rotation could be downright fearsome.
The team did lose free agents Victor Martinez, Adrian Beltre and Bill Hall but the ‘net net’ is that the Red Sox improved their everyday lineup across the board. The Red Sox have typically been a team that generates their offense through the ‘long ball’ and there’s still plenty of power on hand but the addition of Crawford has made it more versatile. Boston will score plenty of runs this season and it’s almost impossible to envision a scenario in which they don’t have a very good season. If Francona can work out the righthander logjam in the bullpen and pitching coach Young can bring his veteran hurlers back to form this could be a great season for ‘Red Sox Nation’.