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Posted April 7, 2005
Sox Gearing Up For Repeat
By Paul Noonan

That sounds good doesn't it? For the first time in 86 years, the Sox are actually the defending champs. However, the same "bunch of idiots" will not be taking the field this year. Although a lot of key figures are still intact, this off- season was full of additions and deletions for the Sox. The new faces in this year's clubhouse bring with them many questions, each of which will need to be answered before the Sox can hope to make a serious run at another World Series title.

      With losses such as Dave Roberts, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, Doug Mientkiewicz, Scott Williamson and Orlando Cabrera, it is no surprise that the Red Sox' newest faces will have big shoes to fill. Trying to step up are the likes of Wade Miller, Jay Payton, David Wells, Matt Clement, Matt Mantei and Edgar Renteria. But can any of them actually do it? While Clement is a good young pitcher, he is a dilemma as well. His numbers aren't a great reflection of his ability, but behind Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, they didn't always have to be. Now thrust into a key role in another major market, Clement will have added pressure to perform well. With Schilling out for at least the first week or two, a hot start for Clement will be vital. When healthy, David Wells is a very reliable pitcher, even in his old age. That age though, likely brings a higher risk of injury. And with injuries in his history, Wells can either be a solid contributor or wind up looking like the Pedro Martinez of a few years ago. Jay Payton surely won't bring the base- running skills of Dave Roberts, but his presence will be nice to have to give some of the other outfielders the occasional day off. Wade Miller and Matt Manei are similar enigmas. Both are strong pitchers who undoubtedly would be key factors for the Sox over the course of the season that is if they can make it through. Both pitchers are fresh off serious injuries and how well their arms hold up will determine how far the Sox go. The only sure thing, if there was one, seems to be Renteria. Of a very similar mold as that of Cabrera, Renteria should be a positive contributor both at the plate, and even more so in the field.

      Luckily, the Sox still have a lot of key characters still around, especially those from one of the league's best offenses last year, ranking high in nearly every important offensive category. The lineup remains pretty much intact, with only Renteria's and some utility players being the difference. As long as the bats don't cool off the Sox should be able to win many games on offensive prowess alone. Another key will be the performances of those pitchers returning. First and foremost is, of course, Curt Schilling. Still recuperating from the injury that almost ended his season last year, how well Schilling's leg holds will be vital. As our only true ace, if Schilling falters, the Sox will be without an ace for the first time in a long time. And given their success without a strong pitching staff, which was little to none, the Sox will need Schilling. Bronson Arroyo will need to have an even bigger season, after finishing his first full season in the rotation. While Foulke is an almost lights out closer, some of the other bullpen members can be shaky. Mike Timlin and Alan Embree both showed signs of their age at times last year, and while Mike Myers is a great lefty specialist, his performance against righties is not as dominant. This is another reason the health of Matt Mantei will be huge, his arm will take some of the pressure of Timlin and Embree.

      The opener was not the start many Sox fans would have liked, but it is far too early to panic. The Sox have plenty of games left against their border state rivals. So as the spring air sets in, and the summer draws closer, Sox fans can finally enjoy a Sox season worry free. No more stressing about the curse or sleepless nights or near chewed off finger nails, sit back and enjoy this season for a change. With a World Series title under our belts, we as fans can finally have that carefree attitude which our champions displayed last year. So uncover those barbecues, bust out those coolers and throw on your Sox caps, sit back and let the long balls of Ortiz and Ramirez, the strikeouts of Schilling and Clement, and the circle changes of Keith Foulke bring you a peaceful, happy summer.

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