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  Friday, March 6, 2015
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xtra xtra!
Repeat Hopes
By Paul Noonan

     Most of Boston was probably ready to give the Red Sox a mulligan for, oh say, ten years after they finally ended their World Series drought last October, but with a strong lineup being fielded this season the fans did hope that maybe another dynasty was in the making. As usual with the Sox there was plenty of excitement and drama along the way, as they fought for a chance to defend their title. Fittingly, the season came down to the last weekend, and no less, against the Yankees. Although the Sox blew a chance at winning the division for the first time this century, they did cling on to that last playoff spot and gave themselves a chance to win it again.

      The Sox may have gotten lucky in ending up with the Wild Card. No knock against the White Sox (after all they did boast the best record in the AL), but the White Sox may be an easier foe than the Angels, who the Yankees will square off with in their ALDS series. The White Sox's limp to the finish provides hope that maybe what they had in the beginning of the year was more momentum than talent, and that there are more flaws in their game than it appeared early on. The White Sox do have a pretty strong pitching staff (Jon Garland, Jose Contreras and Mark Buerhle all got some whispers of Cy Young at some point in the season) that can be a burden for even a strong lineup like the Red Sox's. And things don't get a lot easier in the 'pen as former Red Sock Dustin Hermanson had a huge year as the White Sox's closer, although he has struggled as of late. While their offense for the most part lacks a big power hitter (except for Paul Konerko), the White Sox have received praise for their ability to 'manufacture' runs over the course of the season. Yet again, as of late they have had their struggles.

     For the Red Sox the only thing that seems to be holding them back is their bullpen. With Foulke a wash for the year, Mike Timlin has now been moved permanently into the closer role after a weak stint by Curt Schilling. Yet while it is still their weak spot it has been improved as of late. During the season the disarray was mostly a result of injuries and inexperience, etc. Now, the Sox have everything settled, the bullpen pitchers have roles and no better what they will be called upon to do. But as the bullpen has strengthened the starting rotation has been inconsistent. It seems like every starter is on an every other game routine right now, where they are good one start bad the next. If that turns out to be 3 out of 5 for this series we'll be in luck, but that streak can't continue either way. Curt Schilling had another strong 'big game performance' on Sunday, which was reason for optimism, but the starter will need to string together a few more before he can win over everybody's confidence. While Matt Clement started white hot, he has cooled off considerably, a possible lingering effect from his injury, but nevertheless he must recover his form. Also, a knock against him has been his inability to win big games, a reputation that hopefully he left in the North Side of Chicago. While Wakefield got roughed up Saturday, he has been the most consistent pitcher on the staff this year, and perhaps even the best. Arroyo has struggled of late, but he usually comes up big in the playoffs. And finally, David Wells has had a stronger second half and has stated he wants to go out on top, so it appears that the fire is in him, and he certainly has the experience and poise to handle the playoff pressure. Yet in the end it comes down to the bats once again. Hopefully boasting the AL MVP in David Ortiz, the Red Sox can just as easily beat a team in a slugfest. With Ramirez chipping in what would've been MVP worthy numbers if not for Papi, the Red Sox are deep in the middle of the order, and even the back end can be troublesome. The key for the Sox will be production out of guys like Renteria and whoever plays first, be it Millar or Olerud. While the Sox don't have as deep a bench as a year ago, guys like Kevin Youkilis, Doug Mirabelli and Alex Cora give the Sox reliable options if they need them.

     While there are question marks in the 2005 squad, one must abide by the old cliché that "they are the champions until someone knocks them out." While last year's team was arguably better, the Sox still have a great deal of firepower, and enough of the same makeup that they must be considered a threat to win again. The sluggish finish and blown division title was not all to promising for the Sox, but they still managed 95 wins and a playoff berth, certainly not to be ignored. The Red Sox finished with just four wins less than Chicago in a division many would argue is stronger. However, the regular season is history now. All eight teams get to start anew, and minus the home field advantage for four teams, every team is on equal footing. But maybe the Sox should be considered a step above because (this never gets old) they are the defending champs.

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