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Boston Weather: 43.0°F | A Few Clouds

Weather Aside, Baseball Fans Know Spring is Here

By Yong-Yi Zhu

COLUMNIST

The joys that spring brings are finally beginning to appear. Fresh air, warm weather, and green grass are delights that Mother Nature gifts us with when we turn the calendar from February to March. But of course, I’m only referring to the weather in Florida, not in the New England area. Who cares about Boston anyway, when spring training, the real gem of the season, commences and brings joy back into the hearts of all baseball fans? For the Red Sox this season, spring may be the best time of year. The only other time which can possibly beat it will be the end of October, if the Sox can win the World Series.

Spring is a time for baseball media and fans to speculate about the season, and they will speculate to no end. This season, unlike many seasons previous, has many placing the Red Sox atop the American League East. Well, at least they’re perceived to be just as good as the Yankees. Not only have the Sox kept most of their firepower from last season, but they have even made additions at key positions to the roster. Despite some slight setbacks during the off-season, the Sox have still come out quite favorably in terms of acquiring free agents and making trades. The most important acquisition was Curt Schilling. Schilling adds another solid starter to the pitching rotation and brings with him a sense of intensity which helps to elevate the skills of all the players around him, Pedro Martinez included. Not that the Sox’s starting rotation was terrible last year, but production significantly declined after Martinez and Derek Lowe. Not even Tim Wakefield was that successful until the beginning of the postseason. However this year, as Martinez pointed out on Tuesday, the Sox can bring the equivalent of four Pedros to the mound. Martinez, Schilling and Lowe have each started an All Star game. Wakefield has become a significantly better pitcher, and according to Schilling, BK Kim can be a 20-game starter (we shall see about that).

Keith Foulke will be another huge contributor to the Sox pitching. Last year, even with Kim as a part time closer for the Red Sox, there was not much relief brought by the relief pitchers. Foulke will help to solidify the bullpen by no longer requiring the “closer by committee” tactic. Foulke had a 43 save, 2.08 ERA season last year; compare that with a committee who only saved 36 games all of last season. Another staple in the bullpen will be relief pitcher Mike Timlin. Timlin performed well in the playoffs and his success will be key for the Red Sox, in order to take some of the heat off of both the starting pitchers and Foulke.

Perhaps another factor, one that is often overlooked, is that many of the core Red Sox players will be entering into the final season of their contract. Theo Epstein has not made any promises as to who he will re-sign after the season, and he is keeping his plans a secret in order to motivate the players to perform better. Of course the better a player plays, the bigger the contract he can ask for after the season. Just take Javy Lopez, catcher for the Baltimore Orioles, for example. Although his statistics were never stellar any other season, his record-breaking year last year gave Lopez a huge contract this off-season to the tune of $22.5 million over three years. Let’s just say if all the Sox who are potential free agents next year -- namely Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Lowe, Jason Varitek, David Ortiz, Scott Williamson, Pokey Reese, and Doug Mirabelli-- and each performs as well as Javy Lopez did last year, the Sox can be guaranteed the American League East crown.

With all of the positives, one can only think that this is finally the year for the Red Sox to break the curse. Anticipation has become so high that perhaps the city of Boston should declare April 16, the first day that the Red Sox and the Yankees will meet at Fenway, a city holiday. Curt Schilling has already declared himself the projected starter for that night. There has been some guesswork done as to how much booing Alex Rodriguez will receive when he is introduced. I’m sure there is wagering going on all over New England between Bostonians and New Yorkers as to who will win the game, the AL East, and the World Series. But for now, let’s just enjoy all that good Bostonian weather and wait for the real holiday, Opening Day, to finally arrive.