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Boston Red Sox

SI Rank: AL East (2) | MLB (3)
In a rotation chock full of prime 26-year-old arms, Schilling, 40, says his name still carries the most weight.
In a rotation chock full of prime 26-year-old arms, Schilling, 40, says his name still carries the most weight.
Damian Strohmeyer/SI
fourth season with Red Sox
Team Page | 2007 Schedule
56.8 Percentage of Red Sox home runs last season that were hit on the road, disproving the popular notion that Fenway Park is a slugger's mecca. A total of 157 homers were hit in Fenway (including 83 by Boston) compared with 216 in Red Sox away games (109 by the visitors). That 59-homer differential was the largest in the majors.
It's a rare day when a team commits $70 million to a player and then bats him second, but that may be the best plan for the Red Sox and J.D. Drew. With Julio Lugo penciled in at leadoff this spring, Boston has been mostly using Kevin Youkilis in the No. 2 slot ahead of David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and then Drew in the five hole. Youkilis brings a high OBP and patience to the job, but as a slow righthanded hitter he's a double-play liability. Drew is faster and as a lefthanded batter is more apt to take advantage of a hole created by the opposing team holding Lugo on first base. More simply, Drew's a better hitter than Youkilis. The idea is to get the best players the most at bats. The difference between batting fifth and batting second is more than 50 plate appearances in a full season. If Drew gets those rather than Youkilis, the Red Sox will score more runs.
SS JULIO LUGO R 60 .278 12 37 24
1B KEVIN YOUKILIS R 184 .279 13 72 5
DH DAVID ORTIZ L 10 .287 54 137 1
LF MANNY RAMIREZ R 12 .321 35 102 0
RF J.D. DREW L-R 72 .283 20 100 2
C JASON VARITEK S-R 176 .238 12 55 1
3B MIKE LOWELL R 168 .284 20 80 2
CF COCO CRISP S-R 130 .264 8 36 22
2B DUSTIN PEDROIA (R) R 290 .191 2 7 0
OF WILY MO PEŅA R 279 .301 11 42 0
INF-OF ERIC HINSKE L-R 275 .271 13 34 2
RH CURT SCHILLING 26 15 7 183 1.22 3.97
RH JOSH BECKETT 58 16 11 158 1.29 5.01
RH DAISUKE MATSUZAKA (R) 21 17 5 200 0.92 2.13
RH JONATHAN PAPELBON 39 4 2 75 0.78 0.92
RH TIM WAKEFIELD 109 7 11 90 1.33 4.63
RH MIKE TIMLIN 86 6 6 9 1.47 4.36
RH BRENDAN DONNELLY 135 6 0 0 1.34 3.94
RH JOEL PIŅEIRO 143 8 13 1 1.65 6.36

Righthander Curt Schilling is lugging an additional burden this season, and that's not a reference to the 10 pounds he put on this winter while spending 10 sedentary hours a day at his Massachusetts-based video game company. Schilling, who is 44-21 in his Boston career, still carries plenty of heft in the Red Sox clubhouse, but he has been overshadowed this spring by the excitement surrounding new teammate Daisuke Matsuzaka, not to mention rejected by Sox officials in his effort to extend his contract, which expires at the end of the season.

Fat chance, the Boston Herald bellowed on its back page on Feb. 23, citing both Schilling's paunch and the lack of largesse coming from the Boston front office. "Yeah, Photoshop is an amazing thing," says Schilling, who promises he will lose the extra baggage and be at his preferred 235 pounds by Opening Day.

Appearances aside, the extroverted Schilling likes playing the heavy. Although the Red Sox have built their staff, in the near and long term, on three 26-year-old righthanded power pitchers -- Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett and Jonathan Papelbon are under Boston's contractual control through at least 2010 -- Schilling, at 40, intends to prove he's still the ace. "Nothing's changed," says Schilling, who in '06 ranked first in the AL in strikeout-to-walk ratio (6.54), fifth in strikeouts per nine innings (8.07) and sixth in opponents' on-base percentage (.303). "I'm the one to lead the staff. A lot of people might not expect me to still be that kind of pitcher. But I'm telling you, the day I'm not a Number 1, I'm not going to be playing ... [and] I'm going to pitch next year."

If Schilling continues to meet his own expectations, Boston's rotation will feature the best pure stuff in baseball. Matsuzaka will be a Rubik's Cube to hitters. Beckett, who won 16 games in a poor season last year, and Papelbon, who returns to starting after a lights-out year closing (.211 opposing OBP), bring mid-90s heat. Fifth starter and knuckleballer Tim Wakefield is a dastardly diversion. "The pitching staffs will determine who wins the East," Schilling said. "The [season-opening] rotation that makes the most starts wins the division. It's that simple."

The Schilling Theory was borne out last year. New York, Toronto and Boston were 1-2-3 in the standings as well as 1-2-3 in starts by what the club considered its top five starters heading into '06. New York received 125 such starts, Toronto 114 and Boston -- because of injuries to Wakefield, Matt Clement and David Wells -- only 107.

Boston better get premier starting pitching, because its bullpen is so shaky that Joel Piņeiro is being considered as the closer despite one career save and a progressively worse ERA five years running. Unless 2005 No. 1 draft pick Craig Hansen, 23, matures quickly -- and there's little to indicate that he's any better than a year away -- the Red Sox don't even have a true power arm to shut down scoring threats in the seventh and eighth innings.

"We're going to have to mix and match there rather than have that one strikeout guy," says manager Terry Francona, who will likely deploy either Brendan Donnelly or Mike Timlin in the closer's role to start the season. Privately, the Red Sox are prepared to move quickly to trade for a closer, such as Washington's Chad Cordero.

Though Schilling calls Boston's offense "relentless," the additions of shortstop Julio Lugo, rightfielder J.D. Drew and second baseman Dustin Pedroia may not prevent the Red Sox from a decline in run production for a fourth straight season -- but perhaps to no harm. This team is built on starting pitching, which was a liability last season (26th in the majors in ERA), so improved run prevention is the key. While Schilling may be the titular ace, Boston's comfort is in knowing that any one of its three young guns may ascend to the top of the rotation. -- Tom Verducci

Issue date: March 26, 2007