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The Sports Edge – Post-Papi Depression

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This week we look at the second part of our Red Sox season preview featuring the offense, which must deal with the loss of the big bat and bigger presence of David Ortiz.

What Big Papi did in his final season was nothing short of remarkable, hitting .315 with 38 homers and 127 RBI. Those numbers, along with his history of clutch hitting, made him the focal point for opposing pitchers, even in his age-40 season. But while no one is likely to match those numbers, the Sox do have some guys who may be able to offset the Ortiz output, if not his intimidation factor.

Start with the guy who should have been MVP last season, Mookie Betts. His stats last year at the age of 23 hold their own with some of the best to ever play the game. The question is, can Betts get even better? Hitters generally hit their prime around their age-27 season, so one could argue that we haven’t seen the best of Betts yet. I’ll be happy if he comes close to matching the over .300 average, 25-plus homers, and 100 runs batted in. Keeping a healthy Betts out there for 150 games or more will be a big key to the Sox success.

Jackie Bradley Jr. is a tantalizing talent, already the best defensive outfielder in the game with big power potential. Coming off a surprising 26 homer year that also featured a 30-game hitting streak, Bradley can reasonably be expected to make those rough stretches a little shorter in duration and add to his growing production potential.

Expectations are already high for left fielder Andrew Benintendi. John Farrell is experimenting with him batting third this spring and several publications are touting him as the favorite for Rookie of the Year. I like what I saw last season, with that sweet swing and great poise, even in the postseason, but I’d pump the brakes a little on a guy who never played an inning at Triple-A. I would hope for a modest first full season with a decent average and maybe 15-20 home runs accompanied by top-notch defense.

Another of the Sox “Killer B’s” is shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who posted outstanding numbers last year. Personally, I’m not sure he’s a legitimate 20-homer guy but his average withstood a significant drop in BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play), so while he may take a small step back, he’s still a tremendous young talent.

I think the unheralded signing of Mitch Moreland may reap big benefits for Boston. The Gold Glove-winning first baseman has demonstrated 20-30 home run power and, as a guy who rakes to the opposite field, dinging liners off the Green Monster may help his average into the .260-.270 range. Plus, his presence allows Hanley Ramirez to spend more time as a DH, where he has thrived in the past.

Dustin Pedroia showed last season that he’s still got plenty left in the tank. If he just stays healthy, another .300-plus average and a dozen or so home runs are no big stretch.

That leaves the two big question marks, third base and catcher. Pablo Sandoval is the man at third until further notice. You’ve seen his new physique and while not exactly Marie Osmond post-Weight Watchers, he looks good and has been swinging a decent bat this spring. Pencil him in for .270 and 12-15 homers and hope that Brock Holt can stay in the more appropriate role of supersub. As for catcher, they caught lightning in a bottle with Sandy Leon’s midsummer play. He became a liability with the bat late in the season and that, coupled with the defensive skills of Christian Vazquez, makes me think they’ll use Leon primarily as a backup. Vazquez remains a work in progress but I believe he’s their catcher for the foreseeable future.

Overall, it’s a strong offense. While the big home run bat of Papi may not be there, expect this young group to utilize speed more than in the last couple of years. They may not top last year’s 878 runs scored but they’ll provide enough offense to compete for an American League title.

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