Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Your 2006 Boston Red Sox

Opening close...

Although the final due date isn’t until Monday, Tito and Theo have made the decisions, exercised the options, made the cuts, operated the waiver-wire, named those who are Pawtucket-bound and created the 25 man roster for Opening Day. The last man standing for 2006? New acquisition and member of the Korean National Team Hee-Seop Choi, who has a single minor option left and will be in Pawtucket assuming he clears another set of waivers. Since a whole bunch of teams just passed him up a few days ago, it’s safe to say that Theo’s insurance pick for first base – to be activated if Lowell doesn’t work out and Youkilis needs to move to third or if J.T. Snow suddenly realizes that even though he looks like he’s 12, he’s actually 38 and decides it’s time to retire – will still be in Boston’s possession at the start of next week.

Today’s announcement also includes the likely starting lineups, broken out by type of pitcher. The choices in personnel aren’t too surprising – Peña substituted for Nixon against lefties, Snow platooned with Youkilis against righties only – but what I did find interesting is that Tito didn’t opt to go for the power core of Ortiz, Manny and Peña against lefties. Instead, Francona slotted Peña into the seventh slot, after Varitek and Lowell. I imagine the idea is to give Lowell some protection (much like Manny protects Ortiz now) by making the idea of pitching around Lowell to get to Peña less palatable. Of course, Lowell actually needs to hit to make that strategy worthwhile. It could also be that Peña is supposed to fill the role that Bill Mueller had in the lineup the past few year – the dangerous bottom of the order hitter who could make things difficult for a tired pitcher and start something up for the top of the lineup.

Meanwhile, down in FLA, Foulke looks back to form – on his first time out, at least. And even then, the victims of his thirteen pitch, three strikeout inning were minor leaguers, members of the Ottawa Lynx. Still, Foulke closed the door on each batter with a different pitch and even more encouraging, there’s a 12 MPH difference between his changeup and his fastball – and the closer promises to grow that gap even more as the season opens. With appearances today against the Jays and over the weekend before the season opener in Texas, Foulke’s got some more opportunities to prove that he’s really back to 2004 form before it starts to count. I’m going to remain cautiously optimistic on this one and try to forget that Foulke is another one of those elements of this team that needs to work out if the Sox want to have a shot at the playoffs.