Boston Red Sox: Scouting the lineup

Welcome to Part II of my scouting report on the Boston Red Sox, the first team you the fans wanted to read about in my breakdown of the American League East. If you missed Part I, here is the link to my recap of the Red Sox’s starting rotation.

Like most, I have chosen the Red Sox to win the AL East. I can honestly say, however, I am unsure as to how the remainder of the division will turn out. So keep in mind, these breakdowns and predictions are based on facts, team history and the way everyone currently looks on paper. We all know once the season starts, anything can happen.

With that being said, let’s take a look at the Boston Red Sox’s lineup and defense and compare them with the Orioles.

Reminder: No biased opinions here.

First base: One of the premier acquisitions of the offseason was Adrian Gonzalez, who is coming off right shoulder surgery. He will take over for long-time first baseman Kevin Youkilis, who will move across the diamond and replace Adrian Beltre at the hot corner. While Gonzalez isn’t currently game-ready - his shoulder surgery was this past October - the three-time All Star said he’s prepared to return to the American League where he spent three years with Texas before spending five with San Diego. He’s on a one-year $6.2 million contract though rumor has it the Red Sox have offered Gonzalez a seven-year, $154 million extension that will keep him in Beantown through 2017.

Last season with San Diego, Gonzalez hit .298 with 31 homers and 101 RBIs. A career .284 hitter, the left-handed-hitting Gonzalez is the perfect fit for Fenway Park given his ability to hit to the opposite field. Gonzalez has faced three Orioles starters in his career and is 2-for-2 against Brian Matusz, 1-for-3 against Jeremy Guthrie and 1-for-2 with a double against Jake Arrieta. He is a career .333 hitter against the Orioles and has batted just .167 (1-for-6) at Camden Yards.

Advantage vs. Derrek Lee: Gonzalez

Second base: After foot surgery sidelined this speedy and pesky 2007 Rookie of the Year, Dustin Pedroia is healthy and ready start the 2011 season on a good note. Pedroia - one of Red Sox manager Terry Francona’s favorites - is known as one of the hardest-working players in baseball. Not only is Pedroia a team leader, but he makes it nearly impossible (like Derek Jeter) to be taken out of the lineup. In his last healthy season in 2009, the 27-year-old Pedroia led the team in doubles (48), scored the most runs (115) and stole 20 bases, second to Jacoby Ellsbury. He also led the team in at-bats (626), yet ranked sixth on the team in strikeouts (45). He has the ability to cover ground at second base and his willingness to dive for any ball that comes even remotely close to his territory is just a small sampling of Pedroia’s work ethic. In case you didn’t know, while Pedroia was in crutches, he played catch while sitting in a chair and fielded ground balls on his knees. Pedroia also won a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger in 2008.

Pedroia is a career .327 against the Orioles with 18 doubles and seven stolen bases. He is .283 at Camden Yards with 13 walks, 10 strikeouts, three home runs and 13 RBIs. In addition, Pedroia is .444 (4-for-9) against Brad Bergesen, .333 (10-for-33) against Guthrie and 2-for-6 (.333) off Matsuz. Pedroia has never homered off a current Oriole starter.

Advantage vs. Brian Roberts: Pedroia (mostly due to BRob’s health issues/it worries me he’s already hurt. I’ll take any player who takes ground balls in a cast on his knees any day.)

Third base: Youkilis is one of Boston’s most reliable players. Unfortunately, like Pedroia, Youkilis’ 2010 season ended early and the infielder was forced to undergo Aug. 2 surgery to repair a torn adductor muscle in his right thumb. Boston’s power-hitting, versatile infielder will move from first base - where he won a Gold Glove in 2007 with his error-free season - to third to make room for the newly acquired Gonzalez. Fortunately, Youkilis is able to play both positions and would have stayed at first if the Red Sox had been able to keep Beltre under contract. In his last healthy year, Youkilis - drafted in the eighth round by the Red Sox in 2001 - led the team in batting average (.306) and finished third in RBIs (94) and home runs (27).

Youkilis is a career .323 hitter against the Orioles with 69 RBI, 25 doubles and 19 home runs, but has also struck out 59 times. He is a career .341 hitter at Camden Yards and is just 2-for-11 against Bergesen (.182), 2-for-8 (.250) against Justin Duchscherer, 11-for-37 (.297) against Guthrie, 2-for-7 (.286) against Matusz and has hit three home runs off reliever Mark Hendrickson.

Advantage vs. Mark Reynolds: Youkilis (I can’t go against Youkilis’ power numbers and AL East experience.)

Shortstop: This has been the Red Sox’s most revolving position. Marco Scutaro joined the Red Sox in the winter of 2009 when general manager Theo Epstein inked the free agent to a two-year deal. Scutaro, who made $5 million in 2010 and will make the same this season, replaced Alex Gonzalez and will have Jed Lowrie (who current Oriole Nick Green replaced in 2009) as backup.

Before joining the Red Sox, Scutaro hit .282 with 12 homers and 60 RBIs in 2009 with the Blue Jays and finished third among AL shortstops with a .379 on-base percentage. Last year with the Red Sox, Scutaro finished with a respectable .275 batting average with 11 home runs and 56 RBIs, finished second in doubles (38) behind Beltre, but finished fifth in strikeouts with 71. Scutaro is a career .290 hitter against Baltimore with more strikeouts (28) than walks (27). He is a career .338 hitter at Camden Yards (47-for-139) with three home runs and nine doubles. He has one home run each against Matusz and Hendrickson, and is an impressive .316 (6-for-19) against Bergesen and .296 (8-for-27) against Guthrie. He’s also 2-for-4 with two strikeouts against reliever Jason Berken.

Until the Red Sox’s prized Cuban prospect, Jose Iglesias, is ready for the majors, Scutaro is their everyday shortstop.

Advantage vs. J.J. Hardy: Scutaro (simply because Scutaro has the AL East experience)

Catcher: Now that veteran catcher and captain Jason Varitek has accepted his role as backup catcher, switch-hitting Jarrod Saltalamacchia will have his first full year as the Red Sox’s everyday catcher. While he’s currently a bit of an unknown, Saltalamacchia has definite power potential and his teammates are already noting that his impressive work ethic rivals that of Varitek. Although he’s just 25, Saltalamacchia is learning from Varitek, a three-time All-Star, three time Gold Glove winner, Silver Slugger winner and two-time World Champion.

“(Saltalamacchia) is remarkably good at understanding his first priority, which is running the pitching staff - which is hard for most young catchers to understand,” manager Terry Francona said. “Sometimes young catchers get caught up in the offensive part of their jobs, but Jarrod doesn’t do that.”

Because of injuries, Saltalamacchia had just 24 at-bats last season between Boston and Texas, so he still has a lot to learn about the American League East. Although it’s a small sampling, Saltalamacchia is a career .340 (18-for-53) hitter against the Orioles with two home runs, nine RBIs and 16 strikeouts. He is a lifetime .382 hitter at Camden Yards with two home runs, seven RBIs and 13 strikeouts. His most success has come against reliever Koji Uehara, Bergesen and Duchscherer - he is 2-for-2 versus all three. He is 2-for-3 (.667) against Guthrie.

Advantage vs. Matt Wieters: PUSH (but... Saltalamacchia has slight edge based on having a veteran mentor and his numbers against the Orioles. I need to see more from Wieters.)

Left field: One can say only so much about Carl Crawford and, with all due respect to Luke Scott (by far one of my favorite Orioles) it is very hard to compare Crawford to anyone given the fact that he is arguably the best left fielder in baseball. Although he was presumed go west to Anaheim, where he was offered a reported six-year, $108 million deal (even Peter Gammons told me at the winter meetings he’d be an Angel), the Red Sox scooped up this ex-Ray and signed him to a seven-year, $142 million contract that will keep him in Boston through 2017. After spending his entire career with Tampa Bay, the addition of the speedy Crawford - who will have to manage the infamous Green Monster - will keep Ellsbury in center field where he belongs. The left-handed-hitting Crawford, who has nine years of American League East experience, has hit better than .300 in five of his last six years and has stolen at least 45 bases every year but 2008 (not including his rookie season, when he only appeared in 63 games).

Crawford is a career .308 hitter against the Orioles with 13 home runs, 74 RBIs and 35 stolen bases. He also, however, has 82 strikeouts over nine seasons against Baltimore. He’s hit a career . 293 at Camden Yards with four home runs, 36 RBIs, 16 stolen bases and 41 strikeouts. He’s homered once each off Bergesen, Arrieta and Hendrickson, and is 15-for-41 (.366) against Guthrie, 6-for-12 against Chris Tillman and 0-for-10 with a strikeout against Matusz.

Advantage vs. Scott: Crawford

Center field: Due to fractured ribs, the left-handed-hitting Ellsbury played just 18 games last season for the Red Sox, just another one of the many crucial parts of Boston’s lineup forced to watch from the bench. Now healthy, the 27-year-old Ellsbury is ready to return to center field (he played six games in left last season) and showcase his speed in the outfield and on the base paths. In his last healthy season in 2009, Ellsbury batted .301 and led the majors in stolen bases with 70 (he stole 50 in 2008). Now in this fifth season with the Red Sox, Ellsbury has proven to be one of the most valuable outfielders with his speed and ability to track down nearly every ball hit his way.

Ellsbury is a career .346 hitter against Baltimore with 25 stolen bases, four home runs, 12 doubles and 23 strikeouts. He’s also a .388 hitter at Camden Yards with six doubles, three home runs and 18 stolen bases. He’s a career .714 (5-for-7) against Berken with three walks and three stolen bases, and 11-for-58 (.393) against Guthrie, the only Oriole he’s homered against. He’s never faced Matusz, Tillman or Arrieta.

Advantage vs. Adam Jones: Hmm.... Ellsbury (Ellsbury needs a rebound year but I have high hopes for Jones this season.)

Right field: After spending nine seasons in the National League, J.D. Drew signed a five-year, $70 million contract with the Red Sox in the winter of 2007 and earned a World Series ring in his first year with Boston. An outstanding collegiate baseball player, Drew was a recipient of the Golden Spikes Award as collegiate baseball’s Player of the Year in 1977, when he set a record at Florida State with a .455 batting average (Francona also won the Golden Spikes Award as a college player). That same year, Drew broke 17 school and conference records and became one of only three players in college baseball history to have 100 hits, 100 runs and 100 RBIs.

Sometimes considered a lazy outfielder that frustrates fans, Drew is a five-tool player with good plate discipline. Entering the fifth and final year of his contract, Drew is coming off a subpar year in which he hit just .255 with 22 home runs and 68 RBIs -- and blamed the wide strike zone for his struggles at the plate -- and led the team in strikeouts (109).

Drew has good numbers against Baltimore and at Camden Yards. Against the Orioles, Drew is a career .340 hitter with 15 home runs and 43 RBIs, and at Camden Yards he’s hit .350 with eight home runs and 23s RBI. His best success has come against Bergesen, against whom he’s 7-for-19 (.386) with two home runs, and Berken, against whom he’s 4-for-9 (.444) with one home run. On the other hand, Matusz dominates him; Drew is 0-for-5 against both Matusz (with four strikeouts) and Uehara.

Advantage vs. Nick Markakis: Markakis

Designated hitter: It’s no secret David Ortiz had a career-worst first half of the season last year and was nearly cut from the Red Sox. Ortiz could not find his swing, but turned things around and finished with a respectable .270 average, 32 home runs and 102 RBIs. Ortiz, who lost confidence along with his swing in 2010, finished the second half of the season strong and proved why he is one of the most feared hitters in baseball. After hitting just one home run and batting .142 in April, Ortiz turned things around May 1 when he hit two home runs at Camden Yards against the Orioles. From there, Ortiz raised his depressing .142 average to .272 by June 1, hitting six home runs and recording 22 RBIs that month. “Big Papi” is a six-time All Star, has two World Series rings and is said to be the greatest clutch hitter in Red Sox history.

However, Matusz owns Ortiz. Ortiz told me last season, “I cannot figure that kid out. But (when) I do, he’s mine.” Ortiz is 0-for-9 with eight strikeouts against Matusz. On the other hand, Ortiz is 10-for-31 against Guthrie (.323) with five walks, three home runs and six strikeouts. He’s 4-for-17 (.235) against Bergesen with a home run. Ortiz is a career. .263 hitter against the Orioles with 108 walks, 118 strikeouts, 31 home runs and 41 doubles. He’s hit .243 at Camden Yards with 14 home runs and 55 RBIs.

Advantage vs. Vladimir Guerrero: PUSH (I love Vlad)

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