By
Bob Hurst
Last season, the San Francisco Giants surprised everyone by winning the National League West and going on to a victory in the World Series. Perhaps the fact that the Giants weren’t even a favorite to win their division helped them sneak under the radar.
The same can’t be said about the 2011 Boston Red Sox.
After acquiring Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez in the offseason, the Red Sox became the instant favorite to win not only the American League East, but the AL pennant as well.
Boston finished 89-73 last season, when it was beset with injuries. But a healthy team this year, along with a better performance from some key players, will improve the record. And the addition of Crawford and Gonzalez could put them over the top.
Crawford had a .307 average with 19 home runs, 90 RBIs and 47 stolen bases last season with Tampa Bay.  Gonzalez batted .298 with 31 homers and drove in 101 runs for San Diego. Add David Ortiz and his 32 homers and 102 RBIs, and the Red Sox, who were second in the majors last season with 818 runs scored, will not lack for power, or runs.
Looking to bounce back are center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who missed all but 18 games last year because of broken ribs; second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who tries to rebound from a broken foot; right-handed starter Josh Beckett, who went just 6-6 with a 5.78 ERA in 2010, and closer Jonathan Papelbon, who had a sub par season last year with a career-high eight blown saves and 3.90 ERA.
Another key addition for the Red Sox is reliever Bobby Jenks, the former Chicago White Sox closer. It’s a fresh start for Jenks, who will likely be used in a setup role for Papelbon.
Overall, the Red Sox have all of the ingredients of a World Series champion: power, speed and pitching. If they can get off to a fast start and avoid injuries, they’ll be able to fulfill those high expectations.
The best rotation? In Philadelphia, it’s all aces. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels combined for 58 wins last season. Oswalt came to Philadelphia at midseason last year and Lee arrived as a free agent from Texas, returning to the Phillies after a year away. Now they are all together, possibly forming the best rotation in the big leagues.
Just to make opponents squirm a little more, the Phillies can march out these stats on their special foursome:

*    Three Cy Young Awards
*    13 All-Star selections
*    20-8 postseason record
*    Six 20-win seasons

Phillies starters went 31-14 after Oswalt was acquired from the Astros last year. They also won 70 games in 2010, the most in the National League. Last year, Halladay pitched a perfect game during the regular season and a no-hitter in the playoffs. Hamels posted a 2.68 ERA in his last 28 starts. Oswalt went 7-1 for the Phillies after the trade and Lee walked only 18 batters in 212.1 innings for Seattle and the Rangers.
They say pitching wins, but Philadelphia also scored the second-most runs in the NL last year with 772. With their mix of pitching and run production, the Phillies could be headed back to the World Series.
Jeter nears milestone: Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter needs just 74 more hits to reach 3,000 for his career. Jeter could join the elite group before midseason, becoming one of several Yankees who have 3,000 hits. But he would be the first to do it as a member of the Yankees.

Quotable: “We have power, we have more speed and we’ve got guys who will make more contact. We have a lot of energy and I think chemistry is an important thing. Guys are feeling like they’re ready to kick some butt.” — San Diego Padres closer Heath Bell on the upcoming season.
Spring training notebook: Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw pitched 3 1/3 innings of no-hit innings against the Padres in his final tuneup on Saturday before Opening Day on Thursday against San Francisco at Dodger Stadium. Kershaw pitched better than his previous six innings, in which he allowed five runs…Don Mattingly is the fourth Dodgers manager in eight years. There were only six Dodgers managers in the 50 years before that…The Los Angeles Angels’ bats came alive in the second half of spring training. The Angels hit just .258 with 57 runs scored and seven home runs in their first 14 games, but batted .298 with 101 runs and 20 homers in their next 15 games.

Copyright © 2011  Bob Hurst. All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Hurst Sports Media.

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