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Behind Enemy Lines, with Over the Monster's Brendan O'Toole

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Questions! Answers! Insight! Buy now! Sell high!

Jim Rogash

After spending a couple of years in Boston, I have a bit of a soft spot for the city and an appreciation for the Red Sox, their traditions, and of course Fenway Park. Of course, none of that stops me from wanting to see the Twins sweep Boston under the rug. In spite of fascist view towards Twins wins in this series, Brendan O'Toole of Over the Monster fame was kind enough to answer a series of questions for me on the Red Sox.

Thanks to Brendan for his time, especially on such short notice. You can see my answers to Brendan's questions here. In the meantime, let's hit the questions!

The Red Sox offense doesn't have that traditionally formidable middle of the order makeup that we've come to know and fear over the last decade. How does Boston make up that difference as we move through the summer?

The Red Sox certainly don't have the same enormous one-two punch they had back when Manny was around and hitting, but having Ortiz-Napoli 3-4 is still pretty good, especially given the lower run-scoring environment of recent years. Boston's power has certainly been slumping thusfar (slugging .378 as a team, 11th in the AL), but Will Middlebrooks has serious power if he can get his contact rates up, and once Xander Bogaerts' power shows up, look out.

In a somewhat related follow-up, from the younger and less experienced players on the roster - who do you think is most likely to pick up the pace?

As just mentioned, Middlebrooks ought to improve his power numbers, he's got 35 career HR in 186 games, that should play pretty well. Bogaerts is already getting on base at a very solid clip, the big question so far has been power. His track record in the minors suggests that his SLG will start climbing, and just having heard the ball off his bat, that power is there. Jackie Bradley, Jr. needs to (and can) bump his average a bit, but he's been so good with the glove that some offensive difficulties aren't a deal-breaker. I'd say Bogaerts is the most likely to really turn on the jets as the summer wears on.

The sooner you put the geriatric Yankees out to pasture, the better. This isn't a question. Please comment.

Boston's finally caught up, they're tied with New York for second right behind Baltimore. And honestly, the injury gods seem to be doing quite a number on the Yankees, with Ivan Nova already down, Michael Pineda on the DL with a pine tar deficiency, and CC Sabathia hitting the 15-day with a knee problem.

Boston has three starters doing really well and two that are struggling. It looks like the Twins are lucky enough to hit both of them in Clay Buchholz and Felix Dubront. What's the story on those two guys?

Felix Doubront is... If anyone could figure him out, they'd make a lot of money. He's got great swing-and-miss stuff from the left side, he's had successful starts, but he's incredibly inefficient with his pitches. In 66 career starts, he's only gone seven innings eight times. If the Twins see good Doubront, they're in trouble, but bad Doubront will just hand them baserunners. As far as Buchholz goes, I'm just not convinced he's healthy. He's had a few good starts (1 ER, 5 K vs. OAK, 2 ER, 6 K vs. CHW), but his fastball velocity hasn't been good, and his normally dominant breaking stuff has been inconsistent. A healthy Buchholz has the best pure stuff on the staff, but that guy hasn't been playing so far this year.

The guy up in Game 2, Jake Peavy, we're familiar with. Is he recovering some of the ace-type stuff he was known for earlier in his career, or are we just seeing a hot streak from a talented pitcher?

Oddly, I think Jake Peavy's still got his best work ahead of him this year. He's been pretty solid so far, his ERA's low and he's given the Sox some good innings, but his walk rate is way above his career norms. Career Peavy's walked 2.8 per 9, right now he's at 5.2 for the season. That's very likely to come down, unless AJ Pierzynski is somehow screwing up his control. Peavy had a few years of really bad health while he was in Chicago (which is actually an odd outlier for that team) but now that he's healthy, I see no reason why he can't be part of a very good top three all year alongside Lester and Lackey.

I moved from Boston in August - naturally, just before the Sox win the World Series. With three championships in ten years, how do you think that success has affected the city's expectations for the team on a yearly basis?

Expectations certainly feel different, although I'm not sure they are in the strictest sense. Red Sox fans who became fans or came of age before the three recent wins have certainly a longer perspective on the team's famed history of failure. But part of the tragedy of the Red Sox for all those decades was that there was rarely a season where the team was just obviously doomed from the start. Boston had powerful teams with great hitters and good pitchers, they were generally in contention, they just somehow always screwed it up at the end. That's I think why 2011 was probably worse for older fans, it was a reminder to us of the bad old days when everything inevitably blew up. Boston fans always expected a winning, and potentially World Series-winning team, but now that it's happened a few times, it's a more concrete expectation. And when you add in the success of Boston's other teams, I think the general sense is just wanting this ride to keep on going.

What's the potential for the Red Sox this season? Is there enough talent to compete for the AL East title and make a run at back-to-back championships?

I think they're certainly capable of repeating. The top of the rotation is very good, the offense is getting back to its traditional wearing out of pitchers, and the bullpen's been spectacular. Also, the AL East has been pretty weak so far. New York's rotation is crumbling, Tampa's already down Matt Moore, Toronto is a mess again, and Baltimore is certainly beatable. Boston has enough talent right now to take the division, and if they're looking a little short by the trade deadline, they have immense payroll flexibility and one of the best farms in the game, they could easily make a big splash and pull away from the pack. And even if they don't, they won the whole thing last year, and that aforementioned payroll and farm should keep them right at the top of the game for the foreseeable future.