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Even at 'Camp Sunshine' some clouds hover over Red Sox


FT. MYERS, Fla. -- There is only sunshine here in Red Sox camp, both figuratively and literally, so much so that one longtime Boston journalist has taken to calling it "Camp Sunshine.''

The strengths of this Red Sox team seem plentiful, the weakness nitpicky. They had an unquestionably huge winter, leading to gigantic expectations for the summer -- and fall.

But while general manager Theo Epstein, the architect of this team, admitted that "there's been a real good mood in camp,'' Epstein strongly countered any suggestion that the Red Sox are the favorite in the AL East, baseball's strongest division.

"We finished third last year ... so, as far as I'm concerned, we're a third-place team until we're not,'' Epstein said here Tuesday. "There's a lot for us to prove.''

The prognosticators see a team decimated by injuries in 2010 with Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Jacoby Ellsbury now back healthy and being joined by big-time additions Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. Yankees GM Brian Cashman recently conceded the Red Sox look a bit better than the Yankees right now. And that does indeed appear to be the case to most outside observers, as well.

But that doesn't mean Boston people believe they have a perfect team. Nor will they suggest their club may coast to the division title.

Epstein won't go over all their potential questions one by one, but there are a few:

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• Can former ace starters John Lackey and Josh Beckett bounce back after seasons that were mediocre (14-11, 4.40 ERA for Lackey) and awful (6-6, 5.78 ERA in only 21 starts for Beckett), respectively?

• Can they win with a starting shortstop, Marco Scutaro, who's 36 years old?

• Can closer Jonathan Papelbon recover to have a more typical season after an up-and-down 2010 campaign (career-worst 3.90 ERA) and a winter in which he was shopped on the trade market? And similarly, can newly-acquired Bobby Jenks return to form? And can the two outspoken longtime closers coexist at the back end of Boston's bullpen?

• Can Jarrod Saltalamacchia finally show his potential and become a viable frontline catcher, or will the Red Sox have to sign another catcher a month or two into the season (Bengie Molina is still a free agent)?

• Can Kevin Youkilis move seamlessly back to third base at age 31?

• Will Gonzalez's right shoulder be at full strength?

• Will J.D. Drew's hamstring hold up? And will Ellsbury stay injury-free after playing just 18 games last year?

• Will Daisuke Matsuzaka's new workout program work for him? And will they have enough starting pitching depth?

Yes, there are a fair number of questions left unanswered. But the chances seem great that a vast majority of them will be answered in the affirmative or that the team's resourceful front office will find new answers if need be. Despite Epstein's protestations, people around baseball correctly see the Red Sox as the AL East favorite.