MANAGER TERRYFRANCONA fourth season with Red Sox

RIGHTHANDER Curt Schilling is lugging an additional burden this season, andthat's not a reference to the 10 pounds he put on this winter while spending 10sedentary hours a day at his Massachusetts-based video game company. Schilling,who is 44--21 in his Boston career, still carries plenty of heft in the Red Soxclubhouse, but he has been overshadowed this spring by the excitementsurrounding new teammate Daisuke Matsuzaka (page 58), not to mention rejectedby Sox officials in his effort to extend his contract, which expires at the endof the season.

Fat Chance, theBoston Herald bellowed on its back page on Feb. 23, citing both Schilling'spaunch and the lack of largesse coming from the Boston front office. "Yeah,Photoshop is an amazing thing," says Schilling, who promises he will losethe extra baggage and be at his preferred 235 pounds by Opening Day.

Appearancesaside, the extroverted Schilling likes playing the heavy. Although the Red Soxhave built their staff, in the near and long term, on three 26-year-oldrighthanded power pitchers--Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett and Jonathan Papelbon areunder Boston's contractual control through at least 2010--Schilling, at 40,intends to prove he's still the ace. "Nothing's changed," saysSchilling, who in '06 ranked first in the AL in strikeout-to-walk ratio (6.54),fifth in strikeouts per nine innings (8.07) and sixth in opponents' on-basepercentage (.303). "I'm the one to lead the staff. A lot of people mightnot expect me to still be that kind of pitcher. But I'm telling you, the dayI'm not a Number 1, I'm not going to be playing ... [and] I'm going to pitchnext year."

If Schillingcontinues to meet his own expectations, Boston's rotation will feature the bestpure stuff in baseball. Matsuzaka will be a Rubik's Cube to hitters. Beckett,who won 16 games in a poor season last year, and Papelbon, who returns tostarting after a lights-out year closing (.211 opposing OBP), bring mid-90sheat. Fifth starter and knuckleballer Tim Wakefield is a dastardly diversion."The pitching staffs will determine who wins the East," Schilling said."The [season-opening] rotation that makes the most starts wins thedivision. It's that simple."

The SchillingTheory was borne out last year. New York, Toronto and Boston were 1-2-3 in thestandings as well as 1-2-3 in starts by what the club considered its top fivestarters heading into '06. New York received 125 such starts, Toronto 114 andBoston--because of injuries to Wakefield, Matt Clement and David Wells--only107.

Boston betterget premier starting pitching, because its bullpen is so shaky that JoelPiñeiro is being considered as the closer despite one career save and aprogressively worse ERA five years running. Unless 2005 No. 1 draft pick CraigHansen, 23, matures quickly--and there's little to indicate that he's anybetter than a year away--the Red Sox don't even have a true power arm to shutdown scoring threats in the seventh and eighth innings.

"We're goingto have to mix and match there rather than have that one strikeout guy,"says manager Terry Francona, who will likely deploy either Brendan Donnelly orMike Timlin in the closer's role to start the season. Privately, the Red Soxare prepared to move quickly to trade for a closer, such as Washington's ChadCordero.

Though Schillingcalls Boston's offense "relentless," the additions of shortstop JulioLugo, rightfielder J.D. Drew and second baseman Dustin Pedroia may not preventthe Red Sox from a decline in run production for a fourth straight season--butperhaps to no harm. This team is built on starting pitching, which was aliability last season (26th in the majors in ERA), so improved run preventionis the key. While Schilling may be the titular ace, Boston's comfort is inknowing that any one of its three young guns may ascend to the top of therotation.

CONSIDERTHIS

a modestproposal ...

It's a rare daywhen a team commits $70 million to a player and then bats him second, but thatmay be the best plan for the Red Sox and J.D. Drew. With Julio Lugo penciled inat leadoff this spring, Boston has been mostly using Kevin Youkilis in the No.2 slot ahead of David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and then Drew (left) in the fivehole. Youkilis brings a high OBP and patience to the job, but as a slowrighthanded hitter he's a double-play liability. Drew is faster and as alefthanded batter is more apt to take advantage of a hole created by theopposing team holding Lugo on first base. More simply, Drew's a better hitterthan Youkilis. The idea is to get the best players the most at bats. Thedifference between batting fifth and batting second is more than 50 plateappearances in a full season. If Drew gets those rather than Youkilis, the RedSox will score more runs.

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

THE LINEUP
PROJECTED ROSTER WITH 2006 STATISTICS

JULIO LUGO * SS        
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 60 .278 12 37 24
KEVIN YOUKILIS 1B        
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 184 .279 13 72 5
DAVID ORTIZ DH        
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 10 .287 54 137 1
MANNY RAMIREZ LF        
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 12 .321 35 102 0
J.D. DREW * RF        
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 72 .283 20 100 2
JASON VARITEK C        
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 176 .238 12 55 1
MIKE LOWELL 3B        
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 168 .284 20 80 2
COCO CRISP CF        
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 130 .264 8 36 22
DUSTIN PEDROIA (R) 2B        
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 290 .191 2 7 0

 

BENCH        
WILY MO PENA OF        
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 279 .301 11 42 0
ERIC HINSKE INF-OF        
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 275 .271 13 34 2

 

ROTATION              
PITCHER   PVR W L K WHIP ERA
RH Curt Schilling 26 15 7 183 1.22 3.97
RH Josh Beckett 58 16 11 158 1.29 5.01
RH Daisuke Matsuzaka (R) *

Japanese Pacific League stats

21 17 5 200 0.92 2.13
RH Jonathan Papelbon 39 4 2 75 0.78 0.92
RH Tim Wakefield 109 7 11 90 1.33 4.63

 

BULLPEN              
PITCHER   PVR W L SV WHIP ERA
RH Mike Timlin 86 6 6 9 1.47 4.36
RH Brendan Donnelly * 135 6 0 0 1.34 3.94
RH Joel Piñeiro * 143 8 13 1 1.65 6.36

* Newacquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 77)

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THE NUMBERS

DON'T LIE

56.8 Percentageof Red Sox home runs last season that were hit on the road, disproving thepopular notion that Fenway Park is a slugger's mecca. A total of 157 homerswere hit in Fenway (including 83 by Boston) compared with 216 in Red Sox awaygames (109 by the visitors). That 59-homer differential was the largest in themajors.

PHOTODAMIAN STROHMEYERI'M NUMBER 1 In a rotation chock full of prime 26-year-old arms, Schilling, 40, says his name still carries the most weight. PHOTOJOHN IACONO (DREW) PHOTOCHUCK SOLOMON (ORTIZ)Ortiz

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)