A: No team is invincible, but somebody has to be favored, and in the AL, it's the Red Sox. I have them winning 98 games — nine more than they did a year ago, but nowhere near the 110-plus level of a super team such as the 1998 Yankees or 2001 Mariners — and here's why:
Yes, Beltre and Martinez are very productive offensively, but Gonzalez and Crawford should take it up another notch. Gonzalez's already-huge numbers almost certainly will spike with the move from Petco Park — arguably the game's best pitcher's park — to Fenway Park, which suits his ability to hit with power to left-center field. Crawford brings a .300 average and 50-60 steal capability, a new dimension for the Sox. Both also are Gold Glove-caliber defenders (as is Beltre).
The Sox also added Bobby Jenks (150-plus saves in the past five seasons) and Dan Wheeler to deepen the bullpen — always a crucial element in any team's success.
Another part of the improvement I'm projecting should come from within, due to healthy-again players. Remember that Kevin Youkilis missed 60 games last season, Dustin Pedroia missed 87 games, and Jacoby Ellsbury played in only 18 games. The Sox still finished second in the AL in runs, so they very well could lead in that category this season.
Finally, the Rays and quite possibly the Yankees won't be as formidable as a year ago, when they won 96 and 95 games respectively, so that should help the Red Sox's victory total.
A couple of major concerns, though: What will the Sox get from Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka, both coming off sub-par seasons? And the catching tandem of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek's inability to stop opponents' running games.
A: This is one of those issues that has no right answer; it's a matter of opinion. There is an art to picking the right pitch and being able to lift it in the air deep enough to score a run from third base. The current sacrifice-fly rule rewards that with an RBI and no at-bat.
But that being the case, why does a groundout that scores a runner from third count as an at-bat? Both produce the same result, so why not the same scoring ruling?
Two more: You get credit for a sacrifice (and no time at-bat) for a bunt that merely moves a runner up a base, but you get charged with an at-bat for hitting a groundout that scores a runner. And, you get an RBI for drawing a walk with the bases loaded, but you don't get an RBI for hitting a ground ball that scores a runner.
Personally, I'd like to see some uniformity on all this, but I'm not losing any sleep over it, either.
A: There really isn't anything you can do to stop large groups of players from running onto the field. But there are rules in place to curb the activity — namely, fines and suspensions. I guess MLB could stiffen the penalties, and at times, they make a bigger issue of enforcement. But brawls — and I use the term loosely, because most are harmless, no-punch events — have been part of the game since it was invented, and I don't think they're going to disappear anytime soon.