Tuesday January 04, 2011 | 10:31 AM

Vacation is over. Time to catch up with the Boston Red Sox.

Hideki Okajima has reportedly re-signed with the Red Sox. While that hardly guarantees the AL East title for Boston, it could be a helpful addition.

Here is what we know so far:

For all the talk about adding Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford - and they are worth talking about - the key to Boston is still the starting rotation of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Beckett, 6-6 with a 5.78 ERA last year, is a huge factor in Boston's success. If he resumes his place as one of Boston's top three pitchers, then the Red Sox can become frighteningly dominant.

The Bullpen has been upgraded with the addition of Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler. Jenks and Dan Bard serve as the chief set-up men, and are also insurance in case Jonathan Papelbon's decline as a closer continues.

Jenks and Bard were tougher on left-handed batter than right-handers, by the way (lefties hitting .243 against Jenks, and .141 against Bard).

Wheeler becomes the middle-relief/seventh inning guy, a role filled unsuccessfully by Manny Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez last year.

Okajima had a 4.50 ERA last year. But after coming off the disabled list, he had a 1.54 ERA in 14 games in September, with a 0.94 WHiP (walks/hits per inning).

Tim Wakefield appears set for the long relief/spot starter role.

That leaves the final bullpen spot for Scott Atchison, Matt Albers or Andrew Miller (with Rich Hill, Felix Doubront and Michael Bowden given consideration).

Offensively, the biggest debate appears to be the lineup. How about: Ellsbury, Pedroia, Crawford, Gonzalez, Youkilis, Ortiz, Saltalamacchia, Drew and Scutaro.

The bench features players who can all hit left-handed pitching: Varitek, Lowrie, Cameron and McDonald. So Terry Francona could be making several changes, depending on the pitcher.

The lineup looks very good, but with question marks, including Saltalamacchia as a No. 1 catcher, and concerns about Drew's decline.

Pitchers and catchers report in less than six weeks. Time for baseball talk. The blog is back. Stay tuned.

About this Blog

Kevin Thomas covers baseball and basketball for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. He wisely moved to Maine in 1994 after working for the St. Petersburg Times. He is married to Nancy and they have nine children.

Follow his thoughts on the Boston Red Sox and Portland Sea Dogs on Clearing the Bases

Follow his thoughts on the Boston Celtics and Maine Red Claws on Holding Court


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