TBS held a conference call with their baseball analysts to discuss the new season. The Red Sox were a hot topic for Dennis Eckersely and Ron Darling :

Eckersley on his predictions for the American League: “I think Boston is the class of the league, I think they will win the East. The Central is difficult to pick because a lot of teams are close to one another, but I like Minnesota. I like their manager, I like the way they just seem to get it done. (With) their young pitching staff, their starters in particular, I think (the Twins) will win the Central. (In the West) I think Anaheim, they may not start off real good because they’ve got some pitchers who are down, and even though Oakland might make a run at them, I think Anaheim is the team to beat in the West. The Wild Card, it’s between the Yankees and Tampa. I have to go with the Yankees; so many things went right for Tampa last year that I don’t see that happening again.”

Eckersley on the Boston Red Sox pitching staff: “It remains to be seen what happens with (free agent additions) John Smoltz and Brad Penny, but you add them to a starting rotation of Beckett, Lester and Dice-K (Daisuke Matsuzaka) and that’s as good as it gets. Then you consider what they have in the bullpen, a bunch of power arms with (closer Jonathan) Papelbon at the end, guys that can punch people out at the end (of games). I think their pitching staff is as good as anyone.”

Eckersley on what questions surrounding the Red Sox offense: “What remains to be seen is offensively. There are questions with (Mike) Lowell’s injuries and there are always questions about J.D. Drew’s health. How good is (Jacoby) Ellsbury going to be? Will (David) Ortiz come back from his hand injury? Is (Jason) Varitek finished or does he have something left? Ultimately, they’re going to score some runs, maybe their bench is a little thin. But (the Red Sox) are the class of the American League and maybe all of baseball.”

Darling on the intangibles and grittiness of the Red Sox: “I think (the Red Sox) have the intangible in (manager) Tito (Terry Francona). He just seems to have his hand on the pulse of that team since he’s been there. He plays that team (oriented) offensive baseball. It doesn’t hurt when you’ve got the reigning MVP (Dustin Pedroia) on your team who is just about as gritty a player as you’re going to get. He’s a guy that refuses to lose. When you have players like that, guys like Pedroia and (Kevin) Youkilis, who will bite your leg and won’t let go. That’s a great combination for a sixth month season.”

Read the complete notes from the call here.