The Boston Red Sox surprised everyone last year by finishing off an impressive 97-65 regular season, with an even more impressive victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2013 Fall Classic. Boston led the Major Leagues in runs scored (853), doubles (363, thank you Green Monster), OPS (.795), and SLG (.446.). Their pitching staff held up their end of the bargain as well– ranking 14th in the Majors with a team ERA of 3.79. Like many of the past World Series Championship teams, it’s nearly impossible to bring back the same group of guys for another go-around.
Boston is no different: They lost their Gold Glove center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury to the New York Yankees, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia to the Miami Marlins, and Stephen Drew still remains unsigned with Spring Training underway. However, much of the 2013 core remains in tact, and Boston added Grady Sizemore, A.J. Pierzynski, and Edward Mujica to fill some of the holes left by the names mentioned above.
The Red Sox have, yet again, been constructed by Ben Cherington to compete for another championship. With an ideal blend of youth and experience, a tremendously deep pitching staff, and a farm system waiting to be tapped into, Boston should be one of the top-tier teams in all of baseball.
Best Case Scenario
If Boston can remain healthy, there is no reason to believe that they won’t find themselves competing for an AL East title, again. They will need to get production out of guys like Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. to maintain the type of offense they put on display last season, but this is a team that is built to win now.
Most Important Red Sox
David Ortiz or, “Cooperstown,” as his teammates called him last year, is the behemoth in the middle of the lineup that binds everything together. At 38, Ortiz posted a .309 average with 30 homers and 109 RBIs–including a 4.4 WAR, which was his best since 2007. Following a historic postseason that saw Ortiz hit .688 in the World Series and be named the World Series MVP, he will once again be looked upon to provide the power and clutch hits that we have been accustomed to seeing in his time in Boston. His clubhouse leadership is a vital piece to what the Red Sox accomplished a season ago (as seen in his rally speech in the ALCS against Detroit), and Boston will need a fully healthy Ortiz if they want to return to the big stage. The other face of the franchise, Dustin Pedroia, is coming off a season where he played through a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb. “The rehab was great. “I feel healthy, and there’s no setbacks, no restrictions or anything,” Pedroia said. This is promising news for Sox’ fans who missed seeing the ferocious hacks commonly taken by Pedroia in the batters box. You can pretty much correlate the thumb injury with the lack of power–he hit just 9 homers last season– so Pedey at 100% will be a huge boost to the club.
Potential breakout players
The young Arubian, Xander Bogaerts, will be a name people will be hearing all season long. The 21-year-old shortstop is ranked the 2nd best prospect in all of baseball, and will more than likely get the starting gig right out of the gate. There’s not much of a sample size, but the smooth swinging Bogaerts hit .250 in 44 at-bats last season, not to mention the fact that he started every game in the World Series. With plus defense and the ability to hit to all fields, there’s no ceiling on this kids’ potential. Brandon Workman is another youngster that saw his role increase throughout the postseason. He pitched 8.2 innings without allowing an earned run in the playoffs and looked un-phased by the pressure. The 6-foot-5 right-hander had a 4.97 ERA last season with an imposing 10.15 K/9. With the absence of Ryan Dempster, Workman should get the chance to shine as the swingman for Boston. One breakout player that may be flying under the radar is Garin Cecchini. The third baseman split time in the minors least season between Single-A Salem and Double-A Portland, combining for a .322 average, .915 OPS, and a whopping .443 OBP (which led the minors). Without much depth on the left side of the infield for Boston, an injury to Will Middlebrooks or Xander Bogaerts could open the door for Cecchini.
Worst case scenario
The 2013 season was an incredible run, but to sustain that success, the Red Sox will need to find new ways to win without the speed and base-running of Ellsbury. If some of the young players struggle, and the starting rotation can’t generate the same type of production it had last year, the Red Sox may be fighting for their lives in a competitive American League.
Areas of Concern
Relying heavily on young players is an area of major concern for the Boston Red Sox. Bogaerts is 21, Bradley Jr. is 23, and Middlebrooks is 25, and all three will likely be in the starting lineup on Opening Day. If two out of three falter this season, the Red Sox could be looking up in the standings wondering why they didn’t bring in more depth behind the youngsters. It’s a good thing to have young talent at key positions, but it also comes with a lot of risk.
Who Needs to Bounce Back From a Down 2013?
The aforementioned Will Middlebrooks had a stellar rookie showing in 2012, hitting .288 with 15 homers and 54 RBIs, before taking a pitch off his wrist that sidelined him for the rest of the season. But in 2013, he took a major step back. He struggled from the very beginning and never found his comfort zone at the plate–he hit just .227 and spent a chunk of the season in Triple-A Pawtucket. He did, however, connect on 17 homers last season flashing glimpses of why people say he has 30+ home run potential. A resurgence of Middlebrooks is a must if he wants to prove he can be an everyday third basemen. It wasn’t a down 2013 for Clay Buchholz by any means, but he needs to prove to the organization that he has the ability to stay healthy for an entire season. In 16 starts last season, Buchholz looked Cy Young-ish, posting a 12-1 record with a 1.74 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP. After going down in June with a minor injury that was supposed to keep him out a start, or two, he didn’t return until September. He looked sluggish and out-of-synch in the postseason, essentially leaving the Red Sox without their most dominant pitcher statistically. Getting a 200-inning season out of Buchholz would give Boston one of the best 1-2 punches in baseball alongside Jon Lester.
Overall, the Red Sox are in one of the best positions in all of baseball coming off a title. Everyone is healthy and they have the flexibility to make an impact trade if they choose to part with a few prospects, or they can stand pat and watch them develop around a strong core of players for years to come. No more underdog story this time around, this teams got a target on their backs now as they look to turn the page.
AL Team Previews
NL Team Previews