Since 1999, the Boston Red Sox have punched their ticket to the postseason eight times, including three World Series championships, and two American League East division titles along the way.
As the first week of the 2014 season comes to a close, many experts believe that the defending champs will find their way back into the playoffs yet again, with hopes of bottling up that same magic from a year ago. Here’s how they can get there:
Production from the young guys
During the offseason, the Red Sox made the decision to allow some key guys from last year’s squad to walk, including speedy leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury, and the sure-handed shortstop in Stephen Drew.
Rather than going out and signing guys off the free agent market to replace them, Boston chose to work from within, giving Xander Bogaerts — the top prospect in the organization and the #2 prospect in all of baseball – the reigns at short, and Jackie Bradley Jr. a shot at the center field job. In short: they opted for youth over experience.
The Red Sox need that move to pay off if they want a shot at returning to the postseason again in 2014.
Bogaerts — who is largely praised for his mature approach and poise at the plate — is off to a hot start already with 9 hits and 4 walks in his first 26 at-bats. He has reached base safely in 6 of the first 7 games, and has all the necessary tools to be a stud in this league with the ability to hit to all fields for both power and average. The only question mark is his defense. He committed 19 errors last season between Double-AA Portland and Triple-AAA Pawtucket, and has already shown some signs of that this season. But the Sox knew he was going to be a work-in-progress coming in, so that surprises nobody.
The Red Sox need him to be nothing more than the player he has shown throughout his brief career. FanGraphs projects Bogaerts to drive in 66 runs, and get on base at a clip of .335. If he can do that the Red Sox should be in good shape, unless…
The other group of young talent can’t hold up their end of the bargain. While Bogaerts is probably the most important due to his starting role, guys like JBJ, Will Middlebrooks, and Brandon Workman are also going to be relied upon. So for this team to make it back to the playoffs in a potentially brutal American League, Boston is going to need solid production from this entire group.
Play well inside the division
Speaking of a brutal American League, the East division could be the toughest in all of baseball this year. The Red Sox went a collective 44-32 against opponents in the East last season (including 12-7 against Tampa, who they defeated in the ALDS) and they’re going to need that to continue in order to have successful 2014 campaign.
No team can afford to fall too far behind within the division because every team, (except maybe Toronto), has a shot at pulling away. Only one team made the playoffs last year with a sub-.500 record within their division, and that was the Los Angeles Dodgers, who went 37-39 against the West, and needed one hell of a summer streak to get there.
The easiest path to the postseason is to claim the division title, so beating up on the Jays, Rays, Orioles, and, of course, the dreaded Yankees, should be first and foremost on Boston’s mind.
Quality starting pitching
Everybody knows pitching prevails once the postseason begins, but quality pitching is also necessary get there.
Last season, Boston was 3rd in the Major Leagues in quality starts with 95, trailing only the Detroit Tigers (108) and Atlanta Braves (102) for the top spot. Not only does it keep the team in position to win ball games, but it alleviates the bumps and bruises of the bullpen over the course of a long season.
With the bullpen once again being an essential piece for Boston this season, having that quality pitching in the front end like they did in 2013 will help the Red Sox keep one of their best strengths as close to 100 percent as humanly possible.
The two Johns (yes, I know they’re spelled differently), Lester and Lackey, are the foundation of the starting staff, and will need to stay healthy and produce as they’ve done thus far to set the tone. Jake Peavy, Felix Doubrount, and Clay Buchholz are all admirable starting pitchers for the club, but it all starts with the guys at the top.
The Sox are aware of how good this rotation can potentially be, so getting the best out of these five guys will absolutely play a major factor in whether or not they reach the postseason for back-to-back seasons.
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