The Boston Red Sox can't wait to wave goodbye to 2012.
This year wasn't one of the organization's brighter periods. It began with the Red Sox still reeling from their horrid collapse at the end of the 2011 season and the great purge that followed it. Then came this season, which saw the Red Sox become a 93-loss embarrassment under Bobby Valentine.
Bobby V is gone now, replaced as the club's manager by former Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell. After acquiring him, general manager Ben Cherington set about filling the various holes in the club's roster with quality major league veterans.
The Red Sox look respectable again. But looking respectable and actually being respectable are two different things. If the Red Sox want to actually be respectable again in 2013, there are a few goals they must pursue in 2013.
Here are Boston's New Year's resolutions.
Don't Be a Pitiful Mess on the Mound
In 2007, the Red Sox had the second-lowest ERA in baseball at 3.87, in part because their starting pitchers finished fourth with an ERA of 4.21. In 2008, Red Sox starters finished eighth in MLB in ERA.
It's been all downhill from there. The 2009 season saw Boston starters finish 19th in MLB in ERA. They finished 17th in MLB in ERA in 2010 and 22nd in 2011.
Red Sox starting pitchers hit rock bottom in 2012. They finished 23rd in innings pitched, 27th in ERA and 27th in home runs per nine innings. Boston's best starting pitcher was Clay Buchholz, who had a 4.56 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP.
The book of baseball cliches says it's hard to win games with bad starting pitching, and the Red Sox have been learning that the hard way for several years now. Their starting pitching has been particularly brutal ever since September 2011, and it's not a coincidence that this happens to be one of the worst stretches in franchise history.
Obviously things are going to have to be better in 2013 if the Red Sox are going to make good on their planned return to relevancy. Another year of bad pitching would surely leave the Red Sox out of the playoffs once again, and it would further disillusion a fanbase that is disillusioned enough.
Fortunately, things should be better in 2013.
The return of Farrell to Boston's clubhouse could result in Buchholz and Jon Lester returning to the form they showed under Farrell in 2010, when they combined for 36 wins and a 2.83 ERA. The Red Sox should also benefit from the signing of a steady mid-rotation starter in Ryan Dempster, the continued development of young lefty Felix Doubront and the return of a healthy John Lackey.
All Red Sox starting pitchers can do themselves a favor by trusting new pitching coach Juan Nieves just as much as they trust Farrell. He may be a relative unknown, but he learned from one of the best pitching coaches in the business in Don Cooper during his time with the Chicago White Sox.
Boston's pitching doesn't have to return to its 2007 level in order for the Red Sox to win games. It just has to be good enough to support an offense that has been asked to do way too much in the past two seasons.
However, this offense has a resolution of its own.
Get Back to Grinding It Out
Though things started going downhill fast in the second half of the season, the Red Sox still managed to finish 2012 ranked in the top 10 in baseball in runs scored. Par for the course.
What changed was that the Red Sox were stripped of their status as one of the most efficient run-scoring teams in baseball. Runs became harder to come by in large part because they just weren't driving opposing pitchers crazy like they used to.
Here are some fun facts. The Red Sox finished first in MLB in team OBP each year between 2003 and 2005. Between 2006 and 2011, they finished second, second, first, second, third and first in OBP.
Yeah, that actually happened. Red Sox hitters drew fewer walks than Astros hitters. Mayans, or something.
Various circumstances didn't help. The Red Sox dealt with some major injuries that robbed their offense of some punch, most notably the shoulder injury that Jacoby Ellsbury suffered early in the season and the Achilles injury that David Ortiz came down with in the second half. In August, they lost one of their top hitters when Adrian Gonzalez was shipped to Los Angeles.
Even knowing that circumstances such as these impacted Boston's offense, the fact that the Red Sox finished 29th in baseball in walks is baffling and downright inexcusable. That's not Red Sox baseball, whatever the excuses may be.
Boston's restructured lineup needs to get back to doing things that Red Sox lineups are used to doing: working the count, fouling pitches off, taking walks and so on. If they can do these things, base runners and runs will be plentiful.
There should be a particularly special emphasis on enjoying such things at home.
Protect Your House
Home cooking hasn't been so sweet for the Red Sox in recent years. In fact, Fenway Park has slowly but surely become a house of horrors.
The Red Sox won at least 50 games at home every year between 2003 and 2009 except for 2006. In 2010, they won only 45 games at home. In 2011, they won 45 games at home once again.
In 2012, the Red Sox won 34 games at home. They actually had a better record away from Fenway Park than they did at Fenway Park.
If you needed more proof that the Red Sox really were that horrible in 2012, well, there you go.
The Red Sox will be doing themselves a favor if they get back to being a dominant home team in 2013. Fortunately, some of the acquisitions they've made this offseason are very much in line with this goal.
Jonny Gomes, who will patrol left field, is not unlike Cody Ross in that he has a right-handed pull swing perfectly suited to take aim at the Green Monster. So does Mike Napoli, who could see a big uptick in his power production with regular action at Fenway Park (assuming his contract is finalized).
These two guys will help the Red Sox be an offensive powerhouse when they play at home. That could be enough to make them a 50-win team at home again if the pitching staff at least stays steady.
Of course, they can further help themselves by making it their mission to dominate both at home and wherever else they may wind up.
In 2011, the Red Sox were a very talented team that was ultimately destroyed by a lack of chemistry. In 2012, they were a marginally talented team with a manager who never allowed them to come together.
The jury's out on whether or not chemistry is just as important (or more important) than talent. But as the San Francisco Giants have demonstrated on one end and the Red Sox have demonstrated on the other in the last couple of years, it's certainly better to have chemistry than to have none at all.
The Red Sox took this mantra to heart this winter, starting with their hiring of John Farrell. Dustin Pedroia told ESPNBoston.com upon Farrell's hiring that he just has "that instant respect when he walks into the room." That's something that Bobby V never had.
The Red Sox didn't stop restructuring their clubhouse culture with the hiring of Farrell. The free agents they went after—namely Gomes, Napoli, Shane Victorino, Ryan Dempster and David Ross—are all high-character guys who should contribute to building a winning culture in Boston.
"They've brought in a bunch of guys who can play in Boston," one AL exec told ESPN's Jayson Stark. That should be music to the ears of Red Sox fans given how poorly suited some of the club's acquisitions in recent years were to play in Boston.
However, you can't just push a button and have a great clubhouse atmosphere. The goal is definitely in place, but it's going to take time for so many new players to mesh with the players who have already been there and done that in Boston.
If things pan out the way the organization is hoping, though, the Red Sox could have a truly spirited team the likes of which they haven't had in years.
Just Make the Postseason
Making the postseason used to go without saying for the Red Sox, but the key word here is "just."
The Red Sox shouldn't bother entertaining themselves with thoughts of World Series glory to come in 2013. That would be nice, but they're in a position where they have to relearn how to walk before they can run.
Will the Red Sox make the postseason in 2013?
It's been three years since the Red Sox were last in the postseason, and four years since they were legitimate World Series contenders. And if we're being honest, they're not legitimate World Series contenders now. They're an improved team, but that's relative to the utter mess they were in 2012.
Simply becoming a .500 team again would be a moral victory for the 2013 Red Sox. Qualifying for the postseason would be a major victory, as to do that a year after losing more than 90 games would be no small feat. Especially in a division as stacked as the AL East.
The Red Sox will be a World Series contender again in the not-so-distant future if they play their cards right. For now, they should just work on reestablishing themselves as perennial contenders.
Once they do that, they can go from there.
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