Boston Red Sox Predictions: 5 Storylines That Will Determine Success in 2013

Jess Lander@@jesslanderContributor IIIJanuary 25, 2013

Boston Red Sox Predictions: 5 Storylines That Will Determine Success in 2013

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    No doubt about it, the Boston Red Sox are rebuilding. The 2004 and 2007 Champions have all but hit rock bottom after finishing dead-last in the AL East in 2012 during one of the worst seasons in their history.

    Surely, 2013 is all about proving to Red Sox Nation that they haven't turned back into the old Red Sox, and that this is just a minor bump in the road back to the top, or at the very least, to being ahead of the Yankees.

    Here are five Red Sox storylines that will decide how successful 2013 is.

Can John Farrell Pick Up the Pieces?

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    New Red Sox manager John Farrell has his work cut out for him. He's been brought in to clean up the mess of a 93-loss season left behind by the publicly-loathed Bobby Valentine.

    The former pitcher and Toronto Blue Jays manager has just two seasons of managing experience under his cap, neither of which were winning seasons.

    Yet Farrell's three years as pitching coach with the Sox (2007-10) means he's familiar with the workings of both the front office and players.

    He was not only the front-runner in the race to replace Bobby V, but also the first choice for the job in 2012 before Toronto said no.

    Clearly, he's well liked around Fenway and therefore, unlikely to make any enemies or have his players stage a coup d'etat.

    Time will tell if Farrell is right for the job, but for now, at least everyone is getting along.

Can the Red Sox Stay Healthy?

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    In 2012, the Red Sox placed 26 different players on the Disabled List, the most of any team since at least 1987, totaling 33 stints.

    Fourteen of those were on the 60-day DL. Injuries were a constant, if not the biggest issue for the Sox last year, and continue to be a cause for concern in 2013.

    Of the starting rotation, only Jon Lester avoided the DL all season and several other key players like Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury and Will Middlebrooks missed at least a few weeks.

    Simply put, a healthy Red Sox roster in 2013 can only mean better things than 2012.

Will the Starting Rotation Revive Itself?

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    The Red Sox pitching staff of 2012 combined for an abysmal 4.70 ERA, the fourth-worst in baseball.

    With Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka gone, the fate of the 2013 Red Sox lies on the shoulders (and arms) of Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, youngster Felix Doubront and the recently acquired Ryan Dempster.

    Buchholz led Boston's version of "The Expendables" last year in both record and ERA, going 11-8 with a 4.56 ERA.

    Doubront pitched a winning record (11-10) in his first full-time season, while Lester was nothing short of a disaster, following up a successful 2011 (15-9), with an equally disappointing 2012 (9-14).

    Lackey sat the season out recovering from Tommy John surgery and also his divorce, which caused some extra controversy for the already-disliked pitcher.

    In order for the Red Sox to have any hope of competing in 2013, every single member of their rotation needs to turn up the heat.

    As the most consistent starter of the bunch, Buchholz will be depended on to lead, while Lester desperately needs to reconnect with the hero that beat cancer and returned to help the Red Sox bring home a World Series championship in 2007.

    All bets say that Doubront will continue to improve with experience and the Red Sox hope that Dempster plays as sharply as he did with the Cubs in 2012, before being traded to the Rangers and failing miserably.

    Lackey gets the Wild Card. Before sitting out 2012, he struggled through two seasons in Boston going 26-23 with a 5.26 ERA. While fans hope that the former Angels workhorse will finally show up on Yawkey Way, chances are his best years are behind him.

Will a Deep Bullpen Make All the Difference?

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    If there's one sure thing for the Red Sox heading into 2013, it's that the bullpen is looking deep.

    With currently more than 10 arms to choose from, even another injury-plagued season won't be able to drain the Sox pitching staff dry.

    News broke this week that Farrell is excited about reliever Daniel Bard, who struggled greatly last season as a starter before being sent down to Pawtucket.

    While many say the Sox bullpen was the one thing that didn't need fixing, an undeniably smart move was the trade for Joel Hanrahan to take over for Andrew Bailey at closer.

    Hanrahan collected 76 saves over the last two seasons with the Pirates, compiling a 2.24 ERA, and comes to Boston with high expectations.

    With a long list of relief potential, among them a healthier Bailey and Junichi Tazawa, who came up from Pawtucket last year to impress with a 1.43 ERA in 44 innings, the depth of the Red Sox bullpen could very well be the key to success in 2013.

Will Jacoby Ellsbury Bounce Back in a Contract Year?

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    In 2011, AL MVP runner-up Jacoby Ellsbury hit .321 with 32 homers, 105 RBIs and a .928 OPS.

    But in 2012, he put up mediocre numbers, batting .271 with four homers and a .682 OPS, in addition to missing 79 games due to injury.

    The outfielder avoided arbitration this year and agreed to a one-year deal worth $9 million, but at the close of 2013, free agency awaits him.

    Therefore, Ellsbury either shapes up to his 2011 form, or ships out at the end of the season.

    The hope, is that the possibility of a contract extension and a hefty raise (his salary went up $6 million after his 2011 performance) will drive Ellsbury's 2013 campaign over the Monster, taking the Red Sox along for the ride.

Honorable Mentions

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    Will Napoli's hip hold up?

    The club's biggest deal of the offseason was supposed to be for former Texas Ranger Mike Napoli. The catcher signed on for a one-year deal last week, but has already raised some eyebrows.

    Napoli's physical revealed avascular necrosis in his hip, the same condition that ended Bo Jackson's career.

    Upon diagnosis, the Sox took two years off the original deal, also stating their intent to play Napoli at first instead of catcher, a move that will undoubtedly put less pressure on his lower body.

    But if Napoli can stay healthy, his Fenway-tailored swing could be just what the Sox ordered.

    Has Big Papi still got it?

    At 37, David Ortiz is the only remaining player on the Red Sox roster with a 2004 World Series ring and for the last several years, people have been waiting for Big Papi to fizzle out, as all great players do with age.

    He played in just 90 games last year, missing most of the second half of the season with an Achilles injury, the greatest amount of time he's ever missed in his 10 seasons in Boston.

    However, he still put up the big numbers, batting .318 with 23 homers and 60 RBIs.

    If Big Papi avoids the DL, there's no reason to believe the star slugger won't continue to produce at the plate.