John Farrell will look to guide the Sox through several tough stretches in 2013.
With spring training a mere eight days away, the Boston Red Sox can finally start thinking about 2013 and opening up a new chapter in the franchise’s history.
After the unforgettable (for the wrong reasons) Bobby Valentine era, new manager John Farrell will have the unenviable task of helping the Sox through a “bridge year” as they await the arrival of the “next generation” in Boston.
He will have to weigh giving playing time to younger players, while not sacrificing too much in the short-term, a balance that will prove difficult to strike given the seemingly endless fan and media pressure to win now.
The Red Sox’s 2013 schedule won't be easy, with several streaks against tough opponents spread throughout the year.
Let’s take a look at the five hardest stretches during Boston's upcoming season.
The Red Sox will likely spend much of the season’s opening days and weeks searching for an identity, so for them to begin the season on the road against two tough opponents is probably not the start to the season they had in mind.
The Yankees, while they have undergone some changes to the roster, are nevertheless still the reigning division champs and the team to beat in the 2013 AL East.
The Blue Jays certainly “won” the offseason, acquiring All-Stars Josh Johnson, Mark Buerhle and Jose Reyes from the Marlins, as well as reigning NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets. Especially early on in the season, the Rogers Centre will be restored to its former status as a boisterous, fan-friendly stadium.
For a team searching for themselves, this is not the ideal way to start the season.
Another rough stretch starts with three in the Bronx.
While much of the attention given to the Yankees this offseason has centered on Alex Rodriguez, it has likewise taken much of the attention away from the team and put them under less pressure than any Yankee team in recent memory.
The AL West duo battled for divisional supremacy throughout last season, and the same can be expected this year. By grabbing Josh Hamilton from Texas and giving Mike Trout and Albert Pujols another year of experience in the AL, the Angels may have finally wrested control of the division away from the talented Rangers.
The Rays always give the Sox problems, largely thanks to their excellent pitching staff. It is certainly fair to expect that Tampa Bay's pitchers will have found their groove by this early June series.
These west-coast swings always seem to be a problem for the Sox. Last season the team especially fell flat in the Pacific time zone, as Boston went 4-15 on the road against AL West teams.
While, by this stretch, the Sox will have already played three months and hopefully have found some semblance of an identity, they will still have three difficult opponents to deal with.
The Angels are the prohibitive favorites in the AL West this season, Seattle has strong pitching and the A’s were baseball’s biggest surprise in 2012.
While these might not be the three best teams the Sox face all year, the fact these games are being played just before the All-Star break (when player fatigue is usually pretty high) and on the west coast means that if the Sox go .500 on the trip, it should be deemed a success.
This is probably the hardest stretch of the season for the Red Sox. The Yankees are always tough to play, and the weekend series at Fenway will surely add the extra distraction of national television to these already draining battles.
The intrigue really beefs up after that when, after a likely Sunday night game against New York, Boston will have to travel to San Francisco for a three-game set with the defending World Series champs.
As if the Giants’ pitchers weren’t enough, the Sox will then have to deal with the much-talked about Los Angeles Dodgers.
Distractions will abound when Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and possibly Josh Beckett face their former team. Add in the prospect of facing Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke or both, and these two west-coast series could see the Sox facing three or four of the best pitchers they see all season.
Games: Four at Yankees, three at Rays, three vs. Yankees
All but six of the Red Sox’s September games are against AL East foes, and if they have any playoff aspirations, they will need to do well in this particularly rough stretch.
Until someone can prove otherwise, the Yankees will always be the benchmark for sustained success within the division. No matter how they struggle during the season, the Bronx Bombers are seemingly always at the top of the standings come September.
As the saying goes, “to be the man, you’ve gotta beat the man.”
The Rays represent perhaps the biggest threat to the Yankees. While their offense took a hit when they lost B.J. Upton to the Braves, a healthy Evan Longoria and their pitching staff means that Tampa will always be in contention.
Even if the Yankees have fallen back, the Sox will surely still need to contend with the Rays if they want any shot at the Wild-Card playoff.