The Boston Red Sox were winners of just 69 games in 2012, their lowest win total since the 1965 season (not counting the strike-shortened seasons of 1994 and 1981), when they won 62 games.
Injuries, off-field issues and several other factors played into the poor season, but the Red Sox look to be in good position to improve in 2013.
The pitching staff appears healthy, and the team has plenty of young talent ready to take over when their names are called.
However, there's one player on the team that will control the fate of the Red Sox with his on-field performance and off-field conduct. That player is 2008 AL MVP winner Dustin Pedroia.
Pedroia had another fine season in 2012, playing in 141 games and posting a line of .290/.347/.449. He recorded 15 home runs, drove in 65 runs, stole 20 bases and scored 81 runs.
While a great season, it was far from the year he put together in 2008. Just one year after winning the AL Rookie of the Year Award, Pedroia filled the stat sheet.
He recorded a line of .326/.376/.493 with 17 home runs, 83 RBI, 20 stolen bases, 118 runs scored, 213 hits and 54 doubles. He was a first time All-Star, first time Gold Glove winner and first time Silver Slugger winner to top it all off.
While it's unfair to expect anybody to put up those numbers on a consistent basis, Pedroia needs to do his best to come close in 2013. Coming off a season where his team failed to make noise in the AL East for the first time in recent memory, Pedroia, the team's leader needs to put his best on the field.
And yes, Pedroia is the team's leader at this point in his career. David Ortiz, entering his 10th season with the Red Sox, will play second fiddle in terms of leadership to Pedroia in 2013. No other player on the team has the leadership qualities that Pedroia has.
He plays hard every play of every game and sets a great example for his teammates. Not only that, his on-field numbers reflect how hard he plays. If nothing else, he motivates his teammates by showing them what hard work can do.
The success of the 2013 season for Boston will also be up to Pedroia's off-field actions. With all the negative media attention that Boston received last season for various different off-field escapades, it should be Pedroia's job to make sure his teammates are doing the right thing.
Now, there's nothing wrong with having some chicken and a beer, but come on, there's a time and place for everything.
I'm not at all blaming Boston's dietary choices for the 69-win season they posted in 2013, but off-field distractions have to be at a minimal this season.
There's a new culture now in Boston. Bobby Valentine has been replaced by John Farrell, and Ben Cherington is entering his second season replacing Theo Epstein.
With that new culture, the Red Sox should be striving to rid themselves of previous flaws. As the team's leader, Pedroia needs to orchestrate that transition.
I expect a big season from the small second baseman in 2013, both in terms of on-field production and his ability to lead the team off the diamond.
Look for the Red Sox to make huge strides in 2013, but only if Pedroia can shoulder the load.
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