While many have predicted fairly miserable records for the 2013 Boston Red Sox, there are actually a lot of things to like about this team as it gears up for the regular season.
While it’s true the Red Sox are in a transitional phase as they look to usher in a younger generation of players and move past the debacles of 2011 and 2012, it’s also true that they have assembled a roster comprised of solid players at all positions rather than superstars at some. Many gaping holes from last season, for now, appear to be filled.
While they likely will not win the AL East, it’s fair to expect the Sox to be competing for the Wild Card playoff well into September.
Everything starts with pitching. The staff was obviously a complete disaster last season, but they have several things in their favor this year that should help them be at worst a league-average unit.
The return of John Farrell should pay dividends for those pitchers used to working with him, namely Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester. Both are excellent pitchers who for various reasons had poor seasons last year, and expecting them to return to their more average level is certainly reasonable.
Ryan Dempster is certainly a question mark as a career National Leaguer, but he also is effective when pitching to contact and will not be asked to be anything beyond a No. 3 or 4 starter. As long as he can get himself into shape, Felix Doubront can expect to build off of the success he had early last season. Anything the Sox get from John Lackey is a bonus, but now that he is over a year out from Tommy John surgery and finally healthy it wouldn’t be a shock if he can at least contribute something this year.
Should any of the starters falter (and they probably will), the mercurial Alfredo Aceves and Franklin Morales have both proven capable of stepping in and filling a slot in the rotation if necessary. The bullpen is exceptionally deep this season, and Farrell should have a number of weapons at his disposal in the late innings between Andrew Bailey, Koji Uehara and new closer Joel Hanrahan.
The offense should be decent enough, again provided that the middle of the order bats stay healthy. A top five of Ellsbury/Pedroia/Ortiz/Napoli/Middlebrooks (in some order) is a very strong group, and the back four of Gomes/Saltalamacchia/Drew/Victorino (in some order) isn’t too shabby either.
This offense has a nice blend of power and speed, as well as an exceptional righty-lefty balance that will give opposing pitchers fits all season.
The competition in the AL East figures to be stiff, with last year’s second-worst team (Toronto) now appearing to be the front-runner for the division title. The Blue Jays have added three outstanding starters in Mark Buerhle, Josh Johnson and R.A. Dickey, not to mention superstar shortstop Jose Reyes.
While they look like they may have reached the end of the line, the Yankees can never be ruled out. The Rays will always be contenders with their incredible young pitching. The upstart Orioles will look to build on their success of last season, although it’s fair to expect them to not win so many one-run games this year (29-9 last season when the average record is about .500).
Expect all five AL East teams to beat up on each other throughout the season. There are no pushovers in this group, which means it would be a big surprise to see more than one team win over 90 games. That 90-plus win team is not going to be the Red Sox.
Health will tell the story of the 2013 Red Sox. They have had a catastrophic string of injuries the last two seasons, many of them the result of simple bad luck. This season, it’s fair to expect that they won’t be scraping by with Triple-A players in key spots throughout the year, and the result should be more wins.
While this team won’t be a juggernaut, it won’t be a loser on the level of 2012. With fan expectations lower than they’ve been in the last 15 years, the pressure is essentially off.
Playing in a more relaxed atmosphere with less to lose, the Sox will thrive. While they won’t make the playoffs, they will grip the city’s attention in September as this plucky $140 million group of upstarts puts forth an endearingly earnest playoff push.
Predicted record: 85-77, 3rd place AL East