Middlebrooks is only one of many players with early-season questions for the Red Sox.
Hopes are high for the Boston Red Sox as they attempt to bounce back from a disappointing 93-loss campaign last season. Despite the many new faces and optimism this year, there are a litany of reasons why fans should expect a slow start from the team in 2013.
Some of the key moves the Red Sox made this past offseason included hiring John Farrell to be their new manager and signing a number of free agents with productive backgrounds. With the fragrance of change in the air, a tentative optimism has permeated Red Sox Nation.
A major key to redemption for Boston will be getting off to a fast start. However, there’s a good chance the team could disappoint out of the gate due to a number of factors that will be working against them in the first month of the season.
Designated hitter David Ortiz has played in only one major league game since last July due to a partial Achilles tear. He’s still been unable to play this spring and has only just resumed running, making a strong start (or even being ready to play) a difficult proposition for the 37-year-old slugger.
If Ortiz is physically able to play when the season opens, he'll have to overcome his propensity for sluggish starts. He has batted .265 with a home run every 19 at-bats during March/April games in his career, much lower than his .288 average and home run every 15.9 at-bats in all other games.
Closer Joel Hanrahan has a career 5.05 ERA in 50 March/April games, compared to a 3.54 mark in all other months.
New first baseman Mike Napoli may be mashing this spring, but he's no fan of early-season games. He's hit just .232 over his career in the first month of the season, as opposed to .263 the rest of the time.
Right-handed starter Clay Buchholz has a 7-8 record and 5.19 ERA in 19 career March/April starts. In all other months he is 39-24 with a 3.65 ERA.
John Lackey is not only coming off Tommy John surgery that has kept him out since the end of the 2011 season, but he’s also a notoriously slow starter. He has a 4.91 career ERA in March/April compared to 4.00 in other games.
How will the Red Sox do during the first month of the 2013 season?
New right fielder Shane Victorino better hope his experience playing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic gets him in midseason form for the start of the season. He’s just a career .251 hitter in March/April games, but he elevates that to .279 the rest of the way.
Coming off a career-worst season in 2012, staff ace Jon Lester could benefit greatly from a fast start. However, his 7-9 record and 4.22 ERA in 28 career March/April starts make that unlikely, especially when considering he is 78-39 with a 3.68 ERA after the first month.
Young third baseman Will Middlebrooks missed the second half of last season with a broken wrist. Even though he's been declared healthy, he already had a scare earlier this spring, and it remains to be seen if he can regain the form that saw him hit .288 with an .835 OPS in 75 games as a rookie in 2012.
The Red Sox play 27 games during the month of April. If they start off slowly, they'll still have 135 games remaining to turn things around. But, it's never easy to play from behind.
Hopefully, the Red Sox will give their fans something to cheer about from Day 1.
Unfortunately, upon taking a closer look, there's a good possibility that won't happen.
Statistics via Baseball-Reference.com.