Until last year’s disappointing season, the Boston Red Sox had been one of the perennial powers in baseball in recent years. However, a combination of injuries, clubhouse conflict, and various other factors led to an ultimately sub-par result last season. Amid the struggles last year came drastic changes to the roster, and as a result, 2013 will see a very different version of the Boston Red Sox.
Boston’s projected opening day lineup looks to potentially be one of the better offenses in the league. According to MLBDepthCharts, it will likely look like this:1 CF Jacoby Ellsbury 2 2B Dustin Pedroia 3 DH David Ortiz 4 1B Mike Napoli 5 RF Shane Victorino 6 3B Will Middlebrooks 7 SS Stephen Drew 8 LF Jonny Gomes 9 C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
As a whole, the lineup is great. As far as the outfield goes, Jacoby Ellsbury will be looking to bounceback strong after a 2012 campaign mostly lost due to injury. Though he struggled in 2012, he put up an exceptional 2011 season, batting .321/.376/.552 while playing in 158 games. If 100% healthy, Ellsbury could be a major key to Boston’s success.
Flanking Ellsbury in the outfield will be Shane Victorino and Jonny Gomes. As with Ellsbury, there is uncertainty surrounding these two as well. In Victorino’s case, it’s due to the fact that he will be 32 years old this year. While 32 is not alarmingly old for a major league regular, it is still past prime, especially for a player whose game relies heavily on speed. In Gomes’ case, the uncertainty is how frequently he will play. Gomes is a far better hitter against left handed pitchers than he is against righties, and, as a result, could potentially see a decent portion of his would-be playing time against right handed pitchers delegated to other players. Still, despite the uncertainties, Boston’s outfield is a formidable unit which has the potential to be very good.
As with the outfield, there is a degree of uncertainty as to how particular infielders might perform this year for Boston. Mike Napoli is coming off a hip injury and will, for the most part, be playing first base as opposed to his traditional position at catcher. Will Middlebrooks, though successful in his brief time with the big league club, has only seen half of a full major league season. Finally, Stephen Drew only played in 79 games last year, and only 86 the year before that.
The good news, though, is that despite some cause for concern, there are also many reasons to be optimistic. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia is back and, despite only playing in 141 games last season, managed to post a 4.5 WAR. Also, despite only playing half a season, third baseman Will Middlebrooks posted very impressive numbers in 2012 and has the potential to be one of the better young third basemen in the game. Finally, if Mike Napoli, David Ortiz, and Stephen Drew (all of whom missed significant time in 2012) can stay relatively healthy, the Red Sox’s lineup could potentially threaten the Blue Jays’ for the title of best in the AL East.
The Pitching Staff
The starting rotation is likely to feature some sort of combination of Felix Doubront, John Lackey, Franklin Morales, and Rubby De La Rosa at the back end in addition to frontline starters Jon Lester, Ryan Dempster, and Clay Buchholz. Aside from Dempster, most of the starting pitchers on the Boston Red Sox are coming off sub-par 2012 seasons. The poor performances don’t necessarily appear to be due to a great deal of bad luck, either. Lester and Doubront finished with ERAs worse than their defense-independent numbers (an indicator of poor luck), but not by a particularly large amount. Buchholz, on the other hand, posted poor numbers in both areas. The starting rotation isn’t awful, but it certainly won’t be a strong suit for the 2013 Red Sox.
Boston’s bullpen, on the other hand, should be excellent. Newly acquired pitchers Koji Uehara and Joel Hanrahan are both coming off excellent seasons for their previous teams, and should make for excellent additions to the Boston pen. Returning from last year’s team will be Andrew Miller, Andrew Bailey, Junichi Tazawa, Alfredo Aceves, and Daniel Bard. Tazawa and Miller quietly posted fantastic seasons last year, achieving ERAs of 1.43 and 3.35, respectively. Also, it should be noted that Andrew Bailey should be fully healthy this season, and thus more likely to put up numbers closer to when he was an all-star in Oakland. Overall, the Boston bullpen is very strong, and should help mitigate some of the weakness of the starting rotation.
While Boston may not be the powerhouse this year that it was throughout the previous decade, the team certainly should perform better than it did last year. Don’t be surprised if Boston ends up claiming one of the two wild cards in the American League.