Last year’s Boston Red Sox was arguably the most difficult Boston team to watch since the Celtics in 2006-07, before the “big three” arrived. The main difference between the two teams is that one was young and up-and-coming, while the other was a group of underachieving, whiny losers.
The Sox collapsed in 2011 after having a 99.6 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to statistics. They finished the season 6-18, and lost their final game in dramatic fashion.
The year 2012 held much promise for redemption under new coach Bobby Valentine, who was sought to be the hard-ass coach who would whip the team into shape. Instead, he was given no respect off the bat, partly due to comments he made about then third baseman Kevin Youkilis. “I don’t think he’s as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason,” Valentine said. Dustin Pedroia immediately defended Youlkilis, telling reporters, “We don’t do that here; (Valentine will) learn that.”
The team just couldn’t figure it out, and they shipped away the newly acquired Adrian Gonzalez, outfielder Carl Crawford, and veteran pitcher Josh Beckett to the Los Angeles Dodgers in an apparent salary dump. Gonzalez was owed $132 million over six years, while Crawford was $122 million over six years. Beckett had one more year worth $15 million.
The Red Sox finished the season at 69-93, the worst record in the division. They have a lot of question marks entering 2013, with unknown results, so their expectations for the upcoming 2013 season are difficult to estimate.
The first area for concern is undoubtedly starting pitching. The three returning starters for next season combined for a 4.75 ERA, a number that has to go down next season for the Sox. The three of them (Lester, Buchholz, Dubront) will also have to improve on their records. Lester, a supposed ace, went 9-14. Buchholz, who missed chunks of the year with ankle injuries, went 11-8, and Dubront went 11-10. These are well below average numbers, and I don’t see them getting worse. These are my predictions for the Sox’ starting rotation.
If these numbers come into fruition the Sox will sit at a 66-50 record, a total feasible task. That means there are 46 games that are going to be decided by the lineup and the bullpen, the two strongest facets of the Sox. If the Sox win even half of those close, undecided games, they will finish the year 89-73 leaving them with hope for a chance in the playoffs.
Hitting: The Sox were plagued by injury last season, and that was a big factor in their record. They lost almost every single starter to injury at some point in the season. The first man in the lineup is one of the biggest concerns for the Sox next season. In 2011 Ellsbury hit .321AVG/32HR/105RBI/119R/39SB and finished second in MVP voting. In 2012 he missed 88 games, batted a mere .271 and hit only four home runs. Another uncertainty is his contract; he is expected to be a free agent after the season, and could potentially be traded.
Overall, injuries were the only things that hurt the lineup, other than that everyone hit the ball fairly well, at least until the Sox traded their two newly acquired All Stars. Expect Ellsbury to have a slightly lesser season than he did in 2011, but certainly more than 2012 as long as he plays around 140 games.
The BoSox made a couple of nice free-agent signings to address their problems. They signed Shane Victorino, who is declining in his career, but at 32 he’s a lot younger than people think. Not only is he a speedy base stealer, but he is capable of hitting. .300, he plays great defense, and he is a great clubhouse guy. He could make a big impact for the Sox on and off the field. Another free-agent signing is of catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli. Napoli was rumored to have a hip injury that limits his bone movement, and his deal was changed from the original three-year, $39 million to one year, $5 million. It’s a low risk, high reward, and if Napoli can replace the power at first base that Adrian Gonzalez never had, then we’ll be a lot better off with the money. Look for Napoli to torch the green monster.
Bullpen: The Sox have the best bullpen in the league; in fact it’s so deep I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up trading some of them throughout the year. It’s a good problem to have, and now we can finally move Alfredo Aceves to the seventh inning where he can flourish. Aceves struggles as Boston’s closer last year, going 2-10 with a 5.36 ERA. These numbers will surely improve when he’s moved down to a long relief role.
The Red Sox are so deep in the bullpen that if and when one of the Sox starters gets injured, they could easily throw guys like Aceves, Daniel Bard, and Franklin Morales, players who all have started in the past, into the rotation. The Sox also have a healthy Andrew Bailey acquired from Oakland last offseason, who was poised to be the team’s closer until a thumb injury sidelined him for nearly the whole year. Bailey will now pitch in the setup role, prior to newly acquired Joel Hanrahan, who the Sox traded for this offseason. Hanrahan has a great track record, and is known for being a great clubhouse guy, which will hopefully help prevent any dugout drama between any of the players and coaches.
Head Coach: The Sox are on their third manager in the last three years. Francona was a part of the epic collapse; Valentine was never respected by the players, which led to the team’s worst record in 47 years. The Sox traded – yes, traded – for John Farrell, the most recent manager. Farrell coached for the Red Sox during their World Series titles. Not only was Farrell a coach for the Sox, but he was adored by players, and he is a former pitching coach. Farrell will likely be putting the microscope over the pitching staff, and letting the hitters do what they’ve been doing for years.
The Sox certainly aren’t the most talented team in the league, but in a division that any team could truly win, we should be in store for a very tight, competitive season from the Sox and their competitors.