MLB Preview: Red Sox, Defenders Of The Crown

jonlesterJon Lester’s season is the key to the Red Sox season.

 

by Drew Sarver

Key Acquisitions: A.J. Pierzynski, Grady Sizemore, Edward Mujica, Brian Badenhop

Key Losses: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Stephen Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, Ryan Dempster

 

The 2013 Boston Red Sox proved that with the right mix of players and a manager that is respected by the players (and puts his players first), anything is possible. The 2012 Red Sox team was the polar opposite of last year’s sqyad. Manager Bobby Valentine and his inflated sense of self was a disastrous choice to replace two-time World Series winner Terry Francona. The team was bogged down with bloated contracts for players who were either full of excuses for losing (Adrian Gonzalez), couldn’t stay healthy (Carl Crawford), or were too self-involved (Josh Beckett).

The team’s turnaround began when an infusion of  cash, from new ownership, made the Los Angeles Dodgers all giddy. They took Gonzalez, Crawford, and Beckett off the Red Sox hands, instantly changing the dynamic in Boston’s locker room, and lowered the Red Sox total payroll.

Then came the inevitable ax to Valentine, who basically blamed the players for everything that went wrong in a 69-win season. Former Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell was released from his contract as Toronto’s manager and was hired as Valentine’s replacement. Order was instantly restored to the Red Sox clubhouse. With the additions of Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, Ryan DempsterStephen Drew, Jake Peavy, and Koji Uehera, the team won 97 games and their third World Series title in 10 years.

The 2014 team faces the task of trying to repeat, something the Red Sox have not done since 1915-1916. The team’s lineup is basically the same with the addition of rookie/top prospect Xander Bogaerts  replacing Drew at shortstop and veteran Grady Sizemore  taking over center field with the departure of Jacoby Ellsbury to the rival Yankees. Sizemore, who hasn’t had a Major League at-bat in three years, beat out Jackie Bradley Jr. for the job.

Will Middlebrooks will get the chance for regular at-bats at third base provided he shows more consistency than he did last year. The Texas native has hit 32 home runs in 615 career at-bats so he’s capable of a 25-30 home run-season, if he sticks in the lineup. The team has prided itself on defense and are gambling that the offense provided by Middlebrooks and Bogaerts will offset what may be a rough time in the field for the duo.

With the departure of free agent Jarrod Saltalamacchia, GM Ben Cherington brought in veteran A.J. Pierzynski to get the bulk of at-bats as the starting catcher. The 37-year old still has pop in his bat (37 home runs over the last two seasons), but will need help from the Red Sox pitchers to cut down on the number of stolen bases he normally allows.

The offense, will of course, rely on mainstays David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, as well as Mike Napoli, who was arguably the most clutch hitter in the Red Sox lineup.

LINEUP

C: A.J. Pierzynski
1B: Mike Napoli
2B: Dustin Pedroia
SS: Xander Bogaerts
3B: Will Middlebrooks
LF: Daniel Nava/Jonny Gomes
CF: Grady Sizemore
RF: Shane Victorino
DH: David Ortiz

 

Getting rid of Josh Beckett in 2012 not only freed up money, but took a bad influence away from the team’s younger pitchers. The team now looks to their ace, Jon Lester, and veteran John Lackey, who exceeded expectations last year after he underwent Tommy John surgery and sat out the 2012 season. Joining them in the rotation are Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront, and Jake Peavy.

Buchholz’s health is a major concern. He was phenomenal last year (12-1, 1.74 ERA, 1.025 WHIP), but made just 16 starts due to a neck injury. In 2011, he was limited to 14 appearances with a back injury.  Farrell has to wonder if Buchholz’s body can withstand a 180-plus inning workload, like the one he produced in 2012.

Doubront’s has made 56 starts over the last two seasons, with mixed results.  Doubront will throw a lot of pitches past people, but some of those pitches won’t be near the strike zone. He’s averaged four walks a game the last two years and 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings.

Peavy came over at the trade deadline last year and made 10 regular season starts. Two of his three post-season appearances were a disaster, but he’s a good man to have in the back of your rotation. Should the Red Sox need another starter during the season, they could go with veteran Chris Capuano, or minor league left-hander Henry Owens, who will start the season at Pawtucket.

ROTATION

SP: Jon Lester
SP: John Lackey
SP: Felix Doubront
SP: Clay Buchholz
SP: Jake Peavy

BULLPEN

Koeji Uehara was a Godsend for the Red Sox last year, just as important to the Red Sox as any other player on the roster. After closers Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey went down with season ending injuries, Uehara stepped up and was outstanding in the closer role. He picked up 21 saves and struck out better than 12 batters per nine innings. He was even better in the post-season. In his 13 appearances, Uehara allowed one earned run in 13.2 innings pitched, struck out 16 hitters, and saved seven of the Red Sox 11 post-season wins. The Japanese native will turn 39 the first week of the season, but shows no sign of slowing down.

Holdover Junichi Tazawa and newcomer Edward Mujica, the former Cardinals reliever, will share the set up duties to Uehara. Capuano, Craig Breslow, Burke Badenhop, and Rubby De La Rosa will be among the long relievers and middle men in the pen.

BENCH

Depending on the opposing pitcher, Farrell can flip flop Nava, Gomes, Sizemore, Victorino, and Mike Carp between the outfield and the bench. Nava and Carp will also give Napoli a break now and then at first base.  David Ross will be the back up to Pierzynski at catcher. Jonathan Herrera will likely be the utility infielder, though it woudn’t be surprising to see the Red Sox pick up a veteran castoff prior to the start of the season.

 OUTLOOK

Despite the departures of Ellsbury and Saltalamacchia, and the concern over defense on the left side of the infield, the Red Sox enter the season as the favorites to repeat as the AL East winners.

 

Drew Sarver is the founder, publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes and @d4assignment or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.

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