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It’s never easy to try and predict how many games any team will win, especially in baseball, and especially entering a year where the Boston Red Sox find themselves in one of the strongest divisions — on paper, that is. It’s unclear as to how things will really play out, especially with all the players who have moved in and out of the American League East, but here’s my best examination of how these Sox will play in 2013.
I don’t think there’s any question that the Red Sox will have the best offense in the division this year. Toronto has assembled a scary lineup, but it’s unlikely Edwin Encarnacion will repeat the 42 home runs he hit last year, Jose Bautista’s wrist is a concern, and we can’t be sure how Melky Cabrera will fare in his return from being suspended for performance enhancing drugs. Still, they’re a force to be reckoned with the East, and should be the favorite to win the division.
The Sox lineup has question marks all over the place, but they still have more upside than the Blue Jays as well as the older New York Yankees. Shane Victorino and Jacoby Ellsbury will provide speed and occasional power, as Ellsbury attempts to return to being an MVP candidate in the final year of his contract. Will Middlebrooks showed his potential in limited time last season, and I fully expect him to break out with a 25-home run season, perhaps even eventually sliding into the cleanup spot.
Meanwhile, the power of both Mike Napoli and David Ortiz should combine for about 50 home runs–if the two sluggers can play 120 games a piece, which is far from a guarantee given Ortiz’s heel problem and Napoli’s hip. The lineup is capped by Dustin Pedroia, who supplies energy at the top, as well as Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who broke out with 25 home runs last year at the bottom. Salty might not reach those power numbers again, but we’ll take five less bombs for a lower strikeout rate.
The team could also thrive in the bullpen, where they added reliever Koji Uehara and closer Joel Hanrahan. This spring, the team has watched Daniel Bard pitch much better after the disaster of attempting to move him into the rotation last year; if the reliever returns to his role as a dominate late-inning option, the Sox could set up a 7-8-9 of Bard-Bailey-Hanrahan, one of the best trio of relievers in baseball. That doesn’t even include Uehara and Franklin Morales in other middle reliever roles. The team enters this season with one of the deepest bullpens they’ve seen in years.
It’s no secret the Sox lack a deep starting rotation, but the five guys they’re planning on rolling out there aren’t too shabby. Clay Buchholz began to right the ship in the second half of last season, pitching 103.0 innings with a 3.76 ERA. If he keeps that momentum into 2013, Buchholz could begin to peak as he enters what should be the prime of his career at age 28. Meanwhile, team ace Jon Lester lost his way last year, ending the season with a 4.82 ERA, the largest of his seven-year career.
From there the Sox added Ryan Dempster to the rotation, a veteran who turns 36 in early May. His numbers were superb with the Cubs last year, but he was then dealt to the Rangers, with whom he had a 5.09 ERA. Dempster’s impact is projected to be similar to that of John Lackey, who returns from Tommy John surgery. Both pitchers are workhorses who the worst will log innings and win around 10 games.
The Sox will use Felix Doubront at the start of the year in the fifth slot, and there’s limited depth behind him. Alfredo Aceves continues to prove to be more of a headache than anything, but he’s the most likely fill-in sixth starter option should anyone go down. Morales also had several spot starts last year and was extremely successful. And then there is Allen Webster and Rubby de la Rosa, both prospects with upside who are long shots at making the rotation, but could have impacts in 2013.
The rotation is a huge problem for this team because there is no sure thing. We can hope for Lester to bounce back and compete for a Cy Young with the guiding hand of former pitching coach John Farrell back in the fold, but it’s harder to be optimistic about what the other four can give the team. Injuries to this rotation could derail the Red Sox from playoff contention, which isn’t good considering both Lackey and Buchholz have proven to be prone to their fair share of spasms and aggravations.
In a tough American League East, I pencil the Sox in for at least a .500 record this season, but no more than 94 wins. If I had to pinpoint a record, I’d say 84-78, a significant improvement from last year’s 69-93 mark. It’s unclear where 84 wins would place them in the division, likely behind Toronto and probably right in the mix of things with the other three teams, should they all play up to expectations. Regardless, I’d pick Boston to compete for one of the two American League wild cards.
Tags: Alfredo Aceves, Andrew Bailey, Boston Red Sox, Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Felix Doubront, Franklin Morales, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Joel Hanrahan, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Mike Napoli, Ryan Dempster, Will Middlebrooks