|Notes and Observations Week 15: Patriots Blow Out Dolphins 41-13; Clinch AFC East||Connelly’s Top Ten: Patriots Defense, Special Teams Carry Home Team||Fantasy Football Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em: Week 15||Right Idea? Red Sox Bring in Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Justin Masterson|
As the start of the 2014 Major League Baseball season continues to draw closer, preparations will be kicked up a notch for every team hoping to become the World Series champions. The Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks will kick off the new season with a ground-breaking game on March 22nd in Sydney, Australia, as the first MLB game to be played in the country to further promote baseball and its marketing qualities across the world.
The Boston Red Sox will be the team to beat, as the current champions look to continue the imperious quality and form that saw them dominate the 2013 season on their way to lifting the Commissioner’s Trophy. Their eighth title came amidst considerable heartache and pain caused by the Boston Marathon bombings, which brought the baseball organization closer to the city and its people. It was this spirit and unity through numerous iconic gestures, in addition to the quality of baseball played throughout the season, that were instrumental in John Farrell leading his team to glory. 2014 is set to be as competitive and exciting as ever, with gamblers being able to make their own predictions on Major League Baseball as the Red Sox bid to defend the title and beat everyone who stands in their way.
Reasons to be optimistic
Considerable success enjoyed throughout the 2013 season can provide the foundations for another excellent campaign as confidence breezes throughout the team. Winning 97 games is testament to an organization packed with quality within every department, and has the added advantage of having a number of top prospects waiting in the wings to make an impact. Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts have considerable shoes to fill in the shape of Jacoby Ellsbury and Stephen Drew respectively, but both are blessed with considerable qualities at such a young age that could make the Boston Red Sox even better than they were in 2013.
Any team with David Ortiz in its ranks is likely to stand a chance of reaching the World Series, with ‘Big Papi’ proving a formidable opponent for every pitcher in Major League Baseball. He joins Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jake Peavy, Felix Doubront and Clay Buchholz in being key players within a rotation that effectively works for the Red Sox and continues to put strong numbers of runs on the board. Their offensive strength is combined with an impressive bullpen, particularly through Koji Uehara, who hit a purple streak that ran throughout the latter stages of the regular season and entire post-season as he was simply unhittable. Although age is against him as he turns 39 after Opening Day, Uehara can once again play a part in keeping it tight as a closer to ensure the Red Sox see games out efficiently, with Lester being instrumental in blowing the opposition away early.
Reasons to be fearful
The nightmare of 2012 continues to loom large over the Boston Red Sox, with a season consisting of 93 losses illustrating a complete capitulation that was prominent on and off the field. The Red Sox 2012 season perfectly demonstrates how a spate of injuries to key players and mismanagement can destroy an entire organization and leave them in disarray. Losing Ellsbury to the New York Yankees could be a blow to the Red Sox offense, with the center fielder recording an MLB best 52 stolen bases in 2013 which was instrumental to the team’s success. Although turning 30 may signal the end of his running days, Ellsbury’s absence leaves a void in the Red Sox arsenal that places a lot of dependence and expectation on young protégés Bradley Jr. and Bogaerts to produce a similar number of stolen bases.
The Red Sox will also face fierce competition from the rest of the field, and are not even considered amongst the favorites to win the World Series in bookmakers’ eyes. The unpredictable qualities of baseball can result in any team securing a post-season spot, but the increasing strength of other World Series candidates means the Red Sox may face an uphill challenge to replicate their success of 2013. The Los Angeles Dodgers, Detroit Tigers and Washington Nationals have rosters packed with quality at every position, with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Oakland Athletics having talented players that have the potential to catapult their teams into World Series contention, too.