2014 Red Sox preview: Will the champs recreate their magical '13 campaign?
BOSTON RED SOX
Offense: The Red Sox featured one of baseball’s most productive offenses in 2013. Their success can be attributed to their overall approach, which emphasizes plate discipline and driving up pitch counts. The offense will lose some dynamism with Ellsbury no longer hitting atop the order and in center field, but the Red Sox still have the horses to make life difficult for opposing pitchers. Re-signing Mike Napoli was huge, as he provides solid right-handed protection for David Ortiz. Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks could give the Red Sox a powerful left side of the infield as well.
Rotation: The Red Sox are in an enviable position of having tremendous starting pitching depth. Boston is returning the same rotation — Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront — that it used at the tail end of last season. Capuano, who signed a one-year contract, will begin the season in the bullpen but serve as Boston’s sixth starter when necessary now that Dempster announced he won’t pitch in 2014. The Red Sox also have a host of young, up-and-coming hurlers in Brandon Workman, Drake Britton, Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo and Henry Owens. Any of them could take the ball in a starting role this season if the situation calls for it.
Bullpen: Koji Uehara had an historic season last year. It’s unreasonable to expect the same level of production, especially since he’s turning 39 and coming off a career-high workload, but Uehara should continue to stabilize the ninth inning. Mujica, Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa, Andrew Miller, Badenhop and Workman comprise a formidable bridge to Uehara. Manager Farrell has plenty of options — and plenty more waiting in the minors if the Red Sox want to temporarily convert their young starters into relievers.
Player to watch: Bogaerts is the No. 2 prospect in baseball behind Minnesota’s Byron Buxton, and will play a major role as the everyday shortstop in 2014. Bogaerts, who is considered a future star, already showed off his tremendous poise in last year’s World Series. The sky is the limit.
Why they will win: Depth. The recipe for success is the same as it was a year ago. Boston is extremely deep both offensively and defensively, which allows Farrell to pick his spots, keep guys rested and exploit favorable matchups.
Why they will lose: Losing Ellsbury could hurt more than the Red Sox are anticipating, and there’s a chance Bogaerts (shortstop) and Jackie Bradley Jr. (center field) could endure growing pains at key positions. There’s also the natural World Series hangover, particularly on the pitching side, that comes with a shortened offseason.
Ken Rosenthal's outlook: The Red Sox can’t help but regress, right? The team lost Ellsbury, Saltalamacchia behind the plate and (so far) Drew at short, and its only additions were complementary pieces such as catcher Pierzynski, outfielder Sizemore and reliever Mujica. Beyond that, the rotation may struggle to recover from pitching three postseason rounds, and the Sox are going young at shortstop, third and in center field. Still, I’m bullish on the defending World Series champions. Bogaerts is a superstar-in-waiting, and the Sox possess enough young talent and financial flexibility to address any other holes.