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Opening Day: 2013 Boston Red Sox Preview

Monday, April 01, 2013

 

And so it begins.

The 2013 season for the Boston Red Sox begins today in New York and, for the first time in many years, there are little to no expectations. But are we making a mistake by thinking that this team, which won only 69 games a year ago, has no chance?

Whether you’re a season ticket holder who spends many a summer’s night at Fenway Park, someone who watches the games on TV or listens to the dulcet tones of Dave O’Brien and Joe Castiglione on WEEI (103.7 FM), chances are you care deeply about the Boston Red Sox.

For as disappointing as the 2012 season was, following this franchise has become almost a religious experience in New England throughout the years.

Let’s take a closer look at this year’s club:

Manager:

This is where you will see the biggest change in 2013. Despite the fact that what happened last season wasn’t Bobby Valentine’s fault, he clearly demonstrated that he was not the right fit for this organization. Enter John Farrell.

The former Toronto Blue Jays skipper returns to Boston where he served as pitching coach under Terry Francona and the hope is that he will be able to help the likes of Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz return to their top form.

In addition to helping the pitching staff improve upon last year’s abysmal performance, Farrell has also begun the process of returning the Sox’ clubhouse to normalcy as opposed to the three-ring circus it was last year under Valentine.

While his stint in Toronto (154-170) wasn’t exactly stellar, that experience along with his familiarity with the Red Sox organization, many of the players, the media that covers the team, the fan base and the city of Boston should help him get off to a much smoother start than Valentine.

Pitching:

While you hate to put too much weight on one guy, it’s hard not to say that Jon Lester may hold the key to this team’s success in 2013.

The ace of the staff, Lester has not pitched like an ace since the middle of the 2011 season and the team desperately needs him to if they are to compete in the American League East.

After going 0-3 with an ERA of 8.24 in his final four starts of the 2011 campaign, Lester went 9-14 last season with an ERA of 4.82. Anything resembling those numbers this year and the Sox are cooked!

But Lester has looked like a different man this spring. In 24 innings of work, he allowed just 8 hits while walking 4 and striking out 20. He went 3-0 with a 0.75 ERA and opponents hit a paltry .101 against him. However, as great as those numbers are, they mean nothing unless he can carry that momentum over to the regular season.

Does Lester feel like he has something to prove in 2013? Let’s hope so. Maybe John Farrell’s return will be the key to his turnaround. Or, maybe it was addition by subtraction when the team shipped his buddy Josh Beckett out of town to Los Angeles last season. Whatever the case, the Sox need the big lefthander to lead the rotation.

Behind Lester the Red Sox starting rotation appears to be solid but not spectacular. Clay Buchholz (3-0, 0.79 ERA in Spring Training) will be the team’s second starter with veteran Ryan Dempster (1-2, 3.74) and Felix Doubront (2-2, 3.00) behind him. John Lackey (2-0, 5.40) returns from Tommy John surgery to his pitching elbow to take the fifth spot.

The bullpen has a lot of quality arms but it remains to be seen if the can find two guys to step up as a solid set-up man and closer a la Bard and Papelbon from a couple of years ago.

The plan going into the season has former closer Andrew Bailey being the set-up man with the newly acquired Joel Hanrahan holding down the closer’s role.

The Red Sox cannot expect their starters to consistently log 7 or 8 innings each time out meaning a solid performance by the bullpen in 2013 is imperative.

Line-up:

Two of the team’s nine bats that were expected to be in the line-up on Opening Day won’t be due to injury. DH David Ortiz (heel) and shortstop Stephen Drew (concussion) will start the year on the DL. While Drew’s loss isn’t a significant one from an offensive standpoint, Big Papi’s is. He was expected to be that thumper in the middle of the batting order.

In Ortiz’s absence, players like Dustin Pedroia, Will Middlebrooks, Mike Napoli and even rookie Jackie Bradley will be looked to as run-producers.

On paper, Boston’s line-up doesn’t appear very strong, but we won’t really know until we see it in action for a month or two.

Here is the projected opening day line-up:

1. Jacoby Ellsbury           CF

2. Shane Victorino            RF

3. Dustin Pedroia              2B

4. Mike Napoli                    1B

5. Will Middlebrooks         3B

6. Johnny Gomes             DH

7. Jackie Bradley Jr         LF

8. Jarrod Saltalamacchia C

8. Jose Iglesias                  SS


The most encouraging name for Sox fans in that starting line-up is the presence of Bradley who will start in left field today at Yankee Stadium.

After his stellar spring (.419, 2 HR, 12 RBI), he has become the darling of Red Sox Nation. To the organization’s credit, they have decided to forego sending him to Pawtucket to start the season for financial reasons and have placed him in the starting line-up.

It would have been easy to send him down to the minors for the first 9 games of the year so that they could delay starting his 6-year clock towards free agency for another year, but they didn’t do that.

Conversely, critics of Red Sox ownership might suggest that he is with the big league club to start the season because they are so PR-conscious and want to give fans a reason other than discounted beer and hotdogs to come to Fenway Park.

Both of those viewpoints would be wrong.

Jackie Bradley Jr. earned his spot on the 25-man roster and in the starting line-up. It is nice to see that the organization is doing the right thing by rewarding him with the spot in left field today that he truly deserves.

For as much as John Henry, Larry Lucchino, Tom Werner and company hope to put fannies in the seats by discounting concessions, they are also smart enough to understand that it is winning that will truly bring the fans back to this beloved organization.

The wise guys in Las Vegas see the Sox as a .500 team of slightly below in 2013 projecting their win total (79.5) to be somewhere around 79-80 games. While that seems more than fair given how they performed last season and what they have going into this year, don’t be surprised if it isn’t a little better than that.

Those same wise guys don’t see the American League East as being very strong this season and they may be right. When is the last time that the New York Yankees projected win total (86.5) was this low heading into the season?

The Toronto Blue Jays (86.5) appear to be the most improved team on paper. We shall see if that translates to on the field success.

The Tampa Bay Rays (86) continue to be a factor year after year with their young talent and solid pitching. And last year’s surprise team Baltimore (76.5) isn’t expected to repeat its 2012 performance which saw them make the playoffs.

Playing in a weak division could play right into the Red Sox’ hands.

Also, don’t forget about the extra Wild Card spot available in both leagues. While last year’s American League Wild Card entries (Texas, Baltimore) each won 93 games, the second Wild Card team in the National League (St. Louis) won just 88 games. And it’s possible that 85-87 wins could be enough to get a team into the postseason.

If that is, indeed, the standard, it’s not so far-fetched to imagine Boston competing for a postseason spot despite some of the low expectations heading into 2013.

 


 

 

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