In 2013, it all just seemed to fall into place with exact precision. When that happens in baseball, there’s very little other teams can do. When it gets rolling, it keeps rolling all the way to a World Series championship.
The Boston Red Sox, under first-year manager John Farrell, won their third World Series championship in the past 10 years. This comes after going 0 for 86 in previous seasons. Not bad.
The target is firmly now on Boston. How will they respond? Can the 2014 pieces once again fall perfectly into place like they did in 2013?
CF Jacoby Ellsbury (Free Agency)SS Stephen Drew (Free Agency)C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Free Agency)
RP Edward Mujica (Free Agency)OF Grady Sizemore (Free Agency)C A.J. Pierzynski (Free Agency)
On paper, there is no doubt that the Sox have taken a step back. Losing superstar outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury will be tough to deal with all season long. Losing shortstop Stephen Drew will also hurt. The telling sign of whether the 2014 Sox will be successful or not will be the progression of their home-grown youngsters.
CF Jackie BradleyRF Shane Victorino2B Dustin PedroiaDH David Ortiz1B Mike NapoliSS Xander BogaertsLF Daniel Nava3B Will MiddlebrooksC A.J. PierzynskiBench: OF Jonny Gomes, OF Grady Sizemore, C David Ross, IF Jonathan Herrera
In a perfect world, the Sox would love to see promising youngster Jackie Bradley assume the center-field position and lead-off spot. Ellsbury’s departure not only creates a hole in the outfield, but at the top of the order as well. The back-up plan for the lead-off spot will be Victorino. Bradley has blazing speed and is already a great defensive center-fielder. The major question for the 22-year-old will be consistency at the plate. He’s shown flashes, but the Sox will need that production in 2014.
The middle of the lineup still boasts two of the top power hitters in the American League in David Ortiz and Mike Napoli. At 38 years of age, Ortiz is still putting up prime numbers. In 2013 he slammed 30 home runs and 103 runs batted in. Putting up remarkable power numbers while still hitting .309, notes ESPN.com.
Projected Pitching Staff:SP Jon Lester (L)SP John Lackey (R)SP Clay Buchholz (R)SP Jake Peavy (R)SP Felix Doubront (L)LR Chris Capuano (L)MR Andrew Miller (L), Burke Badenhop (R), Craig Breslow (L)SU Junichi Tazawa (R), Edward Mujica (R)CP Koji Uehara (R)
One of those key pieces falling into place in 2013 was starting pitcher John Lackey regaining his pre-2012 form. He was a complete failure of a signing in 2012 for the Sox, after they awarded him with a mega-deal in the off-season. Fast forward to 2013, with new Manager John Farrell at the helm (formerly a pitching coach with the Red Sox), and Lackey lost the pounds and turned into the stud they envisioned he’d be. With Lackey, alongside Jon Lester, the Sox will still have that great one-two punch in 2014.
The bullpen is where the question marks emerge. The offseason seemed to improve the cause with the signing of solid middle reliever Edward Mujica, but as every baseball fan knows, baseball bullpens are wildly inconsistent from year to year.
Will Koji Uehara duplicate his amazing 2013 season?
One of the more stunning stories from all of baseball in 2013 was the excellent production the Sox received from their entire pitching staff. Call it magic if you’d like, but new Manager John Farrell is the likely X-factor to why this was the case.
One of those guys that stunned was Koji Uehara, as he assumed the closer position early in the season, and was dominant through the playoffs. The 38-year old Uehara who failed in two organizations prior to Boston, finished 2013 with 21 saves, 101 strikeouts and a 1.09 earned run average, according to CBS Sports.
Can the youngsters step up in 2014?
The new trend in Major League Baseball is building from within. The Red Sox organization have been looked upon as one of the better models in this regard. With key departures (Ellsbury and Drew), certain youngsters like 3B Will Middlebrooks, SS Xander Bogaerts and CF Jackie Bradley will be thrust into the spotlight.
Bogaerts was key part to Boston’s run in 2013. Now he’s moving over to his natural position of short-stop, as Middlebrooks returns to the everyday lineup. Middlebrooks impressed greatly in 2012 once called up (15 HR’s, .288 BA in 75 games), but in 2013 took a step back and saw himself as a bench player during the playoffs.
Bostonians are still in heaven. After 86 years of heart ache, they now sit at the top of the baseball world (3 titles in 10 years). If manager John Farrell hits all the right buttons two years in a row, they might just plant a statue of him outside of Fenway Park.