With The Regular Season Right Around The Corner, It’s Time To Take A Look At The 2015 Boston Red Sox
Grantland has already predicted that the Red Sox will emerge as the front runners in the AL East this year, similar to their unbelievable run in 2013 after bottoming out the year before. While I won’t bother you with advanced metrics and in depth stats, my opinion is pretty much the same: the Red Sox will be very good this year. There’s something about suffering through one of the worst winters in history that makes you appreciate warm weather, green grass and baseball. This winter was terrible, with accumulated snow falling 10 weeks in a row, but all of that is behind us now. The Boston Red Sox start their 2015 campaign Monday afternoon against the Phillies, and Red Sox fans nationwide are hoping for more 2013 and very little of what we saw last year and in 2012.
Offense: It goes without saying, but the Red Sox upgraded their offense tremendously this offseason. They added Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval at the major league level, and 19 year old phenom Yoan Moncada at the minor league level. Their opening day lineup will feature a variation of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino and Ryan Hanigan (more on him later). Depending on how Farrell aligns his lineup, Victorino and Napoli have the potential to be the best 7-8 combo in the league. Mookie Betts has been on fire this spring, hitting almost .500 over 48 at bats. While scouts, players and fans alike are christening Betts an immediate All Star, I’d rather be cautiously optimistic after watching Boegarts struggle in his first full season in the pro’s. Speaking of Xander, not much has been heard from or about him this spring, which I think is a good thing. Clearly all the pressure and moving positions affected him last year, and I think he will have a nice comeback year now that he’s undoubtedly the team’s starting shortstop. Bogaerts isn’t even 23 yet, and only has 162 big league games under his belt. The future is bright for this one. The rest of the Sox lineup is full of old faithful’s (Pedroia, Victorino, Ortiz, Napoli) who collectively had a down year last year thanks to injuries and the team’s place in the standings, but who also were all apart of that 2013 team that won a championship. They’re all a year older, so I don’t expect monster numbers out of any of them, but if they can produce at a level similar to 2013, especially with the youth infusion of Betts and Bogaerts, then the Red Sox will be a fearsome lineup. The two biggest additions were obviously Sandoval and Ramirez, who combined for 29 home runs and 144 RBI’s last year. They will immediately bolster the middle of the Red Sox order, and no matter what Sandoval produces, he’ll be a welcome upgrade over the disaster at 3B last year for the Sox. The lineup is rounded out by Ryan Hanigan who is thrust into the starting position after the devastating news that Christian Vasquez needs Tommy John Surgery and will be out for the year. While Vasquez isn’t known as a great hitter, his absence will surely be felt on the other side of the diamond.
Defense: In what was pretty much a lost season, the Red Sox actually weren’t that bad defensively. They finshed 10th in the MLB with 92 errors and a .985 fielding percentage. While they upgraded at 3B, the two big question marks for the Sox are in left field and behind the plate. Hanley Ramirez has never played a professional game as a left fielder, but he will start the year out there for the Red Sox. While another Ramirez, who wasn’t known as a great defensive player, conquered the Green Monster, it’s much more likely that Hanley experiences some growing pains. Mookie Betts and Shane Victorino are both above average defensive outfielders, so they will each be able to cover a lot of ground, but eventually Ramirez will have to show his worth defensively. The much bigger hole the Red Sox need to fill will be at catcher, now that Christian Vasquez is lost for the season. Ryan Hanigan is the projected starting catcher, and Sandy Leon was just acquired from the Nationals as his backup. While the Sox have Blake Swihart waiting in the wings, it’s clear the organization is not going to rush him up just to fill a void. Hanigan played 84 games for Tampa Bay last year, and while he may not be a widely known player, Sox GM Ben Cherington explained to the media on Wednesday that with Hanigan, the pitchers come first. That is good news, considering that the Sox lineup is already stacked. If Hanigan can control the pitching staff and be pedestrian throwing out runners, then the Red Sox will be in good shape.
Pitching: The Red Sox season, at least it’s pitching staff, is banking on the right arm of Clay Buchholz. If Buchholz can be his first half of 2013 self, then the Red Sox might be the best team in baseball. If he’s mediocre of worst, the Sox are in trouble. They didn’t re-sign Lester this offseason, and stayed away from acquiring big names and contracts for guys like Hamels and Scherzer, and instead got solid middle of the rotation arms in Porcello, Masterson and Miley. The only problem I see the Sox having is if they make the post season and Buchholz isn’t performing, then they don’t have a clear #1 starter. I really don’t think it’ll be an issue in the regular season, especially with the lineup the Sox are putting out there. If the bullpen can perform and guys like Masterson, Porcello and Miley can consistently give you 6 innings, the Sox will be fine. The starting five will round out with Joe Kelly, who showed flashes of effectiveness last year, and they also have a slew of young arms in the minors headlined by Henry Owens. The Sox are banking on Koji to return to his stellar self and the rest of the bullpen features stalwarts Junichi Tazawa and Craig Breslow as well as newcomers Anthony Varvaro and Alexi Ogando. While the offense is built on flash, the pitching staff is built on substance, as each cog in the pitching machine is asked to do their job while the Sox hopefully put up a lot of runs.
Prediction: The 2015 Red Sox won’t be as bad as last year’s club, but they also won’t be as good as the World Series team in 2013. This team will probably finished somewhere in between, and I think they will win the AL East with a 90-92 win season. Depending on injuries and how the starting pitching holds up, they could be playing well into October. One thing I know for sure is that I’m so glad baseball is finally back.