After a forgettable first-to-worst season in 2014, the Red Sox are looking to bounce back for the second time in three years. After finishing with the highest slugging percentage in 2013, the Red Sox finished 14th in the 15-team American League in that same category. Quite simply, the bats that came alive the year before were largely quiet either due to injury (Pedroia, Napoli, Victorino) or were downright unproductive for large parts of the season (Boagerts, Nava, Gomes).
The Red Sox front office led by GM Ben Cherington wasted no time in building a revamped batting lineup, adding power-hitters, switch-hitting third baseman Pablo Sandoval and shortstop-turned left fielder Hanley Ramirez. Suffice it to say, much needed pop has been restored to the Boston lineup but question marks still remain about pitching, catching, and crucially the important role of closing. Here we take a look at what to expect from the Red Sox in 2015.
The Red Sox batting lineup looks ominous and as Clay Buchholz pointed out recently, it’s reminiscent of the lineup of the 2007 Red Sox. Mookie Betts has had a phenomenal Spring Training and has almost secured the lead off spot. Dustin Pedroia finally has his old self back after having to play with injuries the past couple of seasons. Big Papi, Ramirez, Sandoval, and the fit-again Mike Napoli look set to make up 3, 4, 5, and 6. There is some real power there and you can expect to see quite a few balls flying over the Green Monster.
The much talked-about logjam in the outfield means that two-time World Series Champion Shane Victorino, RBI-machine Allen Craig, Daniel Nava, and Cuban sensation Rusney Castillo are fighting for the seventh spot. Xander Bogaerts is expected to be more productive with a more relaxed approach at No. 8, and the catcher is scheduled to bat ninth. Brock Holt had a breakout season last year, and with his versatility in all positions, save for catcher and pitcher, will definitely put him in the mix, particularly when the big bats need a rest.
There is little doubt this Red Sox lineup has all the potential not just to terrorize opposition pitchers but to put on a show on a daily basis for the Fenway faithful!
Having traded away four-fifths of last year’s starting rotation, pitching was always going to be a big question mark. After Jon Lester opted to reunite with former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein in Chicago, the Red Sox built a rotation of five major-league-proven pitchers but sans a true ace.
Clay Buchholz is scheduled to take the mound on the opening day for the Red Sox. While he has shown flashes of being as good as any in the major league, he is coming off a woeful season in which he finished with an ERA of 5.34.
Rick Porcello, acquired from the Tigers, and Joe Kelly are both young pitchers with the potential to have breakout seasons, although the former Cardinal might have to start the season on the DL.
Both Justin Masterson and Wade Miley are former All Stars but not necessarily coming off great seasons.
Thus there is a big question mark on how the pitching will pan out. Not having an ace did not stop the Baltimore Orioles from topping AL East last season, although whether that cost them in the postseason is a matter for another day. Red Sox do have the trading chips to try and make a move for Phillies’ ace Cole Hamels, although that is unlikely to happen before the start of the season. Knuckleballer Steven Wright is expected to start in case of an injury to a starter or come in a long-relief situation. Look out for prospect Matt Barnes, who has had an impressive Spring Training coming in from the bullpen.
Bullpen and Closer
The Red Sox bullpen looks strong with the emergence of lefty Tommy Lane toward the end of last season and the acquisition of Alexi Ogando from the Rangers. Breslow, Tazawa, and Workman are familiar faces looking to make the roster.
The closer situation has been a source of worry since Koji Uehara started having hamstring issues. Should he fail to be ready for opening day, Edward Mujica is expected to slot in that role. Given the number of close games the Red Sox were involved in (and lost) last season, getting Koji healthy and in his prime is essential if the Red Sox are to make a serious bid for the AL East title.
The catching situation seemed set with Ryan Hanigan set to replace David Ross and play backup to Christian Vazquez. That is, till Vazquez went down with an elbow injury and got placed on the 60-day DL, late in Spring Training. The Red Sox are still not ready to throw MLB.com’s top catching prospect, Blake Swihart in the mix. Switch-hitting catcher Sandy Leon was acquired from the Nationals to fill in the role of Vazquez, and while he has a cannon arm like the young Red Sox catcher, offense is not his forte.
It will be intriguing to watch the Red Sox this season. The slugging percentage is very likely to go up and compete with the best in baseball. Pitching remains a mystery though. Will Clay Buchholz emerge as an ace or will Rick Porcello come out of the shadows of Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander? How much will the unfortunate injury to Vazquez come to haunt the Red Sox? April 6 just cannot come any sooner when the Red Sox take on the Phillies for the 2015 season opener.