MLB Picks: Boston Red Sox Futures Odds and Predictions
by Alan Matthews - 2/14/2014
It used to be a rarity to go from worst one season in your division to first the next. In fact, it never happened in the first 90 years of Major League Baseball. With Boston pulling the trick last year in the American League East, it has now happened 11 times in the past 24 years. The 1991 Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins -- who played in an epic World Series -- were the first two clubs to do so. The shift to three divisions has obviously made it a bit easier. However, only twice has a worst-to-first division winner then won the division two years in a row. I don't happen to think Boston will make it three, either, but then again you don't have to win a division to win a World Series as has been proven often.
The Sox have never repeated as AL East champs is one reason. They last won it in 2007, the year of their last World Series title, and finished two games behind champion Tampa Bay the next year. The Rays beat the Red Sox in the ALCS. The 2004 World Series Boston team was a wild card. This year's AL East should be as deep as ever is the other reason. The Yankees clearly were highly motivated to upgrade this offseason by their archrival's success, and they spent nearly $500 million. New York will be better. Tampa Bay kept David Price and will make one more run with him. The Blue Jays can't possibly have everything go wrong like it did in 2013 when they were preseason AL East favorites. The only team I don't think has a chance is Baltimore with the Orioles' quiet offseason.
The Sox were smart shoppers last offseason. They avoided spending mega-dollars on superstar free agents, something that bit Boston with Carl Crawford (and to an extent John Lackey until last season). Instead the Sox gave fairly reasonable shorter deals to the likes of Ryan Dempster, Stephen Drew, Johnny Gomes, Mike Napoli, David Ross, Shane Victorino and Koji Uehara. All of them were contributors to one extent or another, and they played "hungry." It appears to be the new Boston model of free agency because the Sox haven't signed anyone major this offseason, either. In fact, they have been oddly quiet, losing outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and only adding catcher A.J. Pierzynski, outfielder Grady Sizemore and a couple of relievers (also re-signing Napoli). But Boston now likely possesses the availability to add salary in trade.
Red Sox 2014 Projected Lineup
Boston led the majors by a ton with 853 runs last season as well as being tops in on-base and slugging percentage and No. 2 in batting average. This year's offense doesn't look anywhere near as good. Good luck replacing Ellsbury in the leadoff hole as he hit .298 with a .362 on-base percentage and 52 steals in 134 games. The Sox probably will try a few guys there, but for now it looks like Daniel Nava, who was a huge surprise last season in batting .303 with 66 RBIs. He didn't steal a base, however. Dustin Pedroia could be considered to hit leadoff, but he performs better in other spots. David Ortiz had perhaps the greatest World Series performance ever and was terrific last regular season in leading the team with a.309 average, 30 home runs and 103 RBIs. However, Big Papi is 38 years old, so it's unrealistic to think he can do that again.
Napoli will hit cleanup behind Ortiz. He hit .259 with 23 homers and 92 knocked in last season but couldn't play in the World Series games in St. Louis because Ortiz was at first base. Expect similar numbers from Napoli again. Pierzynski should be able to at worst match what Saltalamacchia did (.273, 14 HRs, 65 RBIs). Then things get interesting. Shane Victorino seems to be trending downward at this point in his career and had some injury problems in 2013. Xander Bogaerts is considered one of the top prospects in baseball and showed signs of that in his limited duty last season, but is he ready to replace Drew as the every-day shortstop? I believe that if the Sox can still get Drew on a reasonable two-year deal he still comes back. Drew isn't finding anything on the open market. In a perfect world Drew plays short and then Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks can platoon at third base or Manager John Farrell can go with the hot hand. Certainly the biggest shoes to fill are Ellsbury's, and Jackie Bradley Jr. will attempt to do that. He hit only .189 in his cup of coffee in the majors last season. That's why the Red Sox took a flier on Sizemore, but he hasn't been good or healthy since 2008.
Red Sox 2014 Projected Rotation & Closer
You can never have enough pitching, and Boston seems to have six starters for its five spots, so that could be where a trade comes from. The locks for the rotation are Jon Lester (a free agent after 2014), Clay Buchholz, John Lackey and Jake Peavy. Dempster and Felix Doubront will battle for No. 5. All four of those first starters have injury problems, so the Sox probably start off with their six starters and see how it goes. Dempster/Doubront can pitch out of relief for a while. Plus, it might not be wise to expect Lackey will give you 189.1 regular-season innings again. Buchholz was limited to 108.1 innings in 2013 -- he was great when out there -- and has visited the DL in each of the past four seasons. Buchholz changed his offseason program on the advice of Dr. James Andrews to rest Buchholz's shoulder. That sounds ominous.
The Red Sox certainly didn't start the 2013 season expecting Uehara to be the team's closer, but through injury and performance he eventually took over and was almost unhittable. He had an ERA of 1.09 and a microscopic WHIP if 0.57 in the regular season and actually was better in the playoffs with seven saves, a 0.66 ERA and 0.51 WHIP. He will be 39 in April, so some sort of step back seems inevitable. The Sox added Edward Mujica as a primary set-up man and potential closing insurance. He had 37 saves last season for St. Louis and was an all-star before fading down the stretch.
Red Sox Futures Odds & 2013 Trends
At Sportsbook.ag, Boston is +550 to win repeat as American League champions (second-favorite with Yankees behind Detroit) and +1200 to take a second straight World Series title. Ortiz is +10000 to lead the major leagues in home runs. Napoli is part of the field at +700. The Sox were 87-50 as favorites last season and 21-20 as underdogs (includes playoffs). Boston was 84-78 on the runline in the regular season and 74-81-7 O/U.
MLB Picks: Boston Red Sox Predictions
Boston opens the season on March 31 at Baltimore, but certainly the game to circle now is the regular-season finale Sept. 28 at Fenway Park against the Yankees as that's now expected to be Derek Jeter's final game. Ticket prices for that series skyrocketed on the Internet right after Jeter's announcement this week. As of Wednesday night the average online ticket price for that last game was $1,153.01, according to ESPN's Darren Rovell.
I see no way this team wins 97 games again, but the flexibility is there to add a big-name player at the deadline (and the Sox might need to in center field). Early MLB season win totals in Las Vegas have this team at 87.5 wins. I could see something like a 90-72 record and a battle for one of those wild-card spots. I would boost Boston a bit if Drew returns.
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