Worst to first, Red Sox Nation? You know that’s what you’re thinking. And why not? It worked to perfection before, those five whole defeats in three October 2013 series notwithstanding.
The American League has come back to you, hasn’t it New England? You’re thinking that too. The evidence is right there in black and white (and navy pinstripes).
Tampa Bay has lost widely heralded skipper Joe Maddon, their fine young personnel man Andrew Friedman, jack-of-all-trades switcher Ben Zobrist, ace starter David Price and, at least at the start, rotation mates Drew Smyly and Alex Cobb. Nobody expects the Rays to contend and they’re not going to.
New York is said to be “all-in” on analytics, boasting 14 staffers, including “Scott Benecke, who holds a Ph.D. in applied statistics, three other research analysts, four developers and several interns,” but you wouldn’t know it looking at the 2015 big league roster. Evil Empire? Han Solo negotiating a pitch-and-putt landing is more like it. Joe Girardi has more high-functioning cartilage than Carlos Beltran, Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira between them.
With impotent competition in the Bronx and Tampa, the Sox are practically sitting in the second Wild Card spot before David Ortiz incurs his first fine for stepping too far out of the box after strike one is called.
That’s an exaggeration – kind of – but this club has issues too.
Massachusetts would no doubt prefer an unplanned session of snow shoveling to yet another yeah-but-they-need-an ace argument, so I’ll spare you. Rick Porcello is the Boston ace. The former Tigers’ right-hander, while not Cole Hamels sexy, is a fine young pitcher, who just re-upped for four years and $82.5 million. You could do a lot worse.
Clay Buchholz, for example, if last season is any indication. Even if it isn’t, my intellectual curiosity in watching Buchholz take the ball every fifth day across 162 is right around zero, or about 5.34 less that his 2014 ERA. But since he’s never made 30 starts, while managing only 14-16 in four of his eight full seasons, I’m sure to dodge that bullet. He looked pretty good on Opening Day, but let’s reserve judgment until we see a larger sample size. If we do, that is.
In short: Yes, the Red Sox will miss Jon Lester. Who wouldn’t?
With that in mind, GM Ben Cherington might have snapped up Wade Miley from Arizona at just the right time, emphasis on the “might” part. The Louisiana lefty has three full years in a rotation under his belt (in a difficult park), sports identical lifetime ERA and FIP marks and is consistent in both his innings (at 200 per) and decisions (27, 20 and 20). Hits per nine, walks per nine and home runs all point south, however. Fresh start, better organization, other side of the country; Miley is 28 and might be ready to break out.
Joe Kelly might be primed for success too, though 48 starts and 327 innings in three seasons isn’t much of a track record. Kelly’s 2015 is a flip of a coin. Try that enough times and finish around .500, which wouldn’t be a bad outcome for the guy. Justin Masterson had nice seasons in 2011 and 2013 but I have no idea. Do you?
Fortunately, Fenway’s storeroom has a cache of lumber – DeMarini, Brett Bros., Easton, Louisville Slugger, Marucci, Mizuno, Old Hickory, Rawlings, Sam Bat – and an accomplished hitter for each brand.
Hanley Ramirez is the worst shortstop I’ve ever seen, not that anyone will notice in 2015. Probably. More importantly, $110 million buys you a boatload of rockets off the Green Monster – many of them singles – and plenty well over it. God’s gift or yeoman’s work, I can’t tell you, but man, does Ramirez rake.
Hanley actually does have some experience in left field, by the way, and it did not go well. But look, while neither player ever won a Gold Glove, both Jim Rice and Mike Greenwell developed from much-maligned to better-than-serviceable handlers of the position in Boston. Left is the easiest position on the diamond, and Ramirez won’t cost the Sox a pennant.
And Pablo Sandoval might just win them one. The Panda boasts a .333/.397/.544 line in Championship Series play and a .426/.460/.702 in the World Series, with six homers and 20 RBIs over 167 plate appearances in 10 postseason series, all of them winners for the Giants. Think about that. Sandoval has appeared in 10 playoff series. His teams have won them all. Sandoval’s burning of bridges was unfortunate, but Red Sox fans are going to enjoy watching their new third baseman play.
As the baseball world waits to see what Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo can accomplish full-time, the Boston faithful flashes a knowing grin.
With production approaching the recent season averages of old standbys Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli and David Ortiz, and even league-average contributions from the shortstop and catcher positions, the Red Sox should improve on last year’s millennium-worst 634 runs. By, say, 100 easy.
A trade for a starter (or two) is almost assuredly coming. Someone like Cole Hamels, though not necessarily Cole Hamels. If there is a manager who can pull the pieces together, worst to first, it’s John Farrell. He’s done it before, with glorious results.
Predicted Record: 88-74