By Matt Straub
In the Boston Red Sox’ pattern of good year-bad year, this should be a good one. For that to happen, however, the Red Sox are going to have to answer some serious questions. There are some bright spots to look forward to as well as some problems to worry about. Let’s tackle both with some predictions before Monday’s opener in Philadelphia.
1. No more Koji time
In 2013, Koji Uehara set the all-time relief record for lowest WHIP and became the first pitcher ever with 100 or more strikeouts and 10 or fewer walks during the most dominant single season in relief history. (Of course, Mariano Rivera was better for his career, don’t think I’m saying he’s not the best closer ever, but Koji’s single year was the best ever. No reliever ever put fewer guys on base.) But for as great as the season was, not to mention the start of 2014, Uehara is now an old, broken down pitcher. He will start the year on the DL and, if he comes back to the form with which he ended 2014, will no longer be the team’s closer by the All-Star break. As a Sox fan I hope I’m wrong, but it could be Mujica time in Boston soon.
2. Pedroia will play a full season, but not well
His days as a dominant offensive player are over, but his competitive nature won’t allow him to miss time and the chance to be in a lineup, which should put forth some insane offensive numbers. I’ve written here before about how his best days are behind him, but Dustin Pedroia will be around more this year, and perhaps even more effective than he’s been in a couple of seasons. It’s interesting, however, that I didn’t want him or Koji on my fantasy team this year. There’s a new guard in Boston for sure. It might be his best year in a while, but the young Pedroia is no more.
3. Napoli will hit 30-plus home runs
The illness which ruined his season is gone and he has as much help in the lineup as the Red Sox have had since the glory days of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. He has crushed the ball this spring and seems on the way to a huge year. He’s hitting a little low in the lineup to expect a huge RBI total, but this is one Red Sox player I was thrilled to get on my fantasy roster. He’s going to be the comeback player of the year this season for the Red Sox and perhaps all of baseball.
4. Red Sox will have outfield problems
It sounds insane for a team with so many outfielders they have to start a guy they gave $72 million to in Triple-A, but the “depth” Boston has might not develop as expected. Shane Victorino has done nothing to make anyone believe he’s healthy again and Hanley Ramirez is an injury waiting to happen and won’t play Gold Glove defense. If Mookie Betts struggles at all in his new role as an everyday player, which spring doesn’t emulate, Boston’s starting outfield could quickly become a disaster. Yes there are plenty of bodies ready to fill in, but Boston could end up trying to find three players who stick instead of trying to figure out how to get everyone who deserves time their at-bats as most people think. Daniel Nava, Rusney Castillo and Jackie Bradley Jr. are good extra parts, but they don’t make for a dominant trio in the starting lineup. The good news is I think Betts will be a star.
5. Red Sox won’t make the playoffs
Considering how much money Boston spent in the offseason (oh, I wasn’t supposed to admit that, sorry Mr. Henry), missing the postseason would be a disaster for the Red Sox. But with so many injury risks in the lineup, a starting rotation with one potential ace (Rick Porcello, and he’s probably a good No. 2 on his best day) and a significantly weaker bullpen than in prior years, this team just has too many question marks. Ben Cherington spent his money terribly (Hanley Ramirez was a terrible move and the Red Sox will regret not bringing back Jon Lester) and the Red Sox will be a bust this year. They’ll be good enough to contend for the second wild card, but I don’t believe they’ll get it. If they do get there, their lineup becomes terrifying, but it will be a tough task.