One elusive victory away from the playoffs in 2011. A last place finish in 2012. Unlikely World Series Champions in 2013. Last place in the division (again) in 2014. For the past four years, the Red Sox have been more inconsistent than Jon Lester’s pickoff “throws” to first base.
The front office seems to be trying its hand at a variety of approaches to building a roster. Some big-ticket veteran contracts here, some prospects there, and voila! The latest edition of a team that changes mantras on a yearly basis.
As a Red Sox fan, I still prefer three terrible seasons and a championship over four seasons of steady mediocrity. Give me the ring and the memories – they’ll hold me over during the brutal seasons in between. But what can we expect from the 2015 Sox? Will we have another wild run through October, or a season that loses meaning by late August?
The 2015 squad is a puzzling one. The lineup has an undeniable feeling of overcompensation, featuring a heavy emphasis on right-handed hitting (as opposed to last season’s very lefty crew) and a glut of outfielders that has buried last year’s Spring Training darling Jackie Bradley Jr so far down the roster that he may never leave the state of Rhode Island again.
The team invested heavily in offensive power, adding Hanley Ramirez and Pabol Sandoval to a lineup that features an ageless David Ortiz, the ever-scrappy Dustin Pedroia, and in Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts, two young studs who look to be on the verge of breaking out.
But this past offseason, just when the Sox seemed primed to top it all off by bringing in a new ace through trade or free agency, General Manager Ben Cherington and company decided to stick to a rotation of mid-tier starters.
Can this strategy work? Will the Sox be able to ride a potent lineup (and a weak division) to the postseason? And once there, could a team so dependent on offense stand a chance despite the old adage, “pitching wins championships?”
The 2015 Red Sox have a shot – albeit a long one – at achieving greatness. If they can make it to the playoffs, this team is capable of ripping off 11 wins over any opponent.
Flush with sluggers and high-average hitters, the Red Sox should be among the league leaders in runs scored all season. A deep bench featuring Allen Craig and the versatile and much-beloved Daniel Nava and Brock Holt in addition to a farm system filled with major league-ready talent and promising youngsters like Rusney Castillo, Blake Swihart, and even the aforementioned Bradley Jr, means that Boston is in a position to withstand injuries and compete for top talent at the trade deadline.
The bullpen, while not outstanding, shouldn’t be a glaring weakness either. If injuries or emergencies do arise, the team can always look to add relievers mid-season, as bullpen arms tend to be the most available commodities on the trade market.
And the starting rotation? It lacks star power and it’s missing a go-to ace. But if Clay Buccholz can reclaim 80% of his 2013 performance, if Joe Kelly can stay healthy enough to give the team 180 innings, if Justin Masterson can build off of the promise he has shown, if Rick Porcello can continue his upward trajectory as one of the American League’s most effective pitchers, and if Wade Miley and a fleet of coveted young arms can hold up the fifth spot in the rotation, the Red Sox should be able to emerge on top of a middling AL East division.
Recent history has shown us that the playoffs are little more than a crapshoot. The San Francisco Giants won the title last year with baseball’s 12th best offense and 10th best pitching staff. The Red Sox won in 2013 with the leagues most potent offense but 14th-ranked pitching. The 2012 champion Giants were the 12th-ranked offense and 7th-ranked pitching staff. And the 2011 St Louis Cardinals? 5th in offense, but just 12th in pitching.
The best teams don’t always win. Champions make it to the playoffs and approach each series one game at a time, one inning at a time, and one at-bat at time.
The 2015 season should be a fun ride, with Ortiz, Sandoval, Ramirez, Pedroia, Bogaerts, and Betts leading a team that should score a ton of runs and provide a lot of laughs along the way. Once they make it to the postseason, they have the ability to win the at-bats, compete in every game, and run away with a series or two. I don’t know where this team will stand a year from now, but in the meantime, I’m willing to jump on for one more unpredictable ride.