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American League Two-a-Days: Boston Red Sox

LiveBall Sports Previews the American League this week.

Team Synopsis: Boston Red Sox

2013 record: 97-65
2013 runs scored: 853
2013 runs against: 656
2013 pythag. record: 100-62

The Red Sox spent all of last season in baseball’s elite class, populated by the Tigers, A’s, Cardinals, and eventually the Dodgers as well.  When the other teams faded in the postseason, Boston stood alone as World Series Champs.

There were losses to free agency, but Boston is more or less the pre-season favorite to repeat.

Who is having a good spring?

C AJ Pierzynski, coming over from Texas in free agency replacing Jarrod Saltalamacchia, is hitting .429 this spring.  His job is to hold the seat warm for Christian Vazquez, hitting .444.  On-base specialist and perennial bubble player Daniel Nava is flexing his muscles with a .684 spring SLG.  Mike Carp is slugging over .750 and working at a new position (third base) this spring.  Of the Boston pitchers, left handers Felix Doubront and Jon Lester have yet to allow a run in nine combined spring innings.  Right-handed journeyman reliever Francisco Cordero is pitching well enough to make the club.  He is a non-roster invite.

Reasons to be optimistic about the 2014 Red Sox

Boston is the most loaded organization in all of professional sports from top to bottom.  The major league teams win, the minor league teams win, and the organization wins on the books; the franchise has never been more profitable.  They are breaking in a new shortstop, top prospect Xander Bogaerts, as last year’s SS, Stephen Drew, remains unsigned.  Some of the top competition, the Yankees and the Orioles, are in decline cycles.

The pitching gets stronger every year with minimal investment.  Ryan Dempster opted for retirement instead of a spot on the Red Sox this year.  He had lost his rotation spot at the end of last season.  This opens the fifth starter role up for either veteran LHP Chris Capuano, RHP Allen Webster a prospect, or RHP Brandon Workman, who did great work out of the bullpen as a rookie.  That’s a lot of options for a strong rotation this year.  The arms coming out of the bullpen are just as impressive.

Boston will once again run out a deep lineup one through nine.

Reasons to be realistic about the 2014 Red Sox

The Red Sox had the best top of the lineup in the AL a year ago with Ellsbury and Shane Victorino at the top, but Ellsbury is a Yankee and Victorino is a year older.  Dustin Pedroia has significant home/road splits — he’s basically been a bottom of the order hitter on the road in his career.  Big Papi is a year older and has always struggled vs. lefties.   As deep as this lineup is, it was better at the top a year ago.

There could be some growing pains with Bogaerts at SS.  He is just 21, and the options behind him if he struggles are unappetizing.  That means Boston will let him work through his struggles if they come.  Same deal in CF with Jackie Bradley Jr. taking over for Ellsbury, although his leash won’t be quite as long.  The 3B job that Bogaerts came up and filled in the playoffs remains an issue.

Papi is in a contract year, so prepare for a full year of talk about his future and Ortiz not exactly doing his part to quiet the commentary.

The Projections

The Fangraphs projected team WAR for the 2014 Red Sox is 45.1, 2nd in the American League.  Their 23.7 Batters WAR projection is 4th in the AL. Their 21.4 Pitchers WAR projection is 2nd in the AL.  Cool Standings projects the 2014 Red Sox to win 89 games, a 8 win decline over last season.  Dustin Pedroia is the Red Sox with the best 2014 projection with an average WAR projection of 4.3.  Jon Lester is the pitcher with the best average projection at 3.9 WAR.

The Yankees vs the rest of the AL East

The AL East is baseball’s strongest division in 2014.  The Rays and Red Sox are top seven teams, in the elite class of baseball teams, and the Yankees and Blue Jays are anticipated to be top-half teams.  The Orioles are probably the best team expected to finish in fifth this season.  The Blue Jays are a longshot contender, but the Red Sox and the Rays are the class of the AL East this year.

LiveBall Sports Projection for the 2014 Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox will get all they can handle from the Rays this year, and might not have enough to hold off Tampa from grabbing the division.  But they are stronger throughout the pitching staff, and at least have the ability to develop a better lineup through guys like Bradley and Bogaerts.

Boston, like Tampa, is a smart organization, and I trust them to get the most out of this roster.  I’ll take them for 93-69, and another trip to the ALCS.

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