David Price, Craig Kimbrel, Cason Smith, Chris Young
The Red Sox took a big step into getting back to contending level this year. Last year the big problem in Boston was the pitching. They had no ace, and they had minimal depth in the pen. When Koji Uehara went down for a stint in the summer the pen fell off and they realized they do not have much going on in the back end. Smith may miss the start of the season but is a strong back end candidate, and Kimbrel just a year ago was regarded as the hands down best closer in the game. You then add Price to the top of the rotation and all of the sudden you have a team with a lot less holes and that could be a lot more potent moving forward.
Projected Playoff Lineup
- Mookie Betts
- Dustin Pedroia
- Xander Bogaerts
- David Ortiz
- Hanley Ramirez
- Pablo Sandoval
- Brock Holt/Rusney Castillo
- Blake Swihart
- Jackie Bradley Jr./ Chris Young
How Betts and Bogaerts progress will determine how far the Sox go. Both are only in their second full season, and both are only 23 years old, but they have extremely high expectations after strong seasons last year. Neither strikes out a lot, and both have high OBP. Betts only struck out 12% of the time and has a strong hard hit rate. With a guy like Pedroia behind him it is hard to pitch around Betts at the top, and could easily post a 20 home run, 20 steal season from the top spot. Bogaerts was able to hit .320 last year, and while he had an unusually high BABIP that could lead to regression, he has the speed to run out the balls he puts in play, and as he gets older an increase in power should be substituted for his high ability to get on base. With the top three having no problems putting the ball in play it should only be tougher for pitchers to deal with Ortiz, Sandoval, and Ramirez. They represent the aging veteran portion of the lineup, and while Ortiz has major power, he is now 40 and playing in a farewell tour season. They have strong defense, especially in the outfield, and if Sandoval and Ramirez can hold down their spots in the lineup you are looking at a strong, complete lineup with a lot of versatility and little holes.
To add Price was so important. Price has been known for coming up short in the playoffs, but he makes a big statement for this particular rotation, and takes a rotation that was struggling to find quality and pushes everyone down a peg, making expectations more realistic. Buchholz proved last year that he could bounce back from his decline in velocity. His ERA dropped from 5.34 to 3.26 last year, and his K/9 jumped from 6.9 to 8.5. He was the de facto ace last year, and now that he can be looked at as the clear number two guy he should be able to put in similar numbers without the expectation to be better. Kelly and Porcello were both disappointing last year, but at the same time both were dealing with the pressure of being acquired to be the ace of the team. Porcello has always been better as a 4 or 5 starter, and Kelly has usually been the same. Rodriguez is injured and will start the season on the DL. However, he should be back before May, and with that will easily take over a spot in the rotation. Rodriguez came on hot last year, and finished with a 3.8 ERA in 21 starts. He is only 23, and has the stuff to maintain that 3.8 and possibly increase it as he grows into himself. If he can hold down a 3 spot, and the back end can be sealed up with Kelly and Porcello you are looking at a rotation that is almost flipped upside down from this time a year ago.
The pen as mentioned got a strong renovation. When they get Smith back the back end should be as strong as any in the league. They have some names in their middle to long relief, and while that may be the biggest current hole on the team, it should be one of the easier problems to fix.
A lot of people saw the 2015 Red Sox being one that bounces back and wins the World Series. I wasn’t sold last year and pointed to their pitching being the big problem. To go out and address the staff the way they did makes this one of the more scary clubs in the MLB. It is tough to call the worst to first year for the Sox, especially with an out of shape Sandoval, a clubhouse problem in Ramirez, and the aging Ortiz, but in the name of winning, those three have put their problems behind and produced in the past. If they get the most from their youth and aging players they should be World Series contenders. For the moment they are division contenders.
2nd in the AL East