BOSTON (CBS) — As the Red Sox prepare to kick off their 2015 season in Philadelphia, here are five keys to a successful campaign.
1. Health, Health, Health
When it comes to making the playoffs and winning championships we’ve all seen how important it is to be healthy. Injuries can destroy any team and the Sox are no different. Will these injuries happen? Of course. But, they can’t be killers.
Out of the chute, closer Koji Uehara’s hamstring is a major concern as we watch John Farrell try to match up relievers like Edward Mujica, Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa, Tommy Layne and Alexi Ogando in order to get the job done. Ben Cherington let Jonathan Papelbon go a few years ago, confident that he could find a closer with what the Sox had. They did, but not without a few hiccups along the way. And any Fantasy baseball owner knows that there are very few elite closers in the game.
There will be other injuries to deal with too, which is why Cherington has held on to his outfield depth. Sending Rusney Castillo down to Pawtucket wasn’t the best solution for this team, as it appears Castillo is destined for stardom. However, the Sox will look to ride Victorino’s health, intensity, and ability to play right field and play in Boston as long as they can. A healthy Victorino is a difference-maker and tone-setter.
Meanwhile, the hope is Dustin Pedroia is finally healthy and capable of playing at his elite level. Don’t make the mistake of doubting him — and he’s the first to tell you that. But that “every day” attitude is huge.
Boston’s leader in the lineup, David Ortiz, is now 39. It’s the first thing he said when he walked into camp. That means he’s using that as motivation for 2015. My only worry with Ortiz being able to put up another 30 HR-100 RBI season is his ability to stay away from hamstring/groin/calf/oblique pulls, etc.
But if health holds up (to a normal degree), these Sox should be a dangerous team all season — and postseason — long.
2. Pitchers Need To Eat
Cherington and Farrell looked at what the 2014 Red Sox were after the departures of Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Jake Peavy, and besides losing at least one ace (Lackey has the credentials too), the Sox lost innings. So, instead of having the inconsistent and unreliable arm of Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, etc, they went out and picked up Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, and Justin Masterson to help out Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly.
All five starters are between 26-30 years old and in their prime. Cherington said at the Winter Meetings that if you look at the guys who were the “aces” in postseason play for the last twenty years or so, they were all under 30; Bumgarner, Lester, Lackey, Lincecum, Hamels, Beckett, and so on.
As for the Sox rotation, Porcello made 32 starts and 200 innings last season. Miley had 33 starts and 200 innings. From 2010-13 Masterson averaged 33 starts and 200 innings while Buchholz has averaged 28 starts and 170-plus innings in three of the past five seasons.
Are there question marks? Absolutely, especially as Buchholz tries to step into that lead role on the staff. He has to finally do it. Joe Kelly is also a big question mark, as the most innings he’s thrown in the last several years was 189 in 2012 and that was between the majors/minors with Cards.
I do like that these guys have all pitched(and pitched effectively) on the big league level. I also like that Cherington built a smaller bridge to these young arms in the minors as the likes of Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez, Brian Johnson, and Matt Barnes aren’t very far away from contributing, but don’t have to jump in right away to help the club like guys did a season ago.
3. April Can’t Be The Cruelest Month
I don’t know if it’s Boston or just the nature of sports, but this Red Sox team needs to get off to a good start. Sure, there will be many streaks along the way (unless you’re the 2013 Sox), but if you jump out and establish a winning way, it helps.
Take a look at some of the recent Red Sox starts and final record:
2014: 5-9 finished 71-91
2013: 12-4 finished 97-65
2012: 4-10 finished 69-93
2007: 12-5 finished 96-66
2004: 15-6 finished 98-64
4. The Kids Need To Be Alright
We can say all we want about the additions of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval and how professional hitters like those two will help lengthen the Boston line-up. However, the keys will be the kids and how/if they respond.
Mookie Betts is coming in off a torrid spring and hopes to keep that going atop the order. The bottom line with Betts, to me: If he scores 90-plus runs, it will be a good year for the offense.
Meanwhile, Xander Bogaerts will hit down at the bottom of the order. He seems to still be trying to figure out major league pitchers, but if he sticks to his instincts, he’ll be fine.
Rusney Castillo is the wild card. Once he’s back up here, he could be a game-changer.
5. Follow the Leaders
Playing in Boston isn’t easy and a lot of the players seem to be defensive coming in here. The leaders on this team, from Ortiz to Pedroia to Napoli to Victorino to Buchholz to Uehara, need to lead on the field. If that happens, the off-the-field stuff should follow as well.
They will miss guys like Jonny Gomes and Jon Lester, but there should be enough to make up for it. I’m hoping to see Ryan Hanigan take a lead role, especially now that Christian Vazquez is done for the season.
Follow WBZ-TV’s Dan Roche on Twitter @RochieWBZ.