Tuesday, March 28, 2017
The Red Sox will open the 2017 season on Monday and the expectations are high for this group.
What exactly should we expect? Are the Sox the best team in the highly competitive AL East, meaning they will win the division? Are they, at the least, a playoff team? According to many experts, the answers are yes.
ESPN projects that Boston will claim the AL East title, winning 93 games, as do USA Today (94 wins) the St. Louis Dispatch (90 wins), Bleacher Report (91 wins) and the Arizona Republic.
The 2016 Red Sox claimed the AL East title by winning 93 games, yet were swept by Cleveland in the ALDS.
The biggest changes to this year’s team are the retirement of David Ortiz and the addition of Chris Sale. While the loss of Ortiz could make the offense weaker, the addition of Sale should make the rotation/defense stronger.
The Red Sox had the best offense in baseball last year, leading the majors in runs, hits, doubles, total bases, RBI, batting average, OBP, slugging and OPS. That’s nearly every single statistical category. Yes, the Red Sox' offense was a juggernaut in 2016.
While Ortiz was a key cog in that prolific machine, he was not the entire offense. In fact, Mookie Betts was runner up for the MVP Award, with nearly identical stats to winner Mike Trout. Ortiz aside, the rest of that high-powered offense returns in 2017, with the addition of first baseman Mitch Moreland.
For what it’s worth, Red Sox’ stats guru Bill James projects Moreland will produce the following numbers this season: 20 homers, 65 RBIs, 52 runs, .246 batting average, .310 on-base percentage, .431 slugging percentage, .741 OPS.
Though he has eclipsed the 20-homer plateau in three of the last four seasons, Moreland is actually a defensive specialist, having won the AL Gold Glove at first base with Texas last season. Any offensive boost he provides the Sox would be a bonus.
Boston will also benefit from a full season of Andrew Benintendi, who played in just 34 games for the Sox last year.
James makes the following projection for Benintendi this season: 38 doubles, 5 triples, 12 home runs, 73 RBI, 87 runs, .290 batting average, .352 OBP, .443 slugging, .794 OPS, 21 steals.
If James is accurate, or even close, with his projections for Moreland and Benintendi, the Red Sox offense should withstand the loss of Ortiz and be highly potent again this year.
Then we get to the Red Sox rotation, which, on paper at least, may be the best in baseball. Boston will feature 2016 Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello and 2012 Cy Young winner, David Price, who will start the season on the disabled list. The addition of Chris Sale likely makes the Red Sox’ front three the most formidable in baseball.
James makes the following projection for Sale: 33 starts, 231 innings, 16-10 record, 3.04 ERA, 195 hits, 24 homers, 47 walks, 259 strikeouts.
Price posted a solid 17-9 record last season, but had a disappointing 3.99 ERA in 35 starts. The lefty led the majors with 230 innings pitched, but also gave up a league-leading 227 hits.
James envisions a bounce-back season for Price in 2017: 33 starts, 16-10 record, 3.22 ERA, 229 innings, 222 strikeouts, 48 walks, 23 homers, 211 hits
It should not be overlooked that both Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz were All Stars last season. What other team has All Stars in both the No. 4 and No. 5 rotation slots? None.
James makes the following projections for the Red Sox' fourth and fifth starters, as well as Eduardo Rodriguez, who will fill in for Price until he is healthy and who could replace another injured starter this season:
Wright: 30 starts, 198 innings, 11-11 record, 3.91 ERA, 152 strikeouts, 70 walks, 20 homers, 195 hits.
Pomeranz: 31 starts, 177 innings, 11-9 record, 3.92 ERA, 170 strikeouts, 67 walks, 21 homers, 163 hits.
Rodriguez: 31 starts, 172 innings, 10-9 record, 3.87 ERA, 148 strikeouts, 53 walks, 20 homers, 171 hits.
As is always the case, health will be the ultimate determinant to the Red Sox success this season. If Price’s elbow continues to be problematic, that would be equally problematic to the Red Sox' ambitions this season.
In the same way, the loss of a player such as Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts or Jackie Bradley could also derail the Sox’ hopes and dreams.
If Boston’s key players remain mostly healthy this season and do not miss significant time, this club is clearly capable of winning the American League Pennant and even the World Series.
One thing is for sure, this team will be fun to watch, and 2017 should be a very exciting and eventful season for the Red Sox.
Let the games begin!