After examining why the Yankees, Rays, Orioles and Blue Jays will all win the division we come to our last stop of this first-part article: the Boston Red Sox.
Two years ago we saw the Red Sox go from worst-to-first on the way to their third World Series title since 2004. A year later and they find themselves in the same position looking to go from last place in the American League East to division champions in 2015.
Boston revamped their lineup, adding two of the best-hitting free agents available in Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. Sandoval helped lead the San Francisco Giants to their third championship in five years in 2014 hitting an outrageous .429 in seven games. With Xander Bogaerts already manning shortstop the Red Sox are hoping Ramirez can make the transition to left field. Though defensively they might not be better, offensively this team has the best lineup in the American League. Led by veteran staples in the Red Sox lineup Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz, this lineup will be much improved over the 2014 team.
Bringing in Ramirez as an outfielder gives manager John Farrell plenty of options out there. Maybe a little too many options as they do not have enough room to carry all the outfielders they have. Mookie Betts has proven to everyone that he deserves to be the everyday center fielder while the Red Sox spent big money on Cuban free agent Rusney Castillo a year ago. That figures to be the outfield, leaving Shane Victorino, Allen Craig, Daniel Nava and Jackie Bradley Jr. either in the minors, as backups or as trade-bait.
Top to bottom this lineup is stacked with power. Mike Napoli returns as the everyday first baseman, and having a guy who can hit 30+ home runs batting sixth or seventh for your team is a scary thought. The only question mark with this lineup is catcher. The plan was for the Red Sox to go into the season with Christian Vazquez as their everyday catcher. Well, Vazquez has been put on the 60-day disabled list with an elbow injury. That leaves catching duties to Ryan Hanigan and Sandy Leon. Top prospect Blake Swihart will not be rushed by the Red Sox organization just because of the injury to Vazquez.
So we know how good this lineup can and probably will be but there are major question marks in the rotation. When the Red Sox traded Jon Lester to the Oakland Athletics they were confident he would return in free agency. Needless to say they were wrong as Lester chose the Chicago Cubs. Now, Clay Buchholz gets the opening day start and is their presumable ace. They acquired Wade Miley, Rick Porcello and Justin Masterson in the offseason and have Joe Kelly left over from a year ago. Porcello had a great year with the Detroit Tigers and the Red Sox hope he will bring that same stuff with him to Boston. Miley and Masterson have struggled the past couple of years but are not that far removed from being above-average major league starters. Boston will need these guys to perform better than they have in the past in order to get back to glory.
Their bullpen also took a hit with the injury to closer Koji Uehara. Uehara injured his right hamstring and is not likely to be ready for opening day. That leaves closing duties to Edward Mujica and Junichi Tazawa. Like the rotation, this bullpen is not going to blow you away.
With that said, this offense will carry them. They scored 634 runs a year ago, good for 11th in the American League. Expect that number to dramatically rise and be near the top of the AL. They are going to rely heavily on their offense but that should not be a problem barring any more injuries. Ramirez and Sandoval give them great depth in the lineup along with Pedroia, Ortiz, Betts and Napoli. Yet again the Red Sox will rise from worst-to-first and take home the American League East title.
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