Watch “Band of Bearded Brothers” one more time, then set it aside for a rainy day. The 2014 baseball season is here. Just when you finally learned how to spell Saltalamacchia, they throw Pierzynski at you.
2013 was the most surprising Boston Red Sox season since the Impossible Dream team of 1967. Only the most confident or delusional thought the Red Sox were on the verge of a special season a year ago. The talk around the Red Sox coming out of Spring Training last season didn’t revolve around playoff chances. Instead, we cheered the fact that the Bobby Valentine experiment was over. We expected the team to play hard for new manager John Farrell. Winning the World Series for the third time in 10 years was an unexpected treat. It was an extra scoop of ice cream on a hot day. It was a $20 bill found in the pocket of a pair of jeans you haven’t worn in a while.
Every team starts the season with expectations. In Miami and Houston, fans want to see a little improvement. In New York, Yankees fans want to see their team’s playoff drought end at one year. In Boston, we want a repeat.
The Red Sox haven’t been to back-to-back World Series since 1915 and 1916. Does this team have the talent to snap that streak? Sure, just like in 2005 and 2008. Those teams followed World Series titles with losses in the division and league championship series, respectively. A lot has to go right to win the league again.
Like most good teams, the 2014 Red Sox don’t have a lot of question marks entering this season. Like most baseball teams, the questions surrounding the Red Sox begin with pitching.
Clay Buchholz is a talent, but he started only 16 games last season. In 2012 Buchholz made 29 starts. In 2011 he had 14 starts, and in 2010 Buchholz took the ball 28 times. So maybe, since it’s an even year, he’s due for a season in which he doesn’t spend considerable time on the disabled list.
Buchholz has never thrown 200 innings in a season. He’ll celebrate his 30th birthday in August. Doesn’t Buchholz seem younger than that? Has it really been almost seven years since he threw a no hitter against the Baltimore Orioles?
We’ve been hanging on to Buchholz’s potential for so long we’ve hardly noticed he’s been around so long. At this point, you have to throw out the word potential when describing Buchholz and acknowledge what he is, a pitcher who can be dominant, but might stay healthy every other year.
Is this the year Felix Doubront makes big gains? This will be his third season as a starter. Last season, he only allowed 13 home runs after serving up 24 dingers in 2012. If Doubront can cut down on his walks allowed (71 in each of the past two seasons), he can be a strong arm at the back of the rotation. If he continues to give out more free passes than Six Flags, then he’ll find there are a few guys pitching in Pawtucket itching for a shot in the big leagues.
Offensively, the most intriguing player is center fielder Grady Sizemore. He’s a riddle wrapped in a mystery on a disabled list. When he came up with Cleveland, Sizemore was one of the most gifted players in Major League Baseball. In 2006 and 2007, he didn’t miss a game. In 2008, Sizemore played 157 games and hit 33 home runs, driving in 90 runs and scoring 101.
Then, he got hurt. A lot.
Sizemore hasn’t played in the big leagues since 2011, and that season he only played 71 games. Some guys call two years off retirement. Sizemore calls it rehab, and if he’s healthy after a myriad of injuries, including his knees and back, he can be great. Boston just needs him to be good.
When the season opens in Baltimore on Monday, expectations will certainly be higher than what they were a year ago. When 2013 opened in the Bronx, we hoped for the best. Now, with another World Series trophy making the rounds across New England, we expect it.