For most of their history, the Red Sox have been known for assembling teams best equipped to take advantage of Fenway’s “cozy confines” and of course the looming presence of the Green Monster in left. Powerful right-handed hitters were at a premium and offense was the centerpiece of most Sox clubs. But times have changed. First, under Theo Epstein and continuing under Ben Cherington, it’s the ability to put together a deep pitching staff first that marks the nature of the team. The pitching staff of the 2014 Sox may be its best in years.
In 2013, it was the consistency of their pitching, augmented by timely, clutch hitting that made the Sox World Champions. The pitching? Just really deep and consistent. Aided by the return to good health of Clay Buchholz and the addition of some new arms to what was already the American League’s best bullpen, the Sox pitching should be the team’s greatest strength this year.
In Jon Lester, John Lackey and Jake Peavy, the Sox have three professionals who’ll keep them in most games. Lester, at only 30, looks to be getting only better. A completely healthy Buchholz, turns the starters into perhaps the second best (behind only the Rays) group in the League. He was 9-0 when he went down last June and he has the best natural stuff on the team. Buchholz ended the year with a 1.74 ERA and has thrown well in Spring Training. Only the lefty Felix Doubront is a question mark among the starters. Still only 25, Doubront filled in for Buchholz admirably in the rotation last year and won 11 games. But he’s struggled in Spring Training and is prone to wildness. Doubront does have terrific stuff, however. If he struggles, look for last year’s surprise Brandon Workman or veteran lefty Chris Capuano to capably take the fifth spot.
It’s the bullpen, though that really sets the Red Sox staff apart. I doubt that anybody not named Uehara could possibly replicate what he did in 2013. Once he assumed the closer’s role, his numbers were other-worldly. But Koji hasn’t allowed a run thus far in Spring Training, and of course he doesn’t walk anybody The two-headed 8th inning monster of Tazawa and Breslow will be back, in a right-handed/left-handed combination that John Farrell used to devastating effect last year. Breslow is assumed to be healthy, although he’s going to start the year in Pawtucket to get in some innings.
Andrew Miller returns from an injured foot, and the big lefty simply is death on left-handed hitters and can be a strike-out machine. I think the Fenway faithful are going to love Burke Badenhop, acquired from the Brewers. His sinker is a notorious killer of earthworms and he throws strikes. Workman and Capueno will initially work out of the pen. Perhaps most importantly, Mike Mujica comes over from the Cardinals. The Cardinal’s closer for 2/3 of the season last year, he had 37 saves until he wore down. It seems to me that he’ll pitch in any high-leverage situation prior to Uehara and he could make for a real difference maker.
As the old saying goes, “good pitching always beats good hitting,” and the 2014 Sox have it.