I really hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Boston Red Sox fans may be in for a long, hot summer. Only eight teams in the history of Major League Baseball have ever pulled off the last-to-first turnaround and the Red Sox will not be the ninth.
The Arizona Diamondbacks have the astounding trifecta doing it in 1999, 2007 and 2011. The Sox managed it once, going from ninth to first in the special 1967 season (I hope Yankee fans don’t mind me throwing in that the Bombers finished 10th behind the Red Sox in 1966).
Boston did some housecleaning last season, getting rid of Josh Beckett (who pitched like he purposely didn’t want to be there, Manny Ramirez style), Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kevin Youkilis.
The replacements resemble a sale at Walmart — Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew, Shane Victorino — along with Ryan Dempster and Mike Napoli, who may actually be more in the Macy’s or JCPenney market.
The best move the Red Sox made was ditching manager Bobby Valentine, who may be overdue on that psychological evaluation. John Farrell was wrestled away from Toronto to head up the clubhouse and in Farrell’s last stint with Boston he served as the pitching coach with the 2007 World Series-winning club.
Six of the last eight Red Sox managers led the team to the playoffs but only two did it in their first seasons. That doesn’t mean a hill of beans when you have a lineup that returns a catcher (Jarrod Saltalamacchia) as its leading home-run hitter (25 in 2012).
Under Farrell’s guidance, new pitching coach Juan Nieves will try to straighten out a staff that compiled a 5.19 ERA last year. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz will need to be the leaders with Dempster providing some stability in the rotation. John Lackey will return after sitting out last year with Tommy John surgery. They are also counting on Felix Doubront to put up similar numbers as last season.
The addition of closer Joel Hanrahan from the Pirates settles the back end of the bullpen, moving Andrew Bailey into a setup role. Alfredo Aceves, Andrew Miller, Daniel Bard and Koji Uehara give the Sox a deep pen that may be a little overworked this season.
Napoli, a free-agent signing from Texas, could provide 30 home runs if he’s not on the disabled list nursing an ailing hip. Dustin Pedroia and Will Middlebrooks solidify the infield and the Sox are hoping to see flashes of all-star-caliber shortstop Stephen Drew, whose pesky ankle has kept him on the shelf the past two seasons.
David Ortiz may be battling old age as well as a couple of sore wheels, and how much of an impact he can make remains to be seen. Jacoby Ellsbury looks to be playing in his last season in Boston, and the combination of Gomes and Victorino in the outfield corners doesn’t exactly strike fear into the heart of pitchers.
Jackie Bradley may spark some life into an anemic offense but he could be ticketed to Pawtucket until some of the veteran replacements have worn out their welcome. The pitching should be improved but the offense may not be able to keep them in games.
With the vast improvements made by Toronto and Tampa Bay, the Red Sox may be the odd team out in the AL East playoff hunt. With Baltimore showing that it has arrived, the dog days of summer could be brutal for Boston fans.
Ken Morse is a contributing writer to the Citizen’s News.