Tonight begins the first Tampa Bay Rays-Boston Red Sox series of the year as the Rays hope to rebound from their rough stretch in recent weeks. To get some perspective on Boston, I talked with Conor Duffy of Bosox Injection about a few of the key storylines surrounding the Red Sox as they welcome the Rays.
Robbie Knopf: The Red Sox have several established players who are off to tough starts, particularly Daniel Nava, A.J. Pierzynski, Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront. Who are you most worried about and why?
Conor Duffy: Of the players that you mentioned, my main concern is with the starting pitchers: Buchholz and Doubront. The Red Sox have a ton of depth in the corner outfield/first base pool and Jonny Gomes and Mike Carp should be able to adequately replace Nava (who was actually optioned to Triple-A a few days ago), and Pierzysnki never really had high expectations anyways. Last season, however, the starting pitching was one of the most pleasant surprises and really carried the Red Sox. They do have plenty of depth there, but that depth is largely comprised of youngsters who are not yet established at the MLB level. If Buchholz and/or Doubront’s struggles extend much past April, then that is a serious concern for the Red Sox going forward.
RK: The Red Sox won the World Series last year, but it is already starting to feel like the playing field in the AL East has been leveled again. There are five talented teams competing for the division title, with the Blue Jays and Orioles primed to rebound, the Yankees retooled, and the Rays a scary team even after their recent injuries. In your mind, is it still “the Red Sox are the best until someone proves they can beat them” or is it really anybody’s game?
CD: I completely agree that the playing field of the AL East has been leveled entering the 2014 season. It’s entirely conceivable that any of the teams in the division could win the division (though I would be a bit surprised to see Toronto win), and while I see the Red Sox as the deepest team with perhaps the lowest floor, I don’t see them as the “best” per se. The Red Sox’ main strength is with their depth and general solid-ness all across the diamond and they lack the star-power of Tampa Bay or even New York. At the beginning of the season, I did pick the Red Sox to win the division, but I could easily see them falling behind the Rays, Yankees, or even Orioles if a few breaks go against the Sox.
RK: Shane Victorino is finally back, but not before we had to see far more of Jackie Bradley Jr. and Grady Sizemore than the Red Sox were hoping for. Here’s one question on each of them: Do you think Bradley can rebound from this tough start to his career? Do you think Grady Sizemore can be a productive major leaguer again?
CD: The results haven’t always been pretty, but it has certainly been interesting to see a fair amount of both Bradley and Sizemore. For Bradley, I absolutely believe that he can recover from this slow start to his career. In the minors, he has been excellent offensively and defensively and has translated his best attributes–excellent center field defense and plate discipline–to the majors. The only issue so far has been making consistent contact and at just 24 years old, I’m confident he can become a solid major leaguer. I’m a bit less confident on Sizemore, however. He got off to a nice start but hasn’t been consistent at the plate and he’s been downright awful in the outfield. He’ll keep getting chances given his history, but I’m not confident he can ever be more than a shell of his former self.
RK: Xander Bogaerts entered the year with high expectations, and the 21 year old shortstop has looked very good so far. What have you seen from him and how critical is he to the Red Sox’ success this season?
CD: So far, I’ve absolutely loved what I’ve seen from Bogaerts. It’s rare that a player so young has so few flaws in his game. He hasn’t shown as much power as we could have hoped for in the early going, but he is currently leading the Red Sox in on-base percentage and has played acceptable defense at a critical position, offering plenty of value even without the power. He isn’t essential to the Red Sox’ success in the same way as Dustin Pedroia or David Ortiz but is more in the boat of someone like Clay Buchholz. One can’t necessarily count on any production from him (given his age and lack of MLB experience), but he could add a huge hope if he lives up to the billing. I’m not sure if he’ll be an integral part of the 2014 team, but he has shown the tools that suggest he will be a great player in just a few years.
Thanks to Conor for answering my questions, and I also talked to Conor about the Rays here. Best of luck to Conor and the Red Sox the next three games, but the Rays hope to come away with a much-needed series victory.