There’s no doubt that the Red Sox have what it takes to defend their World Series title, but it won’t be easy for them in the stacked AL East. They will be going straight to work in their three-game series in Baltimore.
On paper, the Sox and the Orioles are evenly matched, with Boston having the slight upper hand thanks to Jon Lester’s spring performance and the fact that Baltimore will be playing without Manny Machado, who is starting his season on the DL after knee surgery. But this is the opening series in the AL East, and anything can happen.
Boston comes into the series with stronger pitching than Baltimore. The starters are fairly comparable based on spring numbers, with Lester, John Lackey, and Felix Doubront going against Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Wei-Yin Chen respectively. Lester’s numbers trump everyone’s with a stellar 0.71 ERA with 14 strikeouts and just one earned run in 12.2 innings. But that’s still just 12.2 innings, and even though Tillman let up nine earned runs in 17.1 innings, he definitely has the ability to be lights out. However, the Red Sox rotation is backed by a much better bullpen. They also have the advantage of having a legitimate closer in Koji Uehara, whereas the Orioles have not designated anyone to the job since the departure of Jim Johnson. Tommy Hunter seems to be the most likely closer for the O’s.
As for everywhere else on the field, it’s hard to pick a standout team. The Orioles and the Sox are both great defensive teams, and their biggest weaknesses right now are on the exact same side of the field. Baltimore will miss Machado’s defense, but Boston has to put its faith in a rookie shortstop with Xander Bogaerts and an inconsistent third baseman with Will Middlebrooks. Both are talented enough that the stars could align and everyone could forget that Stephen Drew was ever on the team, but only time will tell.
Offensively, these are two teams who can produce. Both were top five run-scoring teams in the league in 2013. This could easily be a shootout if these teams forget how to effectively stop runs. Chris Davis, the Orioles’ heaviest hitter, is coming off of a ridiculous spring training where he posted a .405 average with four home runs and 13 RBIs in 13 games. Boston powerhouse David Ortiz, however, hit just .054 this spring. But spring also brought some better surprises for the Sox, like Middlebrooks’s .353 average, four home runs, and nine RBIs.
The key for both teams is their balance of veteran leaders and promising younger guys and utility players. The Red Sox may have perfected the art of building a team on chemistry, but they’re far from the only ones who have used that method. Buck Showalter’s Orioles are definitely built on the same principle as the Red Sox. There are a lot of intangibles in this series. No one is measuring how much drive Dustin Pedroia or Adam Jones has, but both players are a factor for that reason. Still, win or lose (but hopefully win), this should definitely be an exciting start to the regular season for the Red Sox.