If the 8-0 Opening Day pasting of the Philadelphia Phillies was any indication, the Boston Red Sox are back. Back to being World Series contenders, as they were in 2013, instead of being a last-place team, as they were last year and in 2012.
Boston looked terrific in Monday’s season opener, blasting five home runs and holding Philadelphia to a mere three hits. Though both teams finished last season with near-identical records, they have very different outlooks for 2015. The rebuilding Phillies are doomed to spend the year in the NL East basement, whereas the new-look Red Sox were just declared odds-on favorites to represent the American League in the World Series. What a difference six months makes.
Without an obvious top dog in the AL this year, the Sox are as good a bet as any. They’re also my pick to win the American League. Here’s why:
1) That lineup is going to mash
After fielding a bottom-five offense in the American League last year, Boston loaded up on bats and now has what projects to be the best lineup in baseball. With offense down across the sport, that just might be a winning strategy. Boston’s star-studded lineup is incredibly deep, as the Sox have an above-average hitter at every position save catcher, which could change when Blake Swihart is promoted. If younger players like Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo break through, then watch out. Boston should score more than enough runs to cover the mistakes of its pedestrian starting rotation. The 2013 squad went all the way behind a dynamite lineup and merely decent pitching, so maybe this team can too.
2) Young talent
An often overlooked component of a winning ballclub is having young assets to absorb the blows of a grueling 162-game schedule. No team survives the regular season intact, which makes organizational depth crucial. Attractive prospects also come in handy when it’s time to make those necessary in-season trades for bullpen depth, an extra bat or a frontline starting pitcher. Boston’s farm system, ranked by Baseball Prospectus as the sixth-best in baseball, has a glut of major league-ready talent waiting in the wings. So not only do the Red Sox have an army of prospects to plug leaks as the season progresses, but they’ll also have plenty of trade chips come July. The only question is: will general manager Ben Cherington be willing to part ways with whoever it takes to land the ace his team so desperately needs?
3) The AL East is theirs for the taking
The Bosox may not look like a World Series team on paper (that starting pitching…), but they still project to be better than the rest of their division. Boston’s rotation looks elite compared to the those of Baltimore and Toronto. Tampa Bay has arms but no offense to speak of. The Yankees are in decline and likely headed for their first losing season since 1992. No wonder FanGraphs gives the Red Sox a 45 percent chance of winning the AL East, far and away the best odds in the division. Boston has a clear road to the postseason, and it’s worth mentioning that the last two times the Sox took their division, they also won the World Series.
It’s far too early to tell if the Red Sox have what it takes to win the pennant, but they’re going to have a real shot at it, and you can take that straight to the bank.