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Right Garment, Wrong Color: A Boston Red Sox Preview

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A look ahead at the defending world champs.

"Yeah, Bobby Valentine really wasn't good at this."
"Yeah, Bobby Valentine really wasn't good at this."
Jamie Squire

Offense: Grady Sizemore - LF, Dustin Pedroia - 2B, David Ortiz - DH, Mike Napoli - 1B, Daniel Nava - RF, Xander Bogaerts - SS, A.J. Pierzynski - C, Jonathan Herrera - 3B, Jackie Bradley - CF

You're reading that right. Old nemesis Grady Sizemore is back in action after not playing in either of the past two seasons due to back and knee problems. So far, he's looked excellent. His power and on-base ability look to be back in full force, which makes some sense given that he's still only 31 years old and was a premium talent when healthy in his Cleveland days. He's been pretty important for the Red Sox because Shane Victorino has yet to play in a game this season due to a hamstring injury.

Diminutive Dustin Pedroia has a couple of official nicknames. The first is "Laser Show", attributable to a quote shown here, but supposedly he didn't like that one and proposed a change to The Muddy Chicken. Pedroia's power has been declining over the course of the past few seasons and he's off to a rough start, but he remains one of the best second basemen in baseball due to his great defense and on-base ability. He was held out of Sunday's game due to a wrist injury and flew back to Boston to have it examined. There's a chance we won't see him in this series.

Last season, the ageless David Ortiz hit like he used to 10 years ago. Ortiz has been pretty reliable for 30 homers and a .300/.400/.500 line in recent seasons. As has been the case for quite some time, it's perfectly reasonable to predict that this will be the year that the wheels completely come off and Ortiz finally starts to play like most people with his age and skill set, but Big Papi has kept his Indian summer going four years strong now. If last year's World Series is any indication, he will not go quietly into the night. He will not vanish without a fight.

If you were asked whether Adam Dunn or Mike Napoli had a higher strikeout rate last year, you'd probably answer incorrectly if not for the suspicion over why the question was being asked in the first place. Napoli offset his career high 32.4% strikeout rate by hitting lots of line drives, and the result was a pretty productive 2013 campaign. It's worth noting that he hit just .227 in 2012, so there's concern that he won't repeat last season's success if he keeps selling out for hard contact.

Daniel Nava is a pure platoon outfielder, and that'll work out just fine in Boston so long as Jonny Gomes is around to fill in to handle opposing lefties. Nava enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2013, hitting .322/.411/.484 against right-handed pitching. Gomes, meanwhile, has hit .277/.377/.502 for his career against portsiders. Together, they function as one very productive outfielder. This is definitely one of the best platoon situations in baseball.

It's not often that a guy with just 50 regular season plate appearances winds up with the lion's share of playing time in the World Series, but that's exactly what happened for Xander Bogaerts last year. In addition to his World Series ring and his .296/.412/.481 postseason batting line, the 21 year-old is the second-best prospect in all of baseball according to Baseball America. Bogaerts has a great chance to be something special, especially if he stays at shortstop.

The dull and mild-mannered A.J. Pierzynski is the next man up in Boston's youth movement at catcher. A.J. still has his good contact skills, aggressive approach, and modest power intact. He hasn't played fewer than 125 games in a season since 2001. Even though he was never a great player, Pierzynski's consistency and durability is especially laudable at a position where those things are rare commodities.

Will Middlebrooks has a strained right calf, so the Red Sox have been rotating Jonathan Herrera and the recently acquired Ryan Roberts at third base. Herrera is a nice bench piece with outstanding contact skills and defensive versatility, but pitchers pound the strike zone mercilessly against him because he has no power. Roberts was released after spring training by the Cubs, a team that couldn't have a lower standard for position players. We'll likely see a lot of both players in this series due to Dustin Pedroia's injury.

Boston was perfectly content to not give Jacoby Ellsbury an absurd sum of money because they had a good prospect in Jackie Bradley ready to take his place. The Red Sox won't see much of a drop-off on defense, but Bradley's first go-round in the majors didn't go all that well, as he struck out in nearly one-third of his plate appearances. The hope is that Bradley will draw enough walks to be a good on-base threat and show some modest power.

Bench: David Ross - C, Jonny Gomes - OF, Ryan Roberts - INF, Mike Carp - OF

Pitching: Rotation: Jon Lester - LHP, Clay Buchholz - RHP, John Lackey - RHP, Jake Peavy - RHP, Felix Doubront - LHP; Closer: Koji Uehara - RHP

It's hard to root against Jon Lester. The guy's a cancer survivor that spends his spare time and money supporting cancer research. He even had his own wine label released called CabernAce, with proceeds being used to raise money for the cause. On the baseball field, Lester is coming off another fine season capped by a great showing in the playoffs. He's topped 31 starts each of the last 6 years and is a great bet to throw another full season of above-average innings, even if he's no longer the bona fide ace he was late in the last decade.

Clay Buchholz partnered with Lester's cancer research efforts and released his own wine label, ChardonClay. Last year, Buchholz threw one of the most impressive half-seasons you'll ever see, notching a 1.74 ERA over 108 innings with a little shoulder bursitis sprinkled in the middle. He's off to a rocky start, but he has a good chance to emerge as the true ace anchoring the Boston rotation in 2014 unless his body decides otherwise.

John Lackey was a nice comeback story in 2013, exhibiting great control and bringing his sinker back to his mix of pitches. The 35 year old showed no decline in velocity from his low-90's fastball after Tommy John surgery. As long as Lackey continues to avoid the base on balls, he'll profile as an above-average starter this year. Old friend Jake Peavy slots in as the fourth starter in the Boston rotation. The Jakemeister got himself back to the postseason last year, but he did not fare very well. He should still be counted on for good control of the strike zone and great command of his profanity repertoire, along with the usual concerns of a fragile body and home runs.

Rounding out the Boston rotation is Felix Doubront, whose pitching talent hasn't shown up in his results to-date on the big stage. That'll happen when you're a starting pitcher that has a walk rate close to four per nine innings. Doubront brings low-mid 90's heat to the table mixed in with a cutter, curveball, and changeup. It's a quality arsenal that comes with a delivery that makes it difficult for hitters to pick up the ball upon release, so there's definitely upside here.

Red Sox closer Koji Uehara had already been a dominant reliever for years before 2013, but last year he dialed it up to absurd levels and put up video game numbers for the Red Sox. Uehara used to fly somewhat under the radar because of his inconsistent health, but you tend to get noticed when you put up a 379 ERA+ while closing for a large-market team. Even at age 39, Uehara is arguably the best reliever the American League has to offer.

Outlook & Prediction: The Red Sox rode good pitching and a great offense to a World Series championship last year. Jacoby Ellsbury is a big loss, however, and the team benefited from better-than-usual health in 2013. The AL East remains the toughest division in baseball and it'll be difficult to match last season's success. Predicted record and finish: 90-72, Second place - AL East