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Since regular readers of this column know I am a diehard Boston Red Sox fan and since the Red Sox won the World Series last year, you are probably expecting me to pick them to win it again.
Well, read on and you might be surprised.
Yes, the Red Sox have nearly all their key pitchers—starters and relievers—returning.
They lost only Ryan Dempster, and he went 8-9 with a 4.57 ERA for them last year. And they have picked up Edward Mujica to give them more depth in the bullpen.
Championship teams are supposed to be strong up the middle defensively and the Red Sox lost catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, shortstop Stephen Drew, and center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury to free agency.
But free-agent pickup A.J. Pierzynski at catcher and rookie Xander Bogaerts should be slight upgrades to Saltalamacchia and Drew.
And rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. or veteran Grady Sizemore, who has looked good this spring after missing the last two seasons with injuries, should be able to adequately replace Ellsbury.
Personally I’m rooting for Bradley because Sizemore said “you know” 37 times in a 2-minute-and-37-second interview when the Red Sox signed him.
The Red Sox wouldn’t be the first team to repeat as World Series champion while replacing starters at some of these key positions.
The Oakland Athletics repeated as champion in 1973 despite switching catchers (from Dave Duncan to Ray Fosse) and center fielders (from Angel Mangual and Reggie Jackson, who moved back to his natural right-field position, to Bill North and Billy Conigliaro).
But as I said in an earlier column, a team has to have some luck to win a title. Maybe the Red Sox won’t be as lucky as they were last year.
Then there’s the law of averages. There were a lot of teams nearly as good as the Red Sox last year, and with all of them chomping at the bit to knock off the Red Sox the odds favor one of them accomplishing that task this year.
Detroit nearly beat the Red Sox in the playoffs last year but probably won’t do so this year with superb fielding shortstop Jose Iglesias sidelined most of the season with stress fractures.
Oakland was another threat to the Red Sox last year but probably won’t be this year with star pitcher Jarrod Parker missing the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
That leaves St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and possibly Cincinnati as the main threats to the Red Sox.
I’m going with St. Louis to win the World Series and Tampa Bay to win the American League pennant if the Rays keep David Price the entire season.
I still think the Red Sox will make the playoffs, but it’s more fun to predict someone else will win it all and then be pleasantly surprised if the Red Sox do come through.
In the World Series last year it was obvious the Cardinals needed upgrades in center field and at shortstop. And they got them in Peter Bourjos and Jhonny Peralta.
Any center fielder who can force Mike Trout to move to left field, as Bourjos did early last season before being injured, is obviously an elite fielder. In Bourjos’ only full season as a major league starter he made 350 putouts in 147 games.
Peralta will be a huge upgrade on offense at shortstop. And though his range is not as great as some shortstops, he has a strong, accurate arm and makes the routine plays.
That may be all a team with a lot of young strikeout pitchers with blazing fastballs need.
And those pitchers may be smarter about mixing in other pitches with those fastballs this year.
Left-handed reliever Kevin Siegrist was supposed to neutralize David Ortiz in the World Series last year, but Ortiz homered off his first pitch.
Ortiz told Sports Illustrated that after watching video of Siegrist he knew he was going to get a first-pitch fastball from him. And it’s pretty hard to throw a fastball past Ortiz when he knows it’s coming.
My complete predictions for each division:
AL East NL East
1. Tampa Bay 1. Washington
2. Boston 2. Atlanta
3. New York 3. New York
4. Toronto 4. Philadelphia
5. Baltimore 5. Miami
AL Central NL Central
1. Detroit 1. St. Louis
2. Chicago 2. Cincinnati
3. Cleveland 3. Pittsburgh
4. Kansas City 4. Milwaukee
5. Minnesota 5. Chicago
AL West NL West
1. Oakland 1. Los Angeles
2. L.A. Angels 2. San Francisco
3. Texas 3. Arizona
4. Seattle 4. Colorado
5. Houston 5. San Diego