The up-the-middle assessment of the 2023 Boston Red Sox
A baseball axiom that applies to the Boston Red Sox and every other MLB team is "strong up-the-middle". The most crucial cog in the middle would be the maestro conducting the actions by standing on that little bump.
The remaining ensemble is the catcher, shortstop, second baseman, and center fielder. A good team will have competence and a smattering of star players at these positions. Based on the projections of the Red Sox roster, the maestros may have a few bad notes in the orchestra.
Boston Red Sox up-the-middle profile for 2023, optimism or pessimism
Traveling back to 2004 for a cognizant example of strength up-the-middle, you start with Jason Varitek (18/73/.296). The game-changer was Orlando Cabrera at short. Cabrera, an electrifying defensive player, hit .294 after being acquired from the Expos.
Mark Bellhorn (17/82/.264) held down second and gave a titillating sound of a home run off the foul pole at Yankee Stadium in game 7 of the ALCS. Johnny Damon (20/94/.304) had one of his best MLB seasons as an All-Star in center field.
The bump is where the heroics took place, especially in the playoffs. Curt Schilling (21-6, 3.26), Pedro Martinez (16-9, 3.90), Derek Lowe (14-12, 5.42), Tim Wakefield (12-10, 4.89), and Bronson Arroyo (10-9, 4.05). The five made 157 starts for the rotation. That is an excellent point for good health.
The 2007, 2013, and 2018 championship teams had similar strengths, and the pitching, mainly, was good to excellent, depending on the team. Along the way, those teams picked up Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, Jacoby Ellsbury, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and a few to forget, but overall it was a plus. Now comes 2023, and leading off in the lineup is pessimism.
The Red Sox barely survived with Sandy Leon in 2018 and Jarrod Saltlalamacchia in 2013. A big thank you to David Ross! Can the 2023 team survive Reese McGuire? McGuire is a career backup but hit .337 for the Red Sox versus a now .256 career average.
Second base has Christian Arroyo pegged as the starter. Arroyo is a capable, but not spectacular, defensive player with a dreadful history of freakish, self-induced injuries or bad luck. Last season in 87 games, Arroyo managed a 102 wRC+. In a healthy season, one would expect Bellhorn-type numbers.
Shortstop is now in disarray with the loss of Trevor Story. Is it going to be Enrique Hernández? Hernández finished off 2022 with a 0.5 WAR and a dismal 75 wRC+, and a .222 batting average did not help. Yu Chang and/or Adalberto Mondesí will surprise in spring training, and I'll likely win Powerball.
Center field has Adam Duvall, and if Duvall duplicates 2021 (38/113/.260), Boston will have a serious right-handed masher in the lineup. Duvall can cover a lot of ground and does have a Gold Glove in his pocket, so Boston is pure risk/reward.
And then we have the pitching, and Boston has cornered the market on question marks. Start with Chris Sale and James Paxton as question mark honchos. Hopefully, both have some substantial professional motivation. Corey Kluber has two Cy Young Awards, but that was many moons ago. Kluber stays in one piece; he should replicate 2022 (10-10, 4.34).
If "up-the -middle" is the key to success based on the track record of those mentioned, the door could be locked. But enough of the Debbie Downer in me, and I'll flip this around and away from the fuel for the pessimistic fire. Get on your cliched rose-colored glasses.
I've already gone on record for the Red Sox taking and not tanking in the American League East. This franchise has mastered first to worst and back again. But the primary reason is buried in the title of an article by BSI's Craig Teed in a recent article - redemption.
This roster is loaded with their share of players on short-term deals and questionable results last season or deeper into the rearview mirror. I value professional pride and expect the "R" word to impact the roster significantly, and I have seen it surface in player comments about something to prove.
I like the pitching. I am not off my meds or shock treatments, but Kluber, Paxton, and Sale will be solid. The bullpen is now more in line with what Chaim Bloom has done in the past. Boston invested heavily in Kenley Jansen and Chris Martin, and now the real concerns will center on Brayon Bello and his arm "issue."
The up-the-middle will take a measure of time to solidify shortstop, and that will be the vulnerable point with shoddy defense and a wRC+ sub-100. However, I am all in on valued reader Terry Messmer's assessment of Mondesí.
Since I am constructing my own petard, I've always been impressed with Arroyo, and - finally - he'll put together a healthy season. Nope - the DP situation will be no headache.
The lineup will produce as they generally do. Runs will not be an overwhelming negative despite Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez leaving. The defense is of concern and expect manager Alex Cora and his staff to spend excessive spring training stressing that it's the most important ingredient. That is the one area that may get the team on the dark side.
So I have made my choice with none of my usual fence-sitting. The disaster in the up-the-middle group will not surface. The road may have a few bumps, but by June or 50+ games, the need for defibrillators will have passed.