What to expect from the Orioles' New England rivals.
2012 record: 69-93 (74-88 pythagorean record)
2012 record vs Orioles: 5-13
2013 PECOTA wins: 83.6
To say that things went off the rails for the Red Sox in 2012 would be an understatement. A season that started off with a divisive manager and underperforming stars ended with ownership holding a firesale to squeeze under the luxury tax threshold for the season. That leaves the 2013 Red Sox, a new-look roster with a new manager, as a tough team to predict.
After the aforementioned salary dump, the Red Sox went on an offseason spending spree in what was mostly considered a middling free agent pool, bringing in Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew, Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Ryan Dempster, Koji Uehara and David Ross. They also completed trades for Joel Hanrahan and Mike Carp. All of this means that the Red Sox the Orioles will face in 2013 really won't resemble the ones that they took for a ride in most of 2012.
The Sox are looking at a lot of significant questions. In their lineup, you have to wonder about Victorino after his down year last season, and Jacoby Ellsbury's health is always going to be a question. But overall, it looks like a lineup that can produce runs (of course, so did last year's, before the departure of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez). At the very worst, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz are consistently productive hitters in the middle of an otherwise decent lineup.
But the real question for the Red Sox is going to be starting pitching. Will Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz be able to rebound in a clubhouse with better chemistry (or by reuniting with former pitching coach John Farrell)? Does John Lackey have anything left in the tank? Can Dempster pitch in the AL (5.09 ERA after his trade last season) - especially in a hitter's park in the AL East? That's a lot of legitimate questions, and they will almost certainly define the team's season.
PECOTA's forecast of 83.6 wins is reasonable, but at the high end of what I would've predicted (80-84 wins). But honestly, there is no outcome that would surprise me with this team. The pitching could stabilize, and with healthy seasons from Ellsbury and Napoli, they could be right in the thick of things. Or the whole thing could just as easily go bust, with Lester and Buchholz continuing to frustrate, and Lackey imploding once again. And the hitting injury bug could strike. So while I'm calling a .500ish season for the Sox, that's really just the middle ground of some equally plausible extremes.
The thing to be concerned about for the Orioles is replicating that 13-5 clip. Building wins against the Red Sox was a big part of the Orioles' surprising 2012 - especially that memorable 17-inning win. But counting on a six-hour Chris Davis pitching victory probably isn't a blueprint for repeatable success against Boston (I'd rather see Chris Davis uncork some home runs over that short right-field wall in Fenway). In all likelihood, they'll need to fight to take just over half their games from the Sox, by getting to their starting pitching quickly, and make up a few of those other victories elsewhere in the league.
Red Sox probable hitters: ( * indicates players new to the team for 2013)
Jonny Gomes - LF *
Jacoby Ellsbury - CF
Shane Victorino - RF *
Will Middlebrooks - 3B
Stephen Drew - SS *
Dustin Pedroia - 2B
Mike Napoli - 1B *
David Ortiz - DH
Ryan Dempster *