One prevailing mythology regarding the 2013 Boston Red Sox runs along the lines of “everything went right.” It is true that they hit on a high number of their free agent signings and received bounce-back seasons from John Lackey and others, but the injury bug bit the Sox as hard as anyone last season.
Of their position players, only Dustin Pedroia managed to play in 150 games or more, even though he did so with a ligament injury in this thumb, a wound that required off-season surgery.
The Red Sox battled injuries like any other team last year. They benefited from role players stepping up in the absence of the starters, getting off to a hot start and never missing a beat.
The 2014 Red Sox aren’t off to quite as hot a start and their ability to rely on depth players is about to be tested once again, as they’re dealing with injuries in bunches while kicking off their title defense.
Yesterday it was Mike Napoli who joined the ranks of the walking wounded. The Sox slugging first baseman dislocated a finger sliding into second base, though he isn’t expected to hit the disabled list. Closer Koji Uehara received a similar piece of news over the weekend as his shoulder tightness is not thought to be serious.
Pedroia played much of last year in pain and now it appears he’ll do the same in 2014, battling a wrist injury and requiring a cortisone shot to avoid the DL. The injuries are relatively minor, but when added together they test the Red Sox championship calibre depth at multiple positions.
Even with Napoli on the shelf for a few days, it forces Mike Carp into an everyday role at first base. Carp is a valuable member of the Sox bench corps as he can play multiple positions and represents a good bench bat at the ready. Carp even played a few innings at third base the other night, as Will Middlebrooks is on the DL and his replacement, Ryan Roberts, is not a viable option on an everyday basis.
With Pedroia ailing and the Middlebrooks out, the Sox rely on defense-first bit players like Jonathan Herrera and waiver-wire claims like Roberts to paper over their problems. On a short term basis it can work, but over 162 games?
The Sox are an aging team that handled last year’s adversity with great performances from part time players. In the early days of 2014, essential contributors like Daniel Nava, Jonny Gomes, and Carp aren’t producing as they did. Given the careful workload of Grady Sizemore and the limited role or David Ortiz, any failings on the part of these fill-ins will create huge holes in the lineup.
The Red Sox are in fine shape, all things being equal. Sizemore looks great and the Sox are keeping pace in the tightly-packed AL East. The same talent that won 97 games and a World Series title remains in place, one year older and a little worse for wear but still a championship squad when evaluated objectively.
The Sox have the talent but they will put their industry-leading health professionals to the test with their wizened bunch. Can the Sox keep their talented core on the field long enough to mount a spirited title defense? Though they deserve the benefit of the doubt, I can’t shake this nagging feeling that their nagging injuries might cascade all season long.