The oddsmakers certainly believe the Red Sox might take a step back this year, considering they're listing a season wins OVER/UNDER of nine fewer than Boston won last year. Which side of that proposition might the betting value reside?
The Number to Beat
With about a week to go before Boston opens the season March 31 in Baltimore the best OVER bet we could find on the Sox was at 87.5 (-112) at Bookmaker, while the best UNDER bet was the 88 (-115) at BetOnline.
Boston put the disaster that was 2012 behind it last year, grabbed an early lead in the AL East and never gave it up, eventually winning the division by five games over Tampa. The Sox then dispatched of the Rays and Tigers in the AL playoffs, then won Games 4-5-6 to beat St. Louis in the Series.
Boston played 14 games OVER its pre-season wins total of 83, winning the East at odds of 6/1, the pennant at 15/1 and the World Series at the tasty price of 30/1.
For the season the Sox led the Majors in scoring at a healthy 5.3 runs per game and in team OBP at .349, and ranked sixth in homers with 178. They also ranked fourth in stolen bases with 123, but lost 52 of those when Ellsbury left town.
Meanwhile the pitching staff ranked 14th with a 3.79 ERA and third in quality starts with 95. That helped take the pressure off a bullpen that only ranked 21st with a 3.70 ERA and blew 24 saves.
A lot of things fell right for Boston last year; the Sox stayed relatively healthy, got good production from guys like Mike Napoli and SP Felix Doubront and a wonderful campaign from RP Koji Uehara. What are the odds of getting a similar run of good fortune this season?
Beside losing Ellsbury, Boston was rather quiet this winter. The Sox also lost C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but signed AJ Pierzynski. Other than that, Boston will field about the same lineup, the same rotation and the same bullpen that won the Series last fall.
But a lot will depend on how well a 33-year-old Shane Victorino replaces Ellsbury at the top of the lineup.
Boston went 44-32 within the AL East last year, which included a 36-21 combined record against the Yankees, Rays and Jays. But Tampa looks like it will be tough again this season, and New York, which won 85 games last year, threw some big bucks around over the off-season in an attempt to unseat the Sox. And while Baltimore might not win 85 games again this year, Toronto should be better.
Red Sox 2014 Wins:
Over or Under?
Boston is still a very solid squad, with a lineup that can go Victorino-Pedroia-Ortiz-Napoli-Gomes-Pierzynski and a rotation that goes Lester-Buchholz-Lackey-Doubront-Peavy. With a healthy lineup all season long, anything they get from guys like Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks might be gravy.
But can their key guys, especially Papi, stay healthy? And can they get repeat performances from guys like Napoli and Uehara?
We think so. That's why we'll go OVER 87.5 wins on Boston for this year.