The Boston Red Sox have not made the playoffs since being swept out of the postseason against the Los Angeles Angels in 2009 and now have a real chance to make it back in the playoffs with a wide open AL East.
The ESPN Boston writers all predict that the Red Sox will make the postseason, Lester and Lackey will have strong years and that Jacoby Ellsbury will be healthy and flourish in his year before he is expected to hit free agency.
The Red Sox have all the right pieces to make into the postseason in 2013. They have veteran leaders with the likes of Ryan Dempster and Shane Victorino who have come in and will likely be voices in the clubhouse all season.
Also, the younger stars, such as Dustin Pedroia and Will Middlebrooks, are making strides to stay healthy and will be part of the offensive juggernaut that is the Red Sox, who finished sixth in the AL in runs scored in 2012. They could score even more if everyone plays many, if not all, of the 162 games.
The real question marks on this team are David Ortiz and Mike Napoli. Both can hit the ball far, but can they play over 120 games in 2013?
Ortiz has to take five to seven days off to relieve some inflammation in his heels and Napoli has some issues with his hip, but has so far showed no sign of injury. If both can put up at least 25 home runs each, then it should be a top-three offense come the end of the 2013 season.
Another factor for the Red Sox is the starting pitching, In 2012, the Sox finished with a 4.70 ERA. That was third worst in the AL, and the AL leader was at 4.78.
It all comes down to Lester and Lackey to right this ship.
Lester needs to bounce back in 2013 with over 16 wins and an ERA under 3.50 for the Sox to stay in contention. Lackey needs to pitch around .500 with an ERA under 4.50 to be the fourth starter for this team. It may take awhile to get used to seeing him start every fifth day, but it will be an interesting season to watch.
Another big topic is the health and success of Ellsbury in 2013.
After being out most of 2012 with a shoulder injury, Ellsbury has looked decent this spring. He is hitting .227 in 22 at-bats with no stolen bases this spring. Once he starts reaching base effectively, expect manager John Farrell to run him into the ground.
The young center fielder has some competition with Jackie Bradley Jr. hitting .517 with an OBP of .618, and that should motivate him, along with his pending free agency at the end of the season. He could possibly put up numbers close to 2011, but I say at least a .290 average with 24 home runs and 45 stolen bases is likely.