Red Sox face daunting task of repeating as champs
Boston will look to become first team to win back-to-back titles since Torre's Yanks
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Not since Joe Torre's Yankees won three consecutive World Series titles beginning in 1998 has a team won back-to-back championships.
And before that, you have to go to 1992-93, when the Toronto Blue Jays won two in a row.
Repeating is the daunting task facing the Boston Red Sox, who rose from the ashes of 2012 to send St. Louis reeling in last year's World Series.
John Farrell, who taught the Red Sox a new way of life in 2013, stood outside his team's clubhouse at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium on a spectacular morning Friday and pondered the question.
I mentioned that often teams forget what it took to achieve what they did the year before. Constant reminders are necessary, a huge responsibility for the manager.
"We've talked about this," Farrell said before the Red Sox's 3-1 victory over the Blue Jays in a Grapefruit League game in which Clay Buchholz allowed just two hits over four scoreless innings. "Maybe we talk about it differently than others.
"The example I use is we were all given a highlight film from last year's championship. You find yourself pressing pause because you see a certain highlight, but there was that journey that was kind of overlooked to get to that highlight. That's where we try to reset our minds in that we cannot skip any steps, cannot take any shortcuts, so the work we do every day in Spring Training is just the foundation for the relentless work our guys did so well last year -- day to day, series to series."
Farrell paused as he gazed up at the crystal blue sky, and looking off into the distance, he mused: "Then, you look up and you're at the final stages of a successful season, the World Series."
The Red Sox will be good again. Many national publications have already anointed them as American League East champions.
General manager Ben Cherington has done some minor tweaking, but really there are no wholesale changes.
The biggest change for 2014 is a minus.
Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, one of the top leadoff hitters in the Majors, defected to the Yankees, Boston's most hated rival, or the "Evil Empire," as team president Larry Lucchino once called them. Ellsbury, who batted .298 with a .355 on-base percentage and 52 stolen bases in 2013, received a seven-year, $153 million deal from the Yanks as a free agent during the offseason.
Rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. is heir apparent, but veteran Grady Sizemore, who's been out of baseball for two seasons, is in camp and raising eyebrows.
"The storyline of our camp is the way Grady Sizemore is coming back from a long absence," said Farrell. "He's been very encouraging. We still have to get some answers to durability questions with him. We'll see how far that goes."
Sizemore, 31, played his last game on Sept. 22, 2011, ending an eight-year career with the Cleveland Indians. Folks who've watched Sizemore say he shows no signs that he missed the past two seasons because of numerous injuries.
Sizemore didn't make Friday's trip to Dunedin, but in five Grapefruit League games, he is batting .308.
"I feel good, but not great," Sizemore told MLB.com's Ian Browne. "My timing feels off. It feels a little rusty, but I don't feel like it's been two or three years. I feel like it's just another Spring Training where it's early where you're just trying to get a hold on things and get that rhythm down. I still feel like I have a long way to go. It's not quite where I would like to be, and I want to fine-tune some things."
Said Farrell: "Jackie Bradley Jr. is an above-average defender who has been swinging the bat better of late here in Spring Training. Last year was a tremendous learning experience for him. He was the talk of the Red Sox, then went down [to the Minor Leagues], addressed some things and came back with us at the end of the year and had good at-bats."
After opening the 2013 season with Boston, Bradley spent most of the year in the Minor Leagues. He played a total of 37 Major League games and batted .189.
One possibility is Bradley starting the season in center field and using Sizemore when it's time to rest Bradley or right fielder Shane Victorino.
Another rookie, Xander Bogaerts, will start at shortstop in place of Stephen Drew, who remains a free agent after not accepting the Red Sox's qualifying offer.
"He's our everyday shortstop, and this is an exciting player," said Farrell. "He's shown range. There was some question because of his size [6-foot-3, 185 pounds] and whether he can play the position, but he's going to be just fine."
Boston's offense led the Majors last year in runs scored (853) and on-base percentage (.349). It could be a powerhouse again in 2014.
With Buchholz, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Felix Doubront and Jake Peavy, the Red Sox have a starting rotation that most managers drool over.
"There's proven success, there's youth, there's talent and there's work ethic that's shared by all," said Farrell, a former pitching coach. "That's what gives you some level of comfort here. You know you have a level of dependability with each guy when he goes to the mound."
And the Red Sox have a general manager who has a knack for just tweaking the team for improvement without destroying its core.
"Ben Cherington is the main reason we won last year," Farrell said. "He found the players who would embrace everything that is Boston -- the team concept. Ben is always looking for ways to improve, never overlooking the importance of a bench player to a reliever to balancing a win today versus maintaining success in the long run."
Boston's 2014 shakedown cruise will include seven games against the Yankees in April, which should answer early questions about repeating.
Last year, the Red Sox got out of the gate quickly, winning 20 of their first 28 games. Except for a dry spell in May, they were in first place virtually the entire season.
"We don't know what lies ahead or how those challenges, disruptions or whatever will affect us," said Farrell. "How we face them goes into the final record as much as the talent you have. Ultimately, we benefitted from good fortune last October. Sometimes that can be completely out of your control."
It's all about repeating, and that is something that doesn't happen often.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.