Normally, the Cubs would play an American League East opponent once every three years or so. Or, as in the case of the Orioles, Rays and Blue Jays, every six years (the Cubs haven't played any of those three since 2008).
The Cubs will be playing the Red Sox this summer in a three-game series in Boston. It will be the third time the teams have met in the last four years. I wonder why that is?
Anyway, which Red Sox team do we get this year? The one that crashed and burned with a 93-loss year in 2012, or the team that won 97 games and the World Series (and thank you, Red Sox, for beating the Cardinals) in 2013?
Obviously, it's going to be much closer to the latter. The reasons for the 2012 demise are well-known, starting with injuries, ending with beer and fried chicken in the clubhouse, all stirred up by possibly the worst match of a manager and a team in decades.
Last year, with John Farrell's steady hand, several key free-agent signings that didn't cost a fortune (Cody Ross, Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli), the Red Sox' offense came alive, and just when every single closer option blew up in their face (Andrew Bailey, Joel Hanrahan), up pops Koji Uehara to be nearly unhittable for the last couple of months of the year and through the postseason.
Luck and design. Why can't...
Well, anyway. The Red Sox have lost one important player from their championship team, Jacoby Ellsbury. They will give top prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. the center-field spot that Ellsbury held down for several seasons and hope he's even sort of as good. Another prospect, Xander Bogaerts, who played in last year's World Series, will replace Stephen Drew at shortstop. Both of these guys are very good, but they have big proverbial shoes to fill. It would be nice for Boston if Will Middlebrooks would be the Middlebrooks of 2012 instead of the injured, bad Middlebrooks of 2013. Finally, the Red Sox signed A.J. Pierzynski to replace the departed Jarrod Saltalamacchia behind the plate -- which means that even though A.J. left the White Sox, where they played the Cubs in two series every year, the Cubs will see A.J. in a series again this year, aas they did last year when he was with the Rangers.
Boston's rotation remains the same, except that Ryan Dempster, who recently announced he wouldn't play in 2014, is subtracted. Truth be told, Dempster was likely to be a swingman or reliever this year, because Boston's top five starters -- Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront -- are pretty well locked in place. That's a pretty good rotation, if they all stay healthy, which has been an issue at times.
The bullpen also returns more or less intact; the only question is whether Uehara, who will turn 39 just after Opening Day, can repeat his amazing stretch run. (Answer: probably not, only because that's almost impossible to duplicate.)
The Red Sox will be very good. 97-win good? I doubt it, but they're likely good enough to take the June 30-July 1-July 2 series at Fenway Park from the Cubs.