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Red Sox Season Makers or Breakers 2013

Jacoby Ellsbury

Much has been written about the prospects for success for the Boston Red Sox in 2013, and about the only thing on which there is agreement is that the team will not play much in October, if at all. (The regular season ends September 29.)

For this observer, there are six players in particular whose performance will have much to say about the ultimate outcome:

For sure, the likes of Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Mike Napoli, and Shane Victorino will play a major role. But these are the six that will make the difference between winning 79 and 88 games – and thus perhaps securing the second wild-card slot.

Jacoby Ellsbury
Jacoby Ellsbury MLB

Jacoby Ellsbury

Q: Walk year bust-out?

A: Likely.

It's uncertain whether he can put up the kinds of numbers he did in 2011, but Ellsbury is a very good player who's in his walk year and is represented by super-agent Scott Boras. These likely will conspire to position him well for a major score as a free agent this fall, and that's OK since the Red Sox will benefit in the meantime.

Will Middlebrooks
Will Middlebrooks MLB

Will Middlebrooks

Q: Real deal or 2012 flash in the pan?

A: Real deal.

Started out like a house afire but was lost for the season after being hit by a pitch. Not his fault, but can he sustain his initial success? The Magic 8-Ball says "yes."

Jose Iglesias
Jose Iglesias MLB

Jose Iglesias

Q: .990 fielder; .260 hitter?

A: Maybe!

Iglesias' wizardry with the glove is well proven, but unless he can hit even .260 in the majors, he's going to have a hard time escaping AAA – at least while he's with the Red Sox. The good news is that his performance this spring indicates a growing ability to make good contact, and that's a great beginning. With Stephen Drew on the shelf to start the year, Iglesias is going to get his chance. But it's likely to be his last one, and I suspect he's going to make the best of it.

David Ortiz
David Ortiz MLB

David Ortiz

Q: Healed heels?

A: Eventually

Forget age – the real unknown here is physiology, specifically the ability to rest a part of the body that is in constant use long enough for it to heal. It does appear that Ortiz' heels are recovering, but it says here his season likely won't begin until mid-May, and his effectiveness won't manifest itself for two or three weeks thereafter.

John Lackey
John Lackey MLB

John Lackey

Q: Return to form?

A: Yes.

All the bad press of recent years aside, Lackey has never been anything but a bulldog, and it's become clear that he pitched in pain for most of the time he's been in Boston. Coming off Tommy John surgery as he is, he's unlikely to win the Cy Young Award. But he's just as likely to be better by far than he's been since leaving Los Angeles, and will look much like his old self come the end of the season.

Jackie Bradley Jr.
Jackie Bradley Jr. MLB

Jackie Bradley Jr.

Q: Super-rookie or could've been?

A: Neither.

Deservedly on the opening day roster, it wouldn't be at all surprising for "JBJ" to do well for a time, and then drop off as the league catches up to him. The question then will be whether he can make the counter-adjustments needed to sustain success at the big-league level. Long term, the answer is "yes," but don't be surprised if he ends up spending at least a little time (say, 20 days?) in the minors to regroup and recharge.