Repeating will be a challenge for Red Sox

Repeating will be a challenge for Red Sox
February 14, 2014, 12:00 pm
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There's a reason that no team in baseball has repeated as champions since 2000: it's hard to accomplish.
At the end of the last century, the Toronto Blue Jays won in 1992 and 1993. Later, the New York Yankees won four titles in five seasons including three in a row from 1998-2000, creating baseball's last true dynasty.
But since then, parity has set in. Beginning with the Yankees in 2000, seven different franchises won the first seven championships. And while the Red Sox (three times) and St. Louis Cardinals (twice) have won multiple crowns, they've been spread apart.
Can the Red Sox become the first team this century to buck the trend and win a second World Series in a row?
That depends on a lot of things, including a number of factors beyond their control.
Certainly, the competition will take aim at the Sox, who enter 2014 with something of a bullseye on their backs.
Within their own division, the rival New York Yankees have spent more than a half billion dollars trying to improve their roster after missing out on the post-season for the first time since 2008.
Elsewhere in the American League, the Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays -- all playoff teams a year ago -- seem to have each improved.
And there's this: the newest collective bargaining agreement, which limits the amount of money teams spend on draft picks as well as international signings, now stands in the way of teams becoming dominant. It's harder and harder to sustain success when the economics of the same have resulted in a more level playing field.
Moreover, the longer post-season -- which now includes extra wild-card teams in each league and created another hurdle for some clubs -- is more demanding than ever. When the Blue Jays repeated in 1993, they had to win just eight post-season games. Now, teams need to win at least 11; teams who qualify as wild card entrants must win an even dozen.
Of course, winning teams also need some good fortune and they need good health. Nothing can send a season reeling that a series of injuries to key players.
Last season, the Sox had their share of injuries, including two season-ending injuries to two different closers. But the core of their lineup remained mostly healthy and three different starters made at least 29 starts; four made 27 or more starts.
Depth, then, will play a big role in determining whether the Sox can repeat. It helps that they have six established starting pitchers for five spots -- to say nothing of a few other candidates like Brandon Workman who seem ready to take a regular turn.
The Sox will likely have new starters at three key positions in the field -- catcher, shortstop and center field -- but return many of the same key pieces from a year ago.
"What we know is that we felt we had a really strong core returning," said GM Ben Cherington.
One thing seems certain: the Red Sox, while recognizing the onus is on them to do what no team has done in more than a decade, aren't about to change their approach.
"This team was good as focusing on the game that night," said manager John Farrell, recalling the 2013 squad. "We established that as our identity. Winning the World Series doesn't change that. We have to have the same process, the same message."
But already, there is talk among the players about focusing on winning again. Throughout the winter, the team began a text message chain, in which players communicated and exhorted their teammates to work harder, train more, prepare better for the demands of being defending champions.
The Sox aren't guaranteeing a repeat as champions, but they seemingly relish the challenge.
"It's going to happen eventually,'' said Jonny Gomes. "Why not us? I think we're still hungry. It took me a long time to get to the World Series and it was fun. It would be more fun to do it again."