If hope springs eternal, then perhaps it’s fitting that the baseball season begins in the spring as 30 teams begin the season with a renewed sense of optimism about the 162 games in front of them.
Many times, that optimism, or hope as it were, is misguided. For the Boston Red Sox, however, expectations are justifiably high entering the 2018 season.
Few teams if any have undergone an offseason of change after back-to-back division titles like the Red Sox did this winter. Boston fired manager John Farrell after a 93-win season and replaced him with Alex Cora, the first-time manager and former Red Sox infielder who will be tasked with helping the Sox get over the hump in a way Farrell couldn’t do — after winning the 2013 World Series in his first season.
Here are some things to watch, as Boston gets its 2018 season underway Thursday afternoon against the Tampa Bay Rays.
UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT
One of the most fascinating Red Sox storylines will be how the club responds to the 42-year-old Cora calling the shots. His team seems like a more laid-back bunch this spring after multiple players remarked in the offseason about how last year wasn’t fun despite the winning. Cora also brings a little more excitement to the job. Where Farrell was a (loyal) disciplinarian with a pretty black-and-white approach to the job, Cora certainly seems a little more open and willing to try new things. Will that make a difference on the field? Time obviously will tell, but fans have gotten used to seeing this team contend, and there should be every expectation Cora’s Red Sox at least accomplish what Farrell’s Red Sox did. After all, it’s basically the same team with one major exception, which brings us to the next point …
SHOT OF JD
The Red Sox didn’t hit for power last season — perhaps you heard. They still pushed across plenty of runs (10th in all of baseball), but the Sox ranked 27th in home runs. The .731 OPS was 22nd in MLB and more than 20 points below the American League average. So Boston went out and did what everyone expected and signed J.D. Martinez. The 30-year-old is coming off a borderline historic season where he hit 45 home runs in just 119 games. Martinez went deep once every 9.7 at-bats, which is the best rates since Barry Bonds in 2004. He should do plenty of damage at Fenway Park, and his aggressive, flyball-heavy approach could and should rub off on some of his teammates. If he can meet lofty expectations, he’ll be the perfect bat in the middle of a Red Sox lineup that has all the potential in the world.
PRICE OF DOING BUSINESS
We have a pretty good idea of what the Red Sox are capable of without getting a full season from David Price. The left-hander logged only 74 2/3 regular-season innings in 2017, and the Red Sox still had success as a team and pitching staff. Now, imagine a full season from a healthy Price pitching anywhere close to the level he displayed in Tampa Bay? If Price can be effective like he was upon returning last season, he takes the Red Sox to another level. The same could be said for Rick Porcello, to an extent. If Chris Sale, Price and Porcello all sync up and pitch their best at the same time this season, that would be hell for opposing lineups in a three-game series.
MANAGING THE WORKLOAD
Sale led the league in innings last season. The Red Sox would be smart to avoid letting him do the same thing in 2018, and there’s an obvious plan in place to do so. Sale simply wasn’t the same pitcher down the stretch. It cost him the Cy Young Award, and more importantly, it hurt the team when the lanky lefty got roughed up in Game 1 of the American League Division Series and wasn’t as sharp in relief later in the series. This club won’t be working in autumn if Sale isn’t at his best.
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