Don’t sleep on the Red Sox in 2020.
While much has changed for Boston over the last year-plus, there still are several reasons why the Red Sox are capable of silencing their critics and making the playoffs in what could be a very unpredictable, 60-game Major League Baseball season.
Let’s examine five such reasons.
1. They’re motivated
The Red Sox are just two years removed from winning a franchise-record 108 regular-season games en route to a World Series title. Yet an underwhelming 2019 season coupled with several key losses — Mookie Betts (trade), Chris Sale (Tommy John surgery) and Alex Cora (mutual parting) chief among them — has Boston entering the 2020 campaign as an underdog in the American League East.
This is a reality the Red Sox are well aware of with Opening Day fast approaching. And perhaps the outside skepticism, while mostly justified given the questions surrounding Boston’s pitching staff, will serve as fuel, particularly for those veterans with championship pedigrees.
“Coming into the season we’re underdogs, and with the lineup that we have, the team that we have, the roster that we have, I don’t understand how we’re even an underdog,” Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts told reporters this week.
2. The offense could be elite
Yes, the Red Sox lost Betts, their best all-around player, which could completely change the complexion of Boston’s lineup. But consider the holdovers. An offense anchored by the likes of Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Rafael Devers and Andrew Benintendi, among others, is capable of making serious noise, especially with the season starting in late July with the warm weather already in full effect.
This is going to be a weird season, obviously, given the 60-game format. Even flawed teams with one elite, game-changing quality have a chance, as it’s totally feasible such a trait could carry a club for a few-week stretch, thus thrusting it into the postseason conversation.
3. They have versatility and depth
Not only does Boston’s lineup feature a slew of possible All-Stars. Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke also will have the ability to mix and match, potentially maximizing certain players’ strengths while minimizing their weaknesses.
The additions of outfielder Kevin Pillar and utility man Jose Peraza — two savvy free agent additions — could pay dividends, as could the return of Mitch Moreland, who presumably will form a first base platoon with Michael Chavis. Jonathan Arauz, a Rule 5 draftee, is a versatile wild card, too, given his ability to play multiple positions.
The Red Sox even have three viable catching options, with Jonathan Lucroy and Kevin Plawecki battling for a backup role behind Christian Vazquez, and that might be a difference-maker as teams navigate a season with more uncertainties than usual due to the ongoing pandemic.
Do the Red Sox have baseball’s best roster? Of course not. Again, their pitching leaves much to be desired. But you could do worse than the pieces they have in place. Teams have won with less, and that’s without considering the season’s condensed format.
4. There’s room for growth
The Red Sox, as mentioned, have several solid building blocks. Plus, those players have room for continued development, meaning their past production might not be a true indicator of their future performance but rather a sliver of what they’re capable of providing this season.
What if Devers takes another step forward, evolving into an MVP candidate? What if Benintendi looks more like the former seventh overall pick who pushed for an All-Star nod in 2018? What if Eduardo Rodriguez becomes a legitimate ace? Or Alex Verdugo softens the blow of losing Betts by tapping into his potential in right field?
Plenty must break right for the Red Sox to overcome the New York Yankees and possibly the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East. But there are enough variables to dream on in terms of player development and year-to-year progression across Boston’s roster.
5. The season could get wacky
Earlier this week, we broke down how the 60-game format could impact the Red Sox, who seemingly are fringe contenders capable of catching fire for a stretch and thus exceeding expectations.
Their difficult schedule — by way of facing only AL East and NL East teams – complicates matters, but a much shorter season means less time for water to find its level. This year’s World Series champion might not necessarily be the best team but rather the luckiest team. Or at least the team that enjoys the most fruitful combination of actual talent, timely execution and good fortune. Why not Boston?