The Boston Red Sox will take the field Thursday to officially mark the beginning of their 2023 campaign.
It’s a clean slate, which means a shot at putting aside the 2022 season and looking toward brighter days ahead in Boston. With a new-look roster from the lineup, rotation and bullpen, the Red Sox are positioned to possibly shock the league. However, how far can that go? By winning the division? Perhaps hoisting the World Series trophy in October?
Similar to 2021, the window of opportunity to exceed expectations set by many in the public eye could work to Boston’s advantage, giving the 2023 Red Sox an added source of motivation.
With that being said, here are three reasons the Red Sox could possibly take the American League East crown after Game 162, and come out on top in the Fall Classic.
The front office recognized Boston’s bullpen issue and addressed it
The Red Sox were weighed down last season in multiple areas, one being their bullpen.
Boston’s bullpen, which underwent various shifts in welcoming and parting ways with faces whether through the trade market or promotion/demotion from the minor leagues, didn’t do its part. Red Sox relievers combined to record the second-highest ERA (4.59) while allowing the most earned runs (318) in the AL last season, and in many instances cornered skipper Alex Cora with little-to-no reliability throughout the year.
But with a new season, comes a new bullpen.
The Red Sox signed All-Star closer Kenley Jensen, who led the National League with 41 saves last season with the Atlanta Braves. In eight of the last nine seasons, Jansen has recorded no fewer than 33 saves while maintaining a 2.60 ERA through that stretch.
And to accompany Jansen, the Red Sox also added Chris Martin, Joely Rodríguez and Richard Blier — all of which unite to form an upgraded bullpen. Martin notched a 3.05 ERA through 56 innings last season with the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers, while Rodríguez has upside as a southpaw reliever — not prone to allowing home runs — and Bleier, who pitched to a 3.16 ERA in his three-year run of reliability with the Miami Marlins.
This gives Cora much more flexibility in the later innings.
The new lineup, with new faces, has plenty of upside
While the Red Sox lost longtime shortstop Xander Bogaerts and designated hitter J.D. Martinez, the World Baseball Classic might’ve been the premonition for the league’s soon-to-be Rookie of the Year.
Masataka Yoshida, who the Red Sox locked to a five-year, $90 million contract in December, showed out when representing Team Japan in the WBC in March. Yoshida slashed an impressive .409/.531/.727 in 22 at-bats, crushed a clutch jaw-dropping home run in the semifinal round and set a WBC record by driving in 13 RBIs en route to WBC championship win over the United States.
With pitchers in the big leagues unfamiliar with Yoshida, plus seven years of pro experience in Japan’s NBP league, the 26-year-old could provide an early lineup spark with extraordinary plate discipline and sneaky pop to the bat.
Boston also welcomed veterans Justin Turner — set to take Martinez’s place at DH — and Adam Duvall, who blasted 38 homers his last full season in 2021. Meanwhile, Turner is just a year removed from his 27-home run campaign with the Dodgers, totaling 36 doubles with 81 RBIs in 2022. While both joined on short-term agreements, Turner and Duvall both have World Series experience, power at the plate and defensive versatility if needed.
Similar to the bullpen, Boston’s lineup took a hit last season. When now-shortstop Kiké Hernández went down on the 60-day injured list in June with a right hip flexor, the Red Sox lost a major piece to their outfield. A month later, on July 12, second baseman Trevor Story went down after a hand injury.
With Story once again sidelined with a questionable timetable in place, the Red Sox have addressed the preseason concerns of injuries, ensuring a fully healthy Opening Day starting lineup.
The team has no shortage of motivation
Once again, 2022, while underwhelming, could fuel the Red Sox in 2023.
Hernández, who missed 69 games last season, wasted no time during Winter Weekend in Janaury, stepping in as the team’s vocal leader while simultaneously showcasing his next-man-up mentality in the infield in wake of Story’s absence.
“I think that we have the potential to shock a lot of people,” Hernández said. “The team’s going to look a lot different. We’re going to have a different identity as a team. We might not have as much pop in the linuep as we used to, but we have some guys that can put that ball in play and grind out at-bats.”
Team members such as Hernández, starting pitcher Chris Sale and outfielder Alex Verdugo, for various reasons, would all like to put 2022 in the rearview mirror. They each underwent their respective hurdles, which like the Red Sox, puts them in the perfect position to bounce back with a comeback-like campaign in 2023.
Then there’s the combined aspect of Rafael Devers coming off a massive $331 million offseason payday, making the 26-year-old Boston’s undeclared but known franchise face. Devers will inherit the responsility of lineup leader, but when considering the way 2022 unfolded, he’ll have no issue doing just that.
The Red Sox went 78-84, finishing dead last in the AL East, plus also going 26-50 against fellow division opponents. With a massive turnaround to coming just two wins short of reaching the World Series in 2021, which also followed a dead last finish in 2020, Boston has full control of fading memories of last season away.
It all begins Thursday afternoon when the Red Sox host the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park.