Isn’t this great? Fresh cut grass, blue skies and fans chirping can only mean one thing: baseball is back, ladies and gentlemen. For the Fenway faithful, the 2017 Boston Red Sox take the field today for the first of 162 games. Although snow may still exist on the outskirts of Yawkey Way and Lansdowne Street, the hometown team is ready to take the field promptly at 3 p.m. There is a lot to look forward to this season Red Sox fans, but let us not get wrapped up in how good the team looks on paper.
After last year, we saw the Red Sox win the AL East and hopes were high for the team to win one more title for David Ortiz. Except, Terry Francona and the Cleveland Indians shut down those dreams in three games. That being said, I think it will take some time for Red Sox fans to get used to the Sox legend, known as “Big Papi”, no longer stepping into the batters box.
Without Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez will now have to step into the DH slot with newly acquired first baseman Mitch Moreland helping out. Both can smash the ball and provide insurance at the four spot in the lineup, but it is nearly impossible to fill the impact Ortiz consistently provided since 2003.
Offensively, the team will still succeed. 2016 MVP finalist Mookie Betts will continue to shine and expect Jackie Bradley Jr. to stay up to par with him. Add top prospect Andrew Benintendi into the equation and the win, dance, repeat mantra will roll throughout the season. The offense these outfielders will provide is exciting, and the defense will only be more exciting.
Speaking of defense, Sandy Leon will have help behind the plate with Christian Vazquez being fully healthy and Blake Swihart returning to his original position after the outfield experiment failed. Xander Bogaerts will be the best shortstop in the American League this season and do not ever question Dustin Pedroia’s ability, even at age 33. Pedroia is the longest active Red Sox player now, with Ortiz gone, and his work ethic will drive the team as long as he stays healthy.
Now, the question that everyone is asking is about pitching. Adding ace Chris Sale into the mix with Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello (who will start the opener) is exciting. It should relieve pressure off of David Price, who is already starting 2017 on a bad note with an elbow injury. With Eduardo Rodriguez, Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz at the back end of the rotation, the starters look equipped to win a lot of games, if healthy. Yet, when the playoffs come around, do you really trust any of them? Not me. Clay Buchholz is gone as well and he was the only starter last year with any playoff success, which was not a lot. We’ll see how this unfolds in 2017.
Finally, the bullpen quite frankly is still a mess. I trust Craig Kimbrel because he intimidates me with his fire instincts and ginger beard, but his control was bad last season and he needs to be lights out now that Koji Uehara is gone. Adding Tyler Thornburg is going to help, but still they need work. Fernando Abad is not the answer folks.
If the Red Sox stay healthy and rely on their offense then the sky’s the limit. The team looks solid on paper, but will they smoothly move on from David Ortiz? It will be an adjustment. I still see them winning 90 games at least and winning the AL East, again. Yet, getting to the World Series will be hard. For now, I have them making it to the ALCS. Grab a Fenway Frank and a cold beverage, Sox fans, baseball is back.