Hopes are pretty high for the 2017 Sox - thanks to an active early offseason courtesy of head cheese Dave Dombrowski - so let’s take a pre-preseason look at how the team stacks up as workouts begin.
In Part One, we’ll examine the pitching staff, which may be the area that will make or break this team.
The front of the rotation is as strong as any in baseball, thanks to the acquisition of Chris Sale to go along with David Price and Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello. Sale has been the picture of consistency, and while we can expect some regression to the mean from Porcello, who’s unlikely to win 22 games again, Price can probably be counted on to improve over a rough (for him) but still solid 17-win, 230-inning debut with Boston.
This Big Three ought to give the Red Sox 90-plus starts and close to 700 innings of quality pitching, but it is what comes after them remains perhaps the biggest spring training question mark.
Steven Wright caught knuckleball lightning in a bottle last year, going 13-6 with 3.33 ERA before getting hurt as a pinch-runner. While he can be a contributor and perhaps a good innings-eater, counting on a repeat of last year’s performance may be wishful thinking. Young Eduardo Rodriguez has shown flashes of brilliance, but was inconsistent last season; he gave up a disappointing 3.4 walks per nine innings and has also displayed a disturbing tendency toward getting himself hurt. Whether he can be a dependable back of the rotation guy and deliver more than 150 innings of work remains to be seen. That leaves Drew Pomeranz, who was on the All-Star team last year but didn’t impress after coming to Boston, going 3-5 with a 4.59 ERA and giving up 14 home runs in only 68 innings. None of those guys can be considered a lock, especially since the team does have a little money they could spend come trade deadline time.
The bullpen has certainly been strengthened with the addition of Tyler Thornburg, although pitching in high-leverage situations in Boston may be a little tougher than working in Milwaukee, a place where the sausage races are often more pressure-packed than the games. Craig Kimbrel struggled with his control at times and looked awful in non-save situations, but he still racked up 31 saves. Matt Barnes was a pleasant surprise for much of last year, Joe Kelly may just find his niche in the pen and late-inning guy Carson Smith should be back by June.
The Red Sox have pretty clearly modeled their relief corps after that of the Royals; Kansas City’s shutdown bullpen made manager Ned Yost look like he actually knew what he was doing at times. That kind of thing can happen when you know that if you have the lead after six innings, you’re probably going to win.
Next time: We’ll look at some of the key questions for the offense, including how they replace the production of David Ortiz and whether a skinnier Pablo Sandoval will be anything more than a shadow of his former self as a hitter.