Believe it or not but the Red Sox are just weeks away from the start of the 2021 Season, and the chase for the club's 10th title will begin. With the return of Alex Cora as manager who will be entering his third season as the teams field manager after severing his one-year ban for his role in the Astros 2017 sign-stealing scandal, surely the moral of the team is expected to be high. However will that necessarily translate into wins on the field? That is the a big question that needs to proved. Even though the Red Sox gave Cora his job back along with his contract which is a two-year deal with two additional option years, he will be expendable if the Red Sox have yet another under-achieving and miserable season as they did in 2019 and 2020.
Let's look at the Red Sox from this point of view; a team that won a franchise record 108 games, won their fourth World Series in a 16 year span; and had probably the highest payroll in all of baseball that paid off, what's happened since? Other than the farm system being left in complete shambles courtesy of Dave Dombrowski who traded virtually all of the prospects the Red Sox had to get the players the team needed to win from 2016-2018. With Dombrowski gone and the farm system completely gutted, the team needed to find a way to move salary off the books to get under the luxury tax.
After Cora's dismal in January of 2020, a month later the team traded fan favorite Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers along with starter David Price to shed some money. The Sox also lost Chris Sale early in camp last season as he elected for Tommy John Surgery and missed the entire 2020 season. It was then the direction of the team was to get younger, rebuild the farm system, which meant a period of mediocrity was coming. The pandemic certainly didn't make matters any better for a team that was already struggling to find some type of identity.
When the season finally did get underway, given the current state of the team, and with the season only being 60 games and eight teams per league qualifying for the playoffs, there was optimism that the Red Sox might actually attempt at a playoff spot. However the faults of the team quickly became reality as the entire pitching staff as a whole had a franchise worse ERA for a season at 5.58. That number was the third worst in all of baseball, only ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies and Detroit Tigers, but not by much. The Pittsburgh Pirates, who finished with the worst record in all of baseball in 2020, nearly had a full earned run average better than the Red Sox, which is extremely disappointing. Defensively, the Red Sox had the third worst fielding percentage in all of baseball with a percentage of .978, again only ahead of the Pirates and the New York Yankees. As expected though, the Red Sox offense ranked third best in the big leagues, only behind the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves.
Fast forward one season, Andrew Benintendi is now on the Kansas City Royals, Jackie Bradley has signed a free agent deal with the Milwaukee Brewers, the "killer B's" outfield has officially been dismantled completely as the Red Sox have now gone in a completely different direction.
Heading into the 2021 season, it's obvious what the strong and weak points are on the team. We should concern ourselves with the lineup, getting consistent production from all nine guys in the line up will be a challenge, but that's a challenge that all 30 MLB teams go through. The Sox will be fine offensively again this season, the biggest question marks is the rotation and the bullpen. Obviously the rotation got a boost with Eduardo Rodriquez coming back completely healthy after his complications with COVID-19 that caused him to miss the entire truncated 2020 season. He looks to build off a strong 2019 season. Nathan Eovaldi says he's healthy, as did Cora, but only time will tell, his track record isn't the greatest. Chris Sale is recovering nicely from surgery, he says he feels good, but obviously the Sox will proceed with caution, as they absolutely should with him. The team did blossom the bullpen the acquisition of reliever Adam Ottavino from the rival Yankees, which no one saw coming at all. Some fill in pieces here and there. The Red Sox also signed Japanese reliever Hirokazu Sawamura, who is in camp, but has yet to get into a Spring Training game at this point, but we should expect to him pitch in an actual game soon, once he's up to speed.
This is obviously going to be a different team, but will the results be the same or be different? Yes, Cora is back to the delight of many of the players, but will that translate onto the field is another question mark. Yes the team moral will be high, but will the this team be able to compete for a playoff spot or will it be much like last season. A bunch for five plus game losing streaks with the occasional good week, a roller coaster of a season like 2019, or just pure dominance like 2018 was?
The over/under for the Red Sox in terms of wins is 79.5, this writer feels that's right where it should be. Yes this team looks okay on paper, but the game is still very much played by humans. This writer has the Red Sox going .500 at 81-81. Somewhere in that ballpark. Not expecting this team to win a World Series any time soon, but am looking for consistency from all three parts of the game. Pitching, defense and offense. Extremely confident they will get that from the offense, defense is a toss up, but confidence is low when it comes to pitching staff. If this team can stay completive from game one all the way through game 162 and compete for a spot in the postseason until they return to being a true competitor, then that should hold Red Sox fans over while the rebuild of the organization goes on.