Longtime Boston Red Sox play-by-play men Joe Castiglione and Dave O’Brien feel that the Red Sox have the potential to bounce back after last year’s dismal 78-84 campaign and last-place finish in the American League East.
Expectations are relatively low for a team traditionally in the playoff hunt. Star shortstop Xander Bogaerts is now with the San Diego Padres, designated hitter J.D. Martinez is on the Los Angeles Dodgers and former ace Nathan Eovaldi is now a Texas Ranger.
After that upheaval, certain pundits have called the Red Sox “a fifth-place team” in their division all winter, said O’Brien, who has been calling Red Sox games since 2007 and works for New England Sports Network, the team-owned TV affiliate.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that they are going to be better than people think,” O’Brien said.
“They are definitely going to be better than last year,” said Castiglione, who has been calling Red Sox games for WEEI since 1983. “Last year was a season to forget.”
The Red Sox have added veterans, including three former Dodgers, designated hitter Justin Turner, closer Kenley Jansen and reliever Chris Martin. The opening day starting pitcher will be Corey Kluber, a two-time American League Cy Young Award winner. Outfielder Adam Duvall, who hit 38 homers two years ago, may like it at Fenway Park.
Perhaps the biggest bright spot of the offseason was when star third baseman Rafael Devers signed a 10-year, $313.5 million to remain in Boston. The Red Sox also signed Masataka Yoshida of Japan, who is set to play left field and hit .409 and drove in 13 runs for an all-tournament slot as his team won the World Baseball Classic.
A big question mark is the health of longtime ace left-hander Chris Sale, who has thrown just 48 1/3 innings over the previous two seasons due to injuries. He has had a good spring training and will pitch after Kluber in the season-opening series against Baltimore beginning Thursday.
“They will score enough runs as they always do,” O’Brien predicted. “But they’re going to need one or two guys to pop, to have good years [offensively] like [former Red Sox first-baseman] Mike Napoli did when Big Papi [Hall of Fame designated hitter David Ortiz] was in the lineup.”
“Can Sale stay healthy? Can Yoshida be the star he was in the World Baseball Classic? Can the Red Sox find someone to protect Rafael Devers in the lineup? Can [injury-plagued] Christian Arroyo play second base every day?” O’Brien posed. “There is a lot of talent on this team.”
Castiglione and O’Brien agreed the bullpen is much improved and that the newcomers are classy people with leadership qualities and have made a positive impact in the clubhouse.
Both broadcasters expect former reliever Garrett Whitlock to be a quality starter and they are hoping the injury-prone James Paxton can give them some solid innings. Whitlock had off-season hip surgery but has pitched in spring training and will be eased into the rotation.
Both are excited about 23-year-old first baseman Triston Casas, who can hit for power and also be a leadoff hitter thanks to his penchant for getting on base. Kike Hernandez moves from center field to shortstop, replacing Bogaerts. Second baseman-shortstop Trevor Story will miss a big portion of the season due to injury.
O’Brien said there’s a chance it could be a situation like 10 years ago when the Red Sox went from a last-place team in 2012 with a 69-93 record to the World Series champion in 2013. He said expectations for that 2013 season were low among outsiders but high on the team.
“I’m not saying it’s going to happen this year, but I’ve seen it happen before,” O’Brien said. “That’s all I’m saying.”