Here we are. Opening Day is tomorrow, the time for exhibition baseball is over and the games count now. Snuck up on ya quick, didn’t it? Sure did for me, as we went from watching the free agent market slowly play out as guys were already in camp to the teams packing up from their spring training complexes and shipping out to open up the 2018 season. As for the Boston Red Sox, they enter the 2018 season with the best Grapefruit League record at 22-9 and ready to feast on their opponents to start the season.
The schedule-makers certainly helped Alex Cora and his Red Sox out to begin the 2018 season. They travel north in Florida from Fenway South in Fort Myers to St. Pete to play the lowly Rays for a juicy four-game series at The Trop. They make a quick stop in Miami to play the Marlins for two games, who traded seemingly every player on their major league roster that had a lick of talent, before heading home to Fenway to take on the Rays next weekend for three games. It doesn’t matter that Hector Velasquez or Brian Johnson are in the rotation, I expect no less than 7 wins in the opening nine games from the Sox with that schedule to open the campaign. They should really be 9-0, but the Rays may sneak in a game or two against them.
The Red Sox will be powered by the strength at the front of their rotation with Chris Sale, David Price and Rick Porcello. Those three should continue with their usual effectiveness and command opposing lineups keeping the ball club in more games than not. It stacks up with the entire majors as far as the top of a starting rotation, and they will all play a critical role in getting Boston back to the postseason.
Cora will have plenty of solid options in the bullpen to select from as well. Boston is returning elite closer Craig Kimbrel as well as set up men Matt Barnes, Carson Smith and Joe Kelly. Then rounding out the bullpen is the returning Heath Hembree and two rookies that have yet to throw a major league pitch in Marcus Walden, who worked NINE years in the minors before getting a shot, and then former Lowell Spinners class of ’15 left-hander Bobby Poyner breaks camp with the club rounding out Cora’s bullpen.
As far as the lineup and positional players, the Red Sox are returning the core of their 93-win team from last season with a new manager, another year of experience and add 45-HR hitting slugger to the middle of the order. Dustin Pedroia will open the season on the DL after off-season knee surgery and he’s not expected back until at least May. Eduardo Nunez will fill-in at second base with a pair of utility players in Brock Holt and Blake Swihart providing spot duty at the position. The killer B’s return to man the outfield, and I would expect to see production and power numbers from the likes of Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi to increase with another year under their belt. Rafael Devers will man the hot corner with Xander Bogaerts at short completing a solid and should-be productive left side of the infield. Hanley Ramirez and Mitch Moreland will platoon at first base so it appears, but with designated hitter J.D. Martinez rotating to corner outfield spots as well, Cora has total flexibility over the roster and lineup to manipulate it day-to-day based on the matchups and opponents to put the best team on the field and at the dish each and every game.
Factor everything together, I have the Red Sox edging out the Yankees in the American League East. Look past Judge and Stanton, and the Red Sox have a deeper team and especially starting rotation over New York. It’ll be a tight race all year, and those games will be must-see, but with the addition of J.D. Martinez, Boston wins the division and around 98 games this season. Boston opens the 2018 season with the highest payroll in team history and in the entire major leagues at $223 million and should feast on the early portion of the schedule. Twenty-plus wins start to the season before the calendar turns to May isn’t entirely out of the question.
Baseball season is back. The smell of the fresh cut grass, vendors running up and down the aisles with peanuts and beer, ballpark dogs with your condiment of choice, there’s nothing quite like it. Sit back and enjoy the ride and all that the 2018 baseball season has to offer.
Follow Frank Pimentel on Twitter: @FrankBostonTank