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How the Red Sox can finish over .500

And how it can all go wrong.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles
This would help.
Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Bobby Dalbec is on fire. He hit another homer yesterday, his fourth of the spring before St. Patrick’s Day, and has already locked up a spot as the nearly everyday first baseman. He is the first of a small wave of Sox hitting prospects set to become regulars over the next couple of years, and a presumed piece of future contending teams. He is exciting.

This year will be about guys like Bobby D. The good parts of this year will be about guys like Bobby D, that is. Despite some optimism in some corners of the internet, the Sox should be about a .500 team with, frankly, more potential to be a lot worse than to be a lot better. While the playoffs are by no means out of the question, here is what has to happen for the Sox to contend:

1. Good health, especially for the pitching staff

Any pitching staff headlined by Nathan Eovaldi, Garrett Richards, Eduardo Rodriguez and a Chris Sale returning from Tommy John surgery is one that’s going to take us on a white-knuckle slalom run around potential injuries. The margin of error for the Sox to compete is so slim that any slip from any one of these guys (except perhaps Sale) could be fatal to the team’s chances of competing. Given their respective histories, that’s all tall order for each one of them, leastwise for the group.

2. J.D. Martinez remembers how to hit

This one is self-explanatory, but, in fairness, it’s probably more important for unlocking Boston’s ceiling than laying down its floor. I’m definitely on team “throw out 2020 precedents whenever possible,” but Martinez was bad, and you can only throw out 2020 for another three weeks. Then the games count again, and the proof will be in what we hope is the delicious, delicious pudding.

3. They start fast

While it’s theoretically possible for the Sox to slowly pick up steam as the year goes along, it cuts against the grain of their easiest path to contention. If the team starts slow, there’s a real chance that selling at the trade deadline becomes a certainty, no matter how good they play in the interim. Put another way, they need to be above .500 before Sale returns, or Matt Barnes might be grabbing holds for the Braves or something. But of course the key to this part is...

4. Sale needs to be good

He doesn’t need to be great. Just good. But that requires his recovery to continue to go well, and on schedule. Look, if he’s out there, he’ll probably be good. He literally always has been. But a lot of things are always true right until they aren’t.

5. They have to want it

Maybe Chaim Bloom doesn’t care how the team does this year, dedicated as he seems to be to the process of rebuilding the entire organization. There’s a world where I can see the Sox hanging around the .500 mark and Bloom pulling the trigger on some two steps forward, two steps back moves that dampen their playoff hopes for this year but brighten them for 2022 and beyond. I can’t even say I’d blame him.

What I don’t think is going to happen is that the team, flirting with .500 or a playoff spot, trades into a better postseason position. That just doesn’t seem like the order of the year. If I’m wrong, I’ll be happy to learn it, but that reckoning would be a long way off. Here’s hoping we get to those crossroads, though.