From the time this publishes, we will be just 29 hours away from the start of the first pitch of the 2021 Red Sox season. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I think that’s pretty neat. As I sit here on a Tuesday night thinking about the next six months of my life, here are some scattered thoughts on the upcoming season knocking around the ol’ noggin.
- First and foremost, I’m excited. I’m excited in a way I very much was not last year. If you’ve been reading along all winter you probably know I’m not super optimistic about the chances of the Red Sox contending this year — there’s certainly a path, but I think it’s more likely than not they find a different, less successful path — but I’m still excited. I’m excited for 162 games, more than anything. There are times when baseball can be a drag, if we’re being honest. Even with this excitement, there will be days in June where I really don’t want to do this. (Woe is me, I know.) But there will also be a little piece of me kicking the rest into gear, reminding myself of last year and letting me know that, while I don’t think I ever literally acknowledged this fact before, the thing I love the most about baseball, why I like it more than any other sport, is because it’s always there. I’m excited for it to always be there again, because I’ve seen the alternative.
- Specifically with the Red Sox, there are a lot of things to be wary of, but I think the core of this lineup is going to make for some really fun games. There are individual quibbles to make with each of these guys, but I’m pretty confident that Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Alex Verdugo and J.D. Martinez are going to be a collective force more nights than not. Offense is fun, and having a grouping like that which can demoralize opposing pitchers both with long, professional at bats as well as with quick strikes is a good thing to have on your side.
- Kiké Hernández is going to be a lot of fun. Nobody will ever replace the special niche that Brock Holt filled on and off the field, but Hernández is going to bring his own style to a similar role in both respects. On the field it’s going to be fun watching plus defense move around the diamond, and at the plate we’ve seen this spring the talent is there even if the consistency is a question. But the personality is what I’m looking forward to most. Every Dodgers fan I know absolutely adores this guy, and the little we’ve seen from him suggests that sentiment tracks. If the Red Sox aren’t going to be good, the next best thing is to have easy players to root for. Hernández should fill that need.
- I have no idea what to expect from the bottom portion of the lineup with Franchy Cordero, Hunter Renfroe and Bobby Dalbec. All three of those guys can go in a whole lot of different directions. But be assured: There will be dingers. Who doesn’t like dingers?
- The thing I’m most excited about this season, though, is Eduardo Rodriguez. We all know what happened this year, and I was among the many people doubting he would actually be fine this year. He’s obviously dealing with some arm stuff right now, but it doesn’t appear serious. Given that Rodriguez is the team’s best pitcher, that he is coming off of everything last season, and that he is a free agent after the season, there are a lot of reasons to root for him. Trey Mancini has a lock on the best feel-good story in baseball this year, as well he should, but we can feel good about two things, and I really want to feel good about Rodriguez in 2021.
- I’m still not really sure how I’m feeling about fans being back. I’m pretty sure it’s fine at a limited capacity even with cases spiking a bit, and it’s honestly mostly a me problem right now, but that’s part of living in a pandemic, I suppose. It’ll take me a while to adjust back to not cringing at people being near each other. But while I’m a little uneasy about things, I would be lying if I didn’t also acknowledge that I’m really excited to not have to look at the cardboard cutouts anymore. Of everything we dealt with in 2020 in baseball terms, the cardboard cutouts were by far the most dystopian. Never again.
- Even if the Red Sox are more middling than anything special, there are going to be some prospects that are legitimately exciting coming up this year. Jarren Duran tops the list for me, but pick your poison between him, Tanner Houck, Jeter Downs, Connor Seabold, Eduard Bazardo, and maybe in a perfect scenario Triston Casas at the end of the year. Not to mention Dalbec, who I don’t include only because he’ll be an everyday guy from day one.
- I’ve had a bad taste in my mouth since last February with this team, for obvious reasons, which isn’t a secret to anyone. To some extent, that bad taste will never leave, but it’s fading. Part of me hates that because that’s exactly what they were banking on at the time, but a bigger part of me is happy because it’s more fun not being sour about the team. I still don’t like the direction they took, but I have no choice but to be along for the ride, and as I’ve talked about in many ways leading up to this bullet point, it’s not as though there is nothing to be happy about with this team.
- All that said, I’m sticking with my prediction that this team finishes a bit under .500. If they stay healthy in the rotation they are a legitimate wildcard contender, and perhaps a favorite to grab one of those two spots. But the “if” is doing historically heavy lifting there. I just don’t see the pitching being there consistently enough. But I do think we’ll come out of this season with a clear picture of how they can be back to contending for realsies in 2022.