By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — An odd baseball season is underway, with a lot more unknowns than certainties for both MLB and the Boston Red Sox.
With teams set to travel across the country, many are wondering if MLB can even have a season during a pandemic. And with the Red Sox hitting the reset button over the offseason, few are counting on them to be involved when (if) the postseason does arrive.
The 2020 season is going to be the weirdest season of baseball. Ever. Players (some of whom will be wearing masks) will take the field in empty stadiums filled with fake crowd noise, minus weekend Fox games, in which the network will create fake fans. Because nothing screams normalcy like CGI fans.
Teams will only get 60 games to figure it all out, too. That’s a little over a third of the regular regular season, which won’t give the perceived pretenders much time to put it all together and turn into October contenders. At least the league expanded the playoffs just before the Yankees and Nationals started the season Thursday night, letting six additional teams play into November. They did not, however, tinker with the pace of play rules, giving us the usual three-plus hours of baseball excitement every night.
But hey, we got a universal DH. More offense for all!
The Red Sox figure to be one of those pretenders looking to rise to the top. Alex Cora is gone, with Ron Roenicke now manning the bench. The new Boston skipper has had quite the offseason to navigate, from Cora’s ousting and a cheating scandal to the blockbuster Mookie Betts trade, along with tackling questions about racial injustice and the ongoing pandemic. Compared to all of that, managing a baseball team should be a walk in the park for the 63-year-old.
But unfortunately for Roenicke, he doesn’t have the greatest team at his disposal. The Red Sox pitching is a bag of trash inside of an ongoing dumpster fire. They can’t even figure out who is throwing out the first pitch Friday night without some controversy.
Ace Eduardo Rodriguez is back with the team after recovering from COVID-19, but won’t be ready for a few more weeks after doctors discovered some minor complications from the virus. And since Chris Sale’s elbow is still recovering from Tommy John surgery, David Price is not playing this season for the Dodgers, and Rick Porcello is now good friends with Mr. Met, that leaves Nathan Eovaldi as Boston’s opening day starter Friday night against the Orioles. There is a lot riding on Eovaldi bouncing back this season, after the 2018 World Series hero sported a 5.99 ERA in his 67 innings of work last season. If the Red Sox are to have any shot at making a run at the postseason, Eovaldi will have to live up to that $67.5 million contract he signed ahead of last season.
If Rodriguez’s absence was the only question mark in the rotation, then maybe the Sox would be somewhat OK. But that is not the only question mark in the rotation. Not by a long shot. After Eovaldi, Boston is relying on Martin Perez to pitch like he did in the first half of 2019, when he held hitters to a .247 average, and not like he did in the second half of 2019, when he had a 6.27 ERA and opposing batters hit .319 off him. Perez would be a solid option as a No. 4 starter, but at the moment, he is Boston’s de facto No. 2.
The questions just grow bigger after Perez. Ryan Weber is in the third rotation slot at the moment, the proud owner for a 3-9 record and 5.04 ERA over his five-year MLB career. Who starts after that could come down to throwing darts at a wall of names. but the Red Sox are going to use at least one opener.
Yes. The Boston Red Sox, two years removed from an historically great team and World Series championship, are now borrowing plays from the Tampa Bay Rays. Man, 2020 sure is a weird year.
Those are just the woes with the starting pitching; we haven’t even tackled the bullpen. But at least the Red Sox have named a closer ahead of the season, with Brandon Workman getting the ninth inning honors. That inspires a little more faith in the team’s Achilles’ heel of last year, but not much.
If there is anything that will send the Red Sox into contention this year, it’s their offense. That remains as legit as they come, even without Betts leading the charge. Xander Bogaerts has proven he’s the real deal over the last four seasons, and should take the torch from Betts as the face of the franchise. Rafael Devers has emerged as a premiere power bat in the league, and J.D. Martinez will once again find himself in a potential contract year. If Andrew Benintendi can bounce back after a disappointing 2019 season, and Alex Verdugo continues the upward trend he showed in Los Angeles, the Red Sox will have no problem scoring runs.
It should make for a somewhat interesting, albeit likely disappointing, Red Sox season. The team wasn’t expected to make much noise when the season was 162 games, but the shortened schedule and expanded playoffs gives them a chance to flirt with a playoff spot if everything goes right. Chances are a lot will go wrong for Boston, a team that should find themselves in lots of high-scoring affairs.
In a year where nothing is going as planned or as expected, shrouded in a giant cloud of uncertainty, the 2020 Boston Red Sox fit right in.