BOSTON (CBS) — The Red Sox were bad in 2020. Real bad. It wasn’t a fun season of baseball in Boston.
But it was an important step in Chaim Bloom’s master plan. The goal is to make the Red Sox a World Series contender every season, though realistically, that isn’t realistic. Not to start, at least.READ MORE: N'Keal Harry Continues To Impress At Patriots Training Camp
With Opening Day upon us (albeit on a one-day delay), 2021 figures to be a much better year for Boston baseball. And it’s not just an “It can’t get any worse” mentality going from last year to this year. There are a number of reasons to be a little optimistic about the 2021 Boston Red Sox.
Just ask the guy who put the team together.
“The big thing that has stood out to me is the atmosphere. It’s been a really good atmosphere,” Bloom recently told WBZ-TV’s Dan Roche. “Frankly, because of the pandemic and knowing how difficult it is to function with all the protocols, the stress it puts on everybody, I don’t know I expected that coming in. That’s a credit to a lot of people here. A credit to Alex [Cora] and his staff, and a credit to the players, who got after this ready to roll.
“The energy and sense of purpose has been great every day. We have a lot of new faces and it helps that they come from places where there have been winning cultures,” Bloom added. “These are guys who have won and they’ve mixed with each other and the core group who have been here really well. It’s awesome.”
Mookie Betts still isn’t walking through that door, which is something that will forever rub Sox fans the wrong way. But Alex Cora is back on the bench, a stabilizing force at the top of the pecking order. The Red Sox didn’t make any gigantic free agent splashes this offseason to alleviate the hunger for a franchise star, but Bloom did add some key pieces in some important roles. Kiké Hernandez, Marwin Gonzalez and Hunter Renfroe are no stars, but they will add versatility to the offense. Franchy Cordero figures to bring a big bat, a big arm, and a lot of excitement to the roster. The bullpen was one of Boston’s biggest issues last season, but this year’s iteration is a promising one led by likely closer Matt Barnes and new additions Adam Ottavino, Hirokazu Sawamura and the spring’s feel good story in Garrett Whitlock.
Starting pitching is, and always will be, the biggest factor in a team’s success. The Red Sox rotation is still littered with question marks, mostly regarding health. Eduardo Rodriguez is back after missing all of last season, and was on track to get an Opening Day start before a “dead arm” put him on the shelf. Those honors now go to Nathan Eovaldi, who himself is a question mark. Add in the unknown that comes with free agent addition Garrett Richards, and the only sure thing in the rotation is that Martin Perez will be out there every five days. Nick Pivetta has a lot of upside, but he too is an unknown. The Red Sox have all of that in its rotation, and that doesn’t even mention Chris Sale, who likely won’t be back from Tommy John surgery until the second half of the season.
So where is the optimism? Boston figures to have a pretty loaded offense this season, with J.D. Martinez and Rafael Devers ready to do damage in the heart of the order. But the Red Sox’ real strength lies in the team’s versatility, and Bloom believes there are a lot of different ways that this team can win ballgames.
“Clearly [versatility was] something we valued as we were looking at players this winter and figuring out how to augment our roster and deepen it,” said Bloom. “Just how to make us tougher to play against and put us in position to win more games. We have players who can do a lot of different things and I think that will help us weather the storms of the season. It’s been, frankly, better than we expected when you look at the shape the guys came in. Whether it’s been [infielders Christian] Arroyo or [Michael] Chavis or the way Marwin Gonzalez is moving around; guys we knew could play multiple positions but are showing they’re even more mobile than we anticipated. The exciting thing about it is it will give Alex even more options on a daily basis.”
Bloom is confident that the team’s balance throughout the lineup will lead to a lot of runners crossing home plate.READ MORE: Troy Brown Is Looking Jacked At Patriots Training Camp
“That’s been the norm here for many years, that this team can score. Especially at Fenway Park. Hopefully this year will be no different,” he said. “What I like about it is I hope we’re set up not to give opposing pitchers any breaks. We need to force them to be on their game 1-9, and if we can do that and grind out at-bats, we’re going to be very difficult to play against. That will wear down the opposition and hopefully benefit us as the games go on.”
Whether or not the team can pull another worst-to-first turnaround under Cora remains to be seen. But it all starts on Opening Day, which for Bloom and many seamheads, is one of the best days of the year.
“I may be a cheeseball in this regard, but I love Opening Day. I’m not going to go so far to say it should be a national holiday, but it’s definitely a baseball holiday,” said Bloom. “If you can’t take a moment on Opening Day to appreciate how lucky we are that we get to do this – especially this year, especially knowing how much pain and tragedy and suffering there has been the past year – it’s essential to take the time to appreciate that.
“We are links in a very long chain in this game that goes back well over 100 years. It’s really cool and a privilege to be part of that,” he added. “To think back at all the past Opening Days at Fenway and add another link to that chain.”
More From Bloom
On the spring power surge from Bobby Dalbec and Jarren Duran:
“It’s interesting because I think some guys who hit a lot of home runs and strike out a lot get typecast. People think they’re just up there with this brainless mindset to swing as hard as you can in case you hit it. That’s not Bobby. He can hit it as hard as anybody, but he’s constantly thinking and working on how to close up holes. I think it shows when you look at his minor league track record; he gets challenged at new levels and then he makes adjustments and figures it out. Now he’s going to be challenged at the highest level and in probably toughest division in of pro sports. We’re going to find out. But being around him and seeing how serious he takes it, I have a lot of optimism he’ll be able to do that. We know the power is going to play when he puts the bat on the ball.
“I’ve talked about Jarren and his physical gifts. He has a ceiling to be an impactful player in our league. There is more work for him to get there, but I’m just excited for him to have a normal season. Credit to him for going to PR to play winter ball to make up for some of that. I’m excited for him to get out there and hone his skills against the competition that he’ll face. Let’s see how good he can be, because he has a chance to be really good.”
On owning the No. 4 pick in this year’s draft:
“There are so many reasons to be thankful to see the light at the end of the tunnel here, but we’re thankful that from an amateur standpoint they can have a somewhat normal spring. That’s so huge for these players, especially coming off last year when they didn’t get to play. We have a lot of catching up to do figuring out how good they are.MORE NEWS: WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational Preview: TPC Southwind 'Pretty Demanding,' Says CBS Sports' Nick Faldo
“This year’s draft, given where we pick not just in the first round but in the entire draft, and the infusion of talent it allows us to bring into the organization, it’s a huge opportunity to help us get to where we want to go.”