Xander Bogaerts doesn’t view the Red Sox as underdogs.
The star shortstop has heard the doubters who want to proclaim Boston’s postseason chances have slipped away before the season begins but he’s not buying into the criticism. As far as he’s concerned, this roster is built to win.
"“Coming into the season we’re underdogs, and with the lineup that we have, the team that we have, the roster that we have, I don’t understand how we’re even an underdog,” Bogaerts stated at a recent press conference at Fenway Park."
Those who are betting against the Red Sox have some fair points. This team won only 84 games last year to finish outside of the postseason picture. They have since lost an MVP candidate in Mookie Betts and No. 2 starter David Price in a trade with the Dodgers. Chris Sale will miss the entire season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. It’s hard to imagine improvement from a team subtracting that much star power.
The schedule does Boston no favors either. They play the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays 10 times each, plus the Miami Marlins three times. Those 23 games account for the only contests the Red Sox play in this 60-game sprint against clubs that finished the 2019 season with a losing record. Factor in expected improvement from the young Blue Jays and the opposition appears even more daunting.
As much as the Red Sox have going against them, there are some positives in their favor. The lineup remains loaded with talent even with the departure of Betts. Bogaerts and Rafael Devers emerged as extra-base hitting machines last year and J.D. Martinez anchors the lineup as one of the game’s best hitters. With a bounce-back season from Andrew Benintendi and steady improvement from a few young players, Boston’s bats bring plenty of firepower.
The concern is with a starting rotation that was an Achilles heel for this team a year ago even with partial seasons from Sale and Price. With those former All-Stars entirely out of the equation, there’s little to be confident about beyond Eduardo Rodriguez, whose status for Opening Day is in question after he tested positive for COVID-19.
If E-Rod recovers from the virus and builds upon his breakout 2019, the Red Sox have a worthy ace to lead their rotation. Nathan Eovaldi looked sharp in Spring Training 1.0 and he’s already flirting with triple-digits on the radar gun.
The depth behind those two isn’t appealing but there’s some potential. Ryan Weber was impressive back in March. Collin McHugh has been a solid rotation option in the past. Martin Perez had a winning record in two of the last three years. Boston doesn’t need these guys to be great, they just can’t afford for them to all be terrible.
If the Red Sox don’t have five viable starters, perhaps they won’t need to. The shortened season makes it more feasible to navigate the schedule with a four-man rotation with a bullpen game every fifth day. The underwhelming back of the rotation options could perform better if they aren’t asked to turn the lineup over more than twice. Boston can lean on their bullpen to shorten the game as a way to overcome their depleted rotation.
If the top two starters perform to their capabilities while some combination of the remaining rotation options plus the bullpen manage to provide even mediocre production, the Red Sox have a path to a winning record. Is it really that unfathomable to believe this team can get hot for a stretch that carries them to 34 wins? That’s a .566 winning percentage, higher than the one posted by two playoff teams last year.
No, the Red Sox aren’t the favorites to come out of the American League and they are a long shot to win their own division with the powerhouse Yankees and Rays holding superior odds. Does that mean they should throw in the towel already? Of course not! Bogaerts hasn’t lost confidence in this team and if the doubters motivate him and his teammates then it could help Boston to exceed expectations.