John Tomase

Five Red Sox Opening Day thoughts: Weak links, bright spots and more

A lot is riding on Boston's 10-game West Coast swing to start the season.

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Five Red Sox thoughts ahead of Thursday's opening night in Seattle ...

Tone-setting trip

The season-opening West Coast trip can really set the tone for a season. The 2018 title defense opened in Seattle with three losses in four games, and by the time the 2019 Red Sox staggered home to face the Blue Jays, they were 3-8 and not exactly feeling celebratory. They never recovered.

In 2008, they took three of four from the A's, though the first two were played in Tokyo as part of Daisuke Matsuzaka's homecoming. That season ended in Game 7 of the ALCS.

The 2000 Red Sox returned from a six-game swing through Seattle and Anaheim with a 2-4 record and major questions about the non-Pedro Martinez portions of the starting rotation that they never answered en route to 85 wins.

The 1997 and 1998 teams each started out west and neither posted a winning record, though the former came close. Ricky Trlicek's walk-off walk lost the finale to the A's and dropped the Sox to 4-4. They won 78 games that year, though a young shortstop named Nomar Garciaparra burst onto the scene and a year later the Sox were a playoff team.

If history is any guide, the Red Sox will be sub-.500 when they play the home opener in a couple of weeks. That's a rough way to start the season.

Felger and Mazz debate what a reasonable goal for this Red Sox team should be in 2024, and what contention would look like into September.

The one weak link

That said, I don't expect the Red Sox to go wire to wire in last place. There's enough offense to keep them afloat, and the young rotation could surprise us -- for a time. Tanner Houck added more velocity than any pitcher this spring and Garrett Whitlock remade his physique. Fellow righty Kutter Crawford finished strong and could improve. There is some upside.

But the team needed Jordan Montgomery or Blake Snell to kick one of the young guys to the bullpen. They have zero depth and basically nowhere to turn when injuries inevitably strike.

They talked up Cooper Criswell in spring training, but he'll open the season in Worcester. Late veteran addition Chase Anderson has an ERA over 6.00 over the last four seasons. They just acquired Naoyuki Uwasawa from the Rays after he got lit up in spring training.

It all fell apart last year when the Red Sox couldn't patch holes in their rotation. The bullpen held things together for a time, but August is the month of attrition, and it's easy to envision a similar scenario unfolding this year.

Trade deadline turning point?

The Vegas over/under win total ranges from 75.5 to 79.5, which is a pretty big swing. It's easy to envision a scenario where the Red Sox go waaaaay under, however, and that will be determined on July 31.

Last year, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom lost the confidence of ownership when he failed to trade veterans like James Paxton or Justin Turner who weren't pieces of the future. Replacement Craig Breslow arrived promising to be more aggressive, and I suspect we'll finally see it at the trade deadline.

If the Red Sox aren't realistic contenders, look for Breslow to deal any veteran on a short-term deal. Closer Kenley Jansen and setup man Chris Martin are two obvious candidates, and starter Nick Pivetta and outfielder Tyler O'Neill could easily end up on the block, too.

Stripping the roster for parts might be the wise move in the long-term, but it could crater the team in the second half.

On the upswing?

A couple of players I expect to take major steps forward are first baseman Triston Casas and shortstop Trevor Story.

The former was a top-10 hitter in baseball in the second half last year and has the potential to dominate the middle of a lineup. The latter is fully healed from injury and ready to show the full extent of his skills as a Gold Glove-caliber fielder, smart, athletic baserunner, and decent power hitter. He also has stepped forward as a leader.

Meet the new guys

On the other end of the spectrum, I like his bat, but we'll see how rookie Vaughn Grissom handles everyday reps at second base, where his defense remains a work in progress.

I'm also concerned about O'Neill's ability to hit right-handed pitching, although Thursday marks a rare opportunity for the former Cardinal. Courtesy the incomparable Sarah Langs of, O'Neill is trying to surpass Todd Hundley, Gary Carter, and Yogi Berra as the only player to homer on five straight opening days.

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