With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Red Sox squad each day this week. Today's topic: The perfect season.BOSTON -- The thrill of being a contender again was thrilling for the Red Sox and their fans last season, but the
With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Red Sox squad each day this week. Today's topic: The perfect season.
BOSTON -- The thrill of being a contender again was thrilling for the Red Sox and their fans last season, but the standards are now higher for what could well be a memorable 2017.
• Across the Majors, goals set for 2017
Once again, the Patriots have set the bar for success in New England by winning the Super Bowl. The Red Sox look forward to the challenge of reaching those heights themselves in an effort to bring Boston sports an 11th championship parade this century.
For the Red Sox, such a goal isn't a pipe dream. Their roster, led by a loaded pitching staff and a balanced lineup, has the makings of an elite squad.
"I think we, as a team, had a great year last year and we know where we can be and we know what we can do," said right fielder Mookie Betts. "Now we have a couple of additions to help. Now we just know as a team we can be confident and we can go in and get to where we need to be."
Sure, there is that whole matter of replacing a legend named David Ortiz. But the addition of yet another ace in Chris Sale to go along with David Price and Rick Porcello should offset the loss of Big Papi.
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A loaded offense can lead to great success during the regular season, as the Red Sox found out en route to 93 wins and an American League East title in 2016. But pitching is what wins in October, as the Cubs and Indians proved last season.
Backed by the impressive front three, Boston's rotation also includes two All-Stars from last year (Steven Wright and Thomas Pomeranz) and a lefty (Eduardo Rodriguez) who has the stuff to one day become an All-Star.
• Sale should provide biggest boost to new-look Sox
So the first thing that needs to happen for the Red Sox to have that perfect type of season is for the rotation to stay mostly healthy.
Aside from the 2004 Red Sox, virtually no rotation makes it through the entire season without a starter spending time on the disabled list. These Red Sox are well-positioned to handle one injury, with six quality starters going for five spots.
• Can Swihart reclaim spot as top Sox backstop?
If the rotation lives up to expectations, the bullpen won't get overworked. Manager John Farrell has a loaded crew of relievers who throw in the mid 90s or higher, led by closer Craig Kimbrel, who hopes to be more consistent in his second season in Boston. New acquisition Tyler Thornburg, whose excellence went under the radar in Milwaukee last year, should also be a major factor and will be Kimbrel's primary setup man.
Joe Kelly has adapted well to his new home in the bullpen and could be a force in his first full season as a reliever. Matt Barnes, who was dominant at times last year, should also take another step forward with more experience under his belt.
• Betts becomes leader of Red Sox's offense
Though the Red Sox might not lead the league in nearly every offensive category like they did a year ago, they should score plenty.
Betts is a star in his prime and is coming off a second-place finish in the AL Most Valuable Player Award voting. Dustin Pedroia and Hanley Ramirez are still strong performers. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts is one of the best hitters at his position. Jackie Bradley Jr. is coming off a 26-homer season and is an elite defender.
• Red Sox primed to be top contender in 2017
Third base will be a question mark until Pablo Sandoval proves that he can perform at a high level again. The catching position is up for grabs between Blake Swihart, Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon.
Overall, the Red Sox love where they are and hope to give their fans another deep postseason run.
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and **Facebook**.