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Red Sox still in driver's seat in AL East

Healthy Price, Pedroia could keep defending division champs rolling
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

Backed by a rookie manager in Alex Cora who once played in Boston, a rotation led by two aces and a young core that is still getting better, the Red Sox can't wait for 2018.

Yes, there will be fierce competition from the Yankees, who added a new chapter to the rivalry by trading for Giancarlo Stanton's big bat. And New York also has a new manager who once played for the team in Aaron Boone.

Backed by a rookie manager in Alex Cora who once played in Boston, a rotation led by two aces and a young core that is still getting better, the Red Sox can't wait for 2018.

Yes, there will be fierce competition from the Yankees, who added a new chapter to the rivalry by trading for Giancarlo Stanton's big bat. And New York also has a new manager who once played for the team in Aaron Boone.

But the Red Sox can't wait to see how they measure up. It is Boston that won the American League East the last two seasons. Nearly every key member returns from last year's team, and the Red Sox hope to take a step further and have the deep postseason run that hasn't materialized over the past two seasons.

"Our goal is not to win the division. Our goal is to win a world championship," said Red Sox president/CEO Sam Kennedy. "We had a great year last year. We had a great year the year before but we didn't get to the final destination, which is winning the last game of the season. We've tasted that now three times in our 16 years here and that's why we're here."

1. Will David Price stay healthy?
Perhaps the Red Sox don't get enough credit for winning 93 games last season despite No. 2 starter Price being limited to just 16 games (11 starts) due to multiple stints on the disabled list with left elbow woes. Price certainly looked healthy late in the regular season and in the postseason while being utilized in the bullpen. In fact, he was overpowering. Now, the Red Sox hope Price can get back to what he's been most of his career -- a pitcher who can be counted on for 200 innings and 15-20 wins.

Video: HOU@BOS Gm3: Price shuts down Astros in Game 3

The case can be made that Price is the key to Boston's season. If he is in top form, the Red Sox will have an elite 1-2 rotation tandem of Chris Sale and Price. But if Price suffers another injury, it might be hard for Boston to cover up for his loss as well as it did last year. It will be a fascinating season to watch Price because he has an opt-out after 2018.

2. Can Dustin Pedroia bounce back?
Boston's veteran leader had a tough time just getting through last season, virtually playing on one leg for much of it. In the offseason, Pedroia underwent reconstructive surgery on his left knee, and all eyes will be on him to see if he can be the same sparkplug in all facets that he's been for so long. Pedroia has been confident since his surgery, telling Cora he will be ready to go. And you know that he won't skip any steps in the rehab process. If everything goes well, Pedroia should be back in the lineup in late May or early June. But the key will be how well the 34-year-old can perform once he gets back.

Video: Cora gives update on Pedroia's rehab progress

3. How will Cora manage?
Cora was the choice the Red Sox coveted all along after the dismissal of John Farrell. Now that they have their chosen manager, Cora will look to demonstrate why the team wanted him so much. Though he has never managed aside from in winter ball, Cora has been absorbing the game for basically his whole life and has always been known for his intelligence. His communication skills are also excellent, and in two languages no less. But you never know how a manager will hold up under game speed and over a full season until he actually gets the chance to do it. Cora can't wait to get started, and Red Sox Nation looks forward to seeing which direction the club will go under its new leader.

4. What will Rafael Devers do over a full season?
Enthusiastic slugger Devers made an impressive arrival for the Red Sox in late July, and it's doubtful they would have won the division title without his production at third base. Now comes the hard part. The 21-year-old Devers must prove he can do it over a full season, and with opponents making adjustments to him. One things is clear: Devers has all the talent to be a star. The mental side of the game will be key for him in 2018. A 30-homer season is not out of the realm of possibility if Devers is able to minimize his slumps and counter whatever adjustments are made against him. On defense, he needs to be more consistent than he was down the stretch last year.

Video: Cora is excited to work with Devers

5. Will Hanley Ramirez rake again?
Which Ramirez will show up in 2018? The one who was machine-like with his production in '16, belting 30 homers to go along with 111 RBIs? Or the one who was hampered by shoulder injuries last season and had just 62 RBIs and a .750 OPS? The Red Sox are a different team when Ramirez is clicking at the plate. He is the type of hitter who can impact an entire lineup when he's going right. Ramirez had left shoulder surgery after the season, and he hopes that will enable him to get back to doing the type of damage he's accustomed to doing.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

Boston Red Sox, Rafael Devers, Dustin Pedroia, David Price