FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Red Sox have one ace (Chris Sale) who is in his prime and a near lock to be dominant again this season. They have another ace (David Price) who is healthy again, and determined to get back to what he once was for the Rays,
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Red Sox have one ace (Chris Sale) who is in his prime and a near lock to be dominant again this season. They have another ace (David Price) who is healthy again, and determined to get back to what he once was for the Rays, Tigers and Blue Jays.
A new slugger is also on board in J.D. Martinez, and he has taken pressure off the talented young core of Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts, Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. Then there is Hanley Ramirez, who seems rejuvenated and slotted to hit third. And don't forget about invaluable veteran Dustin Pedroia, who should return by late May or early June.
A strong bullpen is anchored by perhaps the best closer in the American League in Craig Kimbrel.
The Red Sox feel like they are loaded, and in position to make a deep run in October. In fact, they feel like they have to make a deep run in the postseason. After consecutive AL East titles and 93-win seasons that ended with Division Series ousters, this is a highly motivated group led by new manager Alex Cora.
The quest starts on March 29, when they open the season at Tropicana Field against the Rays.
What's the goal?
The Red Sox are looking for nothing less than a World Series championship this season. Players like Sale, Price, Kimbrel, Martinez, Ramirez, Betts and Benintendi have never experienced that feeling, and it will drive them on a daily basis. With a nice mix of veterans and youth, not to mention offense and pitching, the Red Sox think they are in position to achieve their goal.
After a tough first two games in the ALDS last year against the Astros, the Red Sox started to feel everything click in Game 3 and came agonizingly close to winning Game 4. The players now feel like they know what it takes to win in the postseason. But to get there, they'll have to take care of their business in the regular season first. With the loaded Yankees set to contend in the AL East, that won't be easy.
What's the plan?
For the second season in a row, the Red Sox plan to set the tone with their power pitching, both in the starting rotation and in the bullpen. And this time, they should have Price along for the full ride. The difference, though, is the offense should also be a highly productive group after finishing last in the AL in home runs last year. The void that was left with the retirement of David Ortiz was filled a year later by the signing of Martinez. To reach their full potential, the Red Sox need Bogaerts, Bradley and Ramirez to have bounce-back seasons.
Not only do the Red Sox have a strong everyday lineup, but the bench could be stacked with Mitch Moreland and a healthy Blake Swihart. And once Pedroia returns, Eduardo Nunez will join the bench mix, giving Cora even more options.
What could go wrong?
Health. As with any team aiming for a championship, a major injury can derail goals. It is key for the Red Sox that their best players stay healthy. The list of players Boston can't afford to lose for a prolonged period? Sale, Price, Kimbrel, Martinez, Benintendi and Betts.
Though the Red Sox have a general expectation that their third baseman, Devers, will be solid in his first full season, especially at the plate, there are no guarantees. Devers has been prone to lapses on defense and the Red Sox need him to tighten it up at the hot corner.
Who might surprise?
A rotation that already includes the trio of Sale, Price and Thomas Pomeranz could have a fourth lefty turn in a breakout season this year. That would be Eduardo Rodriguez, who has always had the talent to be an upper-echelon pitcher but hasn't been able to put it together for a full season due to injuries and inconsistency.
Sale, Price and Rick Porcello have been instrumental in providing solid leadership for Rodriguez, and Cora recently credited the lefty for how hard he has worked this spring. If Rodriguez breaks out, the Red Sox could have the best rotation in the game.
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.