The Rain Delay

Hard-Hitting Baseball Analysis

Opening Day was the start of a new era for the Boston Red Sox

2017 will be a transitional year for the Boston Red Sox, but not of the infamous “bridge year” variety a la 2010. Unlike the 2010 rendition, this Red Sox team is built to win a World Series now, but it will have to do so without franchise icon David Ortiz, who opted to retire after last season despite still being one of the game’s most feared sluggers.

Despite the availability of prominent sluggers like Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista and Mark Trumbo —  and their surprisingly reasonable price tags —  the Red Sox opted to “replace” Ortiz with Gold Glove 1B Mitch Moreland. Moreland will play first base against right-handed pitching and likely sit against most left-handers, with Hanley Ramirez playing first and lefty masher Chris Young DH’ing against left-handed pitching.

No matter the exact lineup combinations manager John Farrell ultimately deploys, there is no doubt which five players are the core: outfielders Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi, shortstop Xander Bogaerts, and — of course — second baseman Dustin Pedroia. While Pedroia holds the mantle as Boston’s leader as its most tenured member, Betts, Bradley, Benintendi and Bogaerts represent something potentially much bigger: a dynamic, homegrown quartet averaging 24 years of age on Opening Day that should represent the core of the Red Sox team for the next decade.

While injuries, contract negotiations and unforeseen occurrences can derail even the most sound of projections, what the Red Sox have right now is special. All four of these players can hit, run and field. The days of the Red Sox going station-to-station with little athleticism in the lineup appear long gone, a relic of the past just like Ortiz.

win dance repeat

With Benintendi, Bradley, and Betts in the fold, fun times are ahead for the Red Sox.

And on Monday, this new, dynamic brand of Red Sox baseball had an impressive debut. Betts reached base twice out of the number three spot in the lineup. Bradley Jr. made a brilliant running catch near the triangle in right-center field to rob Francisco Cervelli of extra bases. Bogaerts swiped two bases. And then there was Benintendi, who hit a towering three-run homer and followed that up by snaring a Starling Marte bullet that took the steam out of a promising 7th inning Pirates’ rally.

It was hard to watch Boston’s ascending stars on Monday without comparing them to the dynamic stars in the opposing dugout. The Pittsburgh Pirates, led by McCutchen and Marte, took baseball by storm in 2013, winning 94 games and breaking a 20-year playoff drought in the process.

Since then, Pittsburgh has been one of the best teams in the NL, with McCutchen and Marte continuing to lead the way, and Polanco reaching the majors in 2014. The energy, defense, speed and line drive hitting that made the Pirates so successful over the past few years is the exact formula the Red Sox hope to replicate moving forward.

For the financially-challenged Pirates, the ability to further build around their stars was hampered. Pittsburgh had to supplement its roster with unproven prospects, lower-tier free agents, reclamation projects and minor league retreads.

The rich Red Sox, on the other hand, can throw $200+ million to get an ace (David Price) and give up a few blue-chip prospects to get another (Chris Sale). With a core intact and the ability to supplement the roster down the road, fun times are ahead for the Red Sox.

 

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Updated: April 5, 2017 — 3:53 pm

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