They field what is arguably baseball’s best (and youngest) outfield. They have the reigning Cy Young Award winner, and he isn’t even their best pitcher. They have an intimidating closer in Craig Kimbrel who dishes fastballs in the high-90s, and a feisty veteran second baseman in Dustin Pedroia who will restore calm when the inevitable chaos arrives, as it most assuredly will through the course of a four-month, 162-game baseball season.
Your Boston Red Sox are this year’s popular pick to represent the American League in the World Series, where their opponents are expected to be the defending champion Chicago Cubs. Yes, the world is officially upside down.
The journey to October got underway on Monday afternoon with Opening Day at Fenway Park, where the Red Sox christened their 117th season with a 5-3 triumph over the Pittsburgh Pirates. The hope and belief for many fans is that the year will end sometime in late fall with Champagne showers and the hoisting of the franchise’s fourth world championship trophy since 2004.
The Fenway opener came with all the usual pomp and circumstance, including an appearance by Tom Brady, who tossed the ceremonial first pitch. Mostly, there was an atmosphere of unbridled optimism as fans welcomed back the Olde Towne Team with one rousing cheer after another.
There are lofty expectations for the 2017 Red Sox. Pundits across the country, from Sports Illustrated to ESPN, have hopped aboard the bandwagon. SI calls them “the best team in the division by a lot, and one of the top two in the American League,” and predicts they will win 95 games.
And there is ample reason for all this positive energy. It starts with Chris Sale, a former Cape Cod Baseball League player who is now one of baseball’s finest left-handers. No player received a louder or longer ovation during pregame introductions. On Wednesday, the Sale Era in Boston begins when he takes the mound against the Pirates.
Meanwhile, Rick Porcello, the winner on Opening Day, looks ready to replicate his Cy Young season. And if David Price comes back soon, the Red Sox will boast a top three on the mound second to none.
And then there are the “Killer B’s:” Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, Jr., Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi. The 22-year-old Benintendi made quite the splash on Monday, becoming only the fifth Red Sox rookie to homer on Opening Day in 100 years, while also making a superb catch in left field. Should we just present him now with the Rookie of the Year Award?
Everyone contributed on Opening Day. Bogaerts collected two hits, Bradley Jr. tripled and made a spectacular catch in the center-field triangle, and Betts, coming off a season in which he finished second to Mike Trout in the MVP race, singled and drew a walk. Free-agent bust Pablo Sandoval also got into the act, driving in the first run of the season. The Panda shed 40 pounds in the off-season and perhaps is ready to justify his five-year, $95 million contract.
In fact, every player in the lineup, with the exception of Mitch Moreland, had a hit. This is called depth. It’s yet one more reason why these Red Sox appear destined for October glory.
It’s difficult to imagine that the Red Sox were once a supposedly cursed franchise, unable to produce a championship for 86 torturous years. Those days are long gone. Today, they are young, invincible and, after one game, undefeated. Fans are hereby advised to keep their schedules clear this fall. The Red Sox appear ready to take them on quite a ride.