This 2018 baseball season should not be too complicated for the Boston Red Sox. If the starting rotation pitches like it should, and the bullpen comes together, and the new power bat solidifies the lineup, then the first-year manager will make the right moves for a championship run.

It’s as easy as A-B-C … sort of.

A is for Alex Cora. The new guy in the clubhouse corner office has never managed in the big leagues before. But Cora, 42, is held in high esteem for his know-how and people skills. He reportedly is high on analytics, but not everything will be by the book. He’s already talked about not working counts and using young, left-handed hitters against left-hander pitchers.

B is Benny and the Betts. Big things are expected from Andrew Benintendi, coming off a solid rookie year (.776 OPS/20 home runs) and Mookie Betts (.803/24). Besides batting 1-2 in the lineup and handling the corner outfield spots, both may see time in center field if Cora juggles the lineup with J.D. Martinez aboard.

C is for Closer. Craig Kimbrel was darn-near automatic last year, leading the majors with a 0.68 WHIP while recording 35 saves. He’s been slowed this spring, understandably, with his infant daughter undergoing two heart surgeries. This is Kimbrel’s free-agent year. He should be primed to go.

D is for Devers. You don’t want to expect too much from 21-year-old Rafael Devers but, oh my, the potential is there. He began last year in Portland and eventually reached Boston (.819 OPS/10 home runs in 58 games).


E is for Elbow. David Price’s says his elbow is healthy but there will always be concern after he made only 11 starts last year. Price, 32, is part of the trio (with Chris Sale and Rick Porcello) that Boston’s championship hopes hinge on.

F is for Farm. Don’t expect much help from new prospects this year, with most of the top prospects already promoted, traded or still in Class A. Slugger Michael Chavis was slowed by an oblique injury this spring. Left-handed reliever Bobby Poyner, who went from Class A to the Sea Dogs last year, has been a surprise this spring (0.96 ERA in 91/3 innings).

G is for Grand Slam. Do you know how many slams the Red Sox hit in 2017? Zero. That’s what happens when you are last in the American League in home runs (168).

H is for a Healthy Hanley. Hanley Ramirez’s once bulked-up body is reportedly more flexible and, after arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder, he looks ready to go. A productive Ramirez would give Boston a deep lineup to compete with the Yankees.

I is for Inconsistent. That’s Jackie Bradley Jr. at the plate. His glove is a daily highlight show, but Bradley’s bat is up and down. He can look like All-Star material (.353/1.009 OPS in June), but then so-so, and sometimes terrible (.178/.526 in September). He might lose some playing time when the Red Sox want to use J.D. Martinez in the outfield.

J is for J.D. All eyes are on J.D. Martinez, the big bat Boston coveted. Signed for $110 million over five years (with several opt-outs), the Red Sox would love a repeat of his 2017 numbers (1.066 OPS/45 home runs).


K is for K signs, the kind Fenway fans display when Chris Sale is pitching. He struck out 308 last year, with a 17-8 record and 2.90 ERA. But Sale has a habit of fading toward the end of the season. His career ERA for April through July is 2.55, but 3.48 the last two months. That dropoff worsened last year, from 2.55 to 4.23. Boston may rest Sale more often to keep him fresh.

L is for Lefties. How much can Boston expect from starters Drew Pomeranz, Eduardo Rodriguez and Brian Johnson? Injuries have slowed all three. Pomeranz has only pitched one inning in an official game this spring because of a forearm strain. Johnson is out of options and may become a spot starter/reliever. Rodriguez recorded 10 wins in 2015, but has only nine total wins since.

M is for Money. Boston’s payroll is about $232 million, compared to $200 million last year. Think ownership is expecting a winner?

N is for Nothing, as in what Boston’s money is getting for Pablo Sandoval and Rusney Castillo. Sandoval, the free-agent flop who was released last July, is still owed $41 million ($18 million this year and next, and a $5 million buyout in 2020). Castillo will make $35.5 million over the next three years, even though he’s off the 40-man roster and playing in Triple-A Pawtucket.

O is for October. The Red Sox have reached the playoffs the past two years but have not played past Oct. 10 since 2013.

P is for Pedroia. Remember the kid in a Sea Dogs uniform in 2005? Now Dustin Pedroia is 34 and prone to injuries (93 games in 2015, 105 last year). Coming off left knee surgery, he should be ready to go in May. He is still an asset (career .300 average and .807 OPS) when he’s out there.


Q is for Quickly. The endless catcher visits to the mound are being limited as Major League Baseball hopes to speed up its product. Except for pitching changes, six mound visits (by a catcher or coach) are allowed per game.

R is for Relief. Carson Smith is now two years removed from Tommy John surgery. Is he the bridge to Kimbrel? Will Joe Kelly settle in and can Matt Barnes find consistency? We haven’t even mentioned Tyler Thornburg, who will be a pleasant surprise if he produces after shoulder surgery last year.

S is for Sinker. Rick Porcello needs his two-seam fastball to dive if he is to be effective. It worked in 2016 (22-4, 3.15 ERA, Cy Young Award), but not so much in 2017 (11-17, 4.65).

T is for Tagged out. Boston led the majors in running into outs (81). Aggressive is good. Foolish is another thing.

U is for Utility. Brock Holt appears healthy for now, but will he make the roster? Eduardo Nunez will fill in for Pedroia. Deven Marrero is the best defender among the utility players, and he can hit lefties (maybe subbing at times for Devers). Tzu-Wei Lin could be a long-term option.

V is for versatile. Blake Swihart is too valuable to cut even though he is technically Boston’s No. 3 catcher. Swihart is learning other positions (first, third, outfield), and the switch hitter can rake (.898 OPS this spring with three home runs).


W is for Wright. Steven Wright is always the unknown. When his knuckleball is working, he’s a stopper. He was shut down last April and underwent knee surgery. His season will be delayed by a 15-day suspension for his part in a domestic dispute.

X is for Xander. Have we expected too much of Xander Bogaerts because of his early potential? He reached the majors as a 20-year-old in 2013, hit .320 with a .776 OPS in 2015, and .294/.802 the next year. Fair or not, more is expected, and a rebound is needed after last year (.273/.746).

Y is for Yankees. Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez … the Bombers are back. If New York’s starting pitching holds up, the Yankees are the AL East favorites.

Z is for Zac Brown Band, the first of eight bands playing a total of 10 concerts at Fenway Park this season. It may be a nightmare for the groundskeeper, but this organization knows how to keep the turnstiles turning and the revenue flowing in.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: ClearTheBases

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