Column: Key Storylines for 2017 Boston Red Sox

Photo Courtesy of Tribune News Service
Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale (49) pitches during the first inning against the Minnesota Twins on Sunday Oct. 2, 2016 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Ill.

Jacob Jardel
Managing Editor
@JJardel_Writing

As players begin their Spring Training warmups in Florida, one of the teams to look out for in the 2017 Major League Baseball season is the Boston Red Sox.

The team finished atop a packed American League East Division, four games ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays. However, they fell to the Cleveland Indians in the AL Division Series in a three-game sweep, ending the Sox’ hopes of winning a final title for now-retired slugger David Ortiz.

After an active offseason, the Red Sox are on pace to take the AL East crown once again with a bolstered pitching staff and almost identical fielding and batting lineups. But the team still has a few questions to answer.

Can the young talent keep it up?
The infield talent that backed veterans like Dustin Pedroia and Hanley Ramirez was one of the bright spots of an already shining lineup, especially with All-Star shortstop Xander Bogaerts. But the young starts shone just as brightly in the outfield. Mookie Betts put together a season that almost netted him an MVP Award. Jackie Bradley, Jr., strung together a lengthy hitting streak to go along with solid defense. Newcomer Andrew Benintendi also impressed in his first few months as a major leaguer. All three players are under 28 and ready to repeat. If they can match or improve upon their 2016 campaigns, the Red Sox will be a force in the East.

How dominant can the rotation be?
The offseason acquisition Chris Sale added yet another potentially powerful arm to an already stacked rotation. Former Cy Young winners David Price and Rick Porcello head up the slate, while Steven Wright returns after his first All-Star season. Add onto that the young talent of Eduardo Rodriguez and the solid arms of bullpen stalwarts like Craig Kimbrell, and the BoSox have one of the deepest rotations in the game. The only question mark is how long it will take for them to get there, especially since Price had a lackluster 2016.

How will Boston play without Papi?
Of all the offseason transactions, Ortiz’ retirement was probably the biggest. Papi is a future Hall of Famer who supercharged the lineup and the spirit of Boston as a whole. His presence in the cleanup spot will be hard to fill, so figuring the next big bat will be a tall order for the Red Sox.

Will Pablo Sandoval break through?
Sandoval arrived in Boston two years ago hoping to propel Boston to the promised land. Instead, he provided a subpar season in 2015 and a bad year of health in 2016. He has slimmed down heading into Spring Training, but the question remains as to his durability and consistency. His play at third base will be vital if he wants to stay in the lineup.

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