BOSTON — Fans and pundits rarely agree on anything. But when it comes to the 2023 Boston Red Sox, most are in agreement that the team may not be very good.
Many are picking the Red Sox to finish last in the AL East for a second straight season, and Boston skipper Alex Cora doesn’t fault anyone for feeling that way.
“I mean, the way we played last year, I don’t blame them,” Cora told reporters at JetBlue Park on Tuesday. That drew a nice chuckle from the assembled media at Fenway South.
The Red Sox finished a disappointing 78-84 last season, which preceded a disappointing offseason that saw Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, and Nathan Eovaldi — among others — departing via free agency. Chaim Bloom added 16 new players to Boston’s 40-man roster over the winter, though none of them really scream “Championship” on paper.
Cora’s goal for 2023 is a simple one.
“Just get better,” he said Tuesday. “We have to get better in every aspect of the game. I think we made strides in certain aspects of the game. We struggled last year in a lot of things and we have to clean that up.
“It’s going to be a challenging season,” he continued. “We play in the toughest division in baseball. But as I’ve always said, if we go out and play good baseball, you get a chance. That’s what we’re going to try to do.”
That’s not exactly the “It’s gonna be awesome” proclamation that Bloom spouted when the team announced Rafael Devers’ monster contract extension. At least Cora sounds a lot more realistic in terms of expectations.
Here’s what else the Boston manager had to say ahead of Wednesday’s first official workout for pitchers and catchers down in Fort Myers.
There are some intriguing additions to the Boston lineup, including new leadoff man Masataka Yoshida, who slapped the ball all over the field during his career in Japan. With a lefty atop the order, Cora said that Devers won’t be hitting out of the No. 2 hole as he did last season.
“We’ve got a bunch of lefties and we got to find a way to balance it,” said Cora. “Obviously, the opposition will dictate what we do too. But we have to find a way — I’ll say it now — we have to split up Yoshida and Raffy. We have to find a way.”
Righty Enrique Hernandez is the likeliest candidate to hit second in the Boston lineup. Justin Turner could also slot into that spot, but may hit cleanup behind Devers.
Cora said he will be trying “a lot of stuff” during Boston’s spring slate.
The Red Sox scored a bunch of runs last year, but they didn’t hit for much power. Will that change in 2023?
“I do believe last year, we struggled offensively. I know we scored a lot of runs but we weren’t as consistent as we usually are. It’s a different group and a different dynamic,” he said.
“We have guys that will make contact in [Turner], Yoshida, [Triston] Casas,” noted Cora. “[Adam] Duvall is looking forward to hitting at Fenway 81 times-plus. I like doubles – a lot of doubles. And some of those will turn into homers. Turner and Duvall, they’ll hit the ball to left field and we’ll see where they go.”
While he’d like some more homers out of Alex Verdugo, he’s told the outfielder to go for more doubles this season.
Sale Days Ahead
Chris Sale will throw a bullpen session on Wednesday and Saturday, and will then see live batters next week.
“So far so good,” Cora said of his lefty ace.
Cora, however, said it was too early to make any proclamation on the Boston rotation, with seven players battling for the five spots.
“We’ll see where we’re at in a couple of weeks,” he said. “We’ll make decisions accordingly.”
Cora did mention that James Paxton, who has missed most of the last two seasons, threw a 35-pitch bullpen session last week.
The Bigger Bases
Several new rules are coming to baseball this year, including bigger bases. The bases are going from 15 inches to 18 inches, and Cora said those larger bags look like “pizza boxes.”
He doesn’t believe that the new bases will mean a lot more stolen bases, either.
“Talking to minor league coaches and everyone who used the rules last year, it’s not all of a sudden we’re going to steal 100 bags with a guy. The value of the outs are still in play and we only get 27,” said Cora. “So you gotta be smart, you gotta be efficient.”
Cora said that he likes the culture of the clubhouse, despite losing leaders like Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez.
Although Trevor Story is expected to miss most — if not all — of the season with an elbow injury, he’s been at the team’s training complex for weeks. Cora likes what veteran Justin Turner, who won a World Series with the Dodgers, is bringing to the team so far.
He doesn’t agree that the 2022 Red Sox were too comfortable as a last place team.
“Regardless of the standings, I think we played hard until the end,” said Cora.
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