While the Red Sox finished the 2015 season with a record of 78-84 and finished in last place in the AL East for the second straight year and three out of the last four, this season felt different.

After the Red Sox shifted focus to 2016, roughly just after the trade deadline, the team started to play much better, led by their younger players getting significant playing time and the hire of president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.

Since July 30, the Red Sox had a record of 34-26, which was tied with the Indians for the third-best record in the AL since that time.  It was during this time the team was led by Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts along with David Ortiz, as Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez were out with injuries for extended stretches of time.

Unlike the other last place finishes, it seems the Red Sox have a direction they are going in and have already shown glimpses of it working.

The team seems to have settled on an outfield of Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rusney Castillo. Where exactly they play remains to be seen, but for once it seems the Sox will actually know who will be in their outfield on Opening Day when spring training opens.

When it comes to the starting rotation, the team is still in need of an ace, which it appears they will make an offseason priority, but the pieces are there for a solid rotation. Clay Buchholz, Wade Miley and Rick Porcello are proven veterans, while Eduardo Rodriguez and Henry Owens are promising prospects, who showed they can pitch in the majors this season.

There is chance a trade could happen with a current member of the staff, but with the addition of an ace, this rotation could be one of the best on the league – something they weren’t at the beginning of 2015.

Sunday, the biggest question of the offseason was answered when the team announced John Farrell would return as manager in 2016, while Torey Lovullo will remain as bench coach. Lovullo led the team down the stretch with Farrell undergoing cancer treatment and did better than anyone could have ever imagined.

Keeping the staff in tact was extremely important with such a young team, which has already had to endure a number of changes within the organization. Lovullo surely would have got looks as manager somewhere else, but his allegiance to Farrell and a pay raise is what is keeping Lovullo in Boston.

Besides the need for an ace, the bullpen also needs work, but both can be done in one offseason, so while the team finished in last place this season, the playoffs are certainly not out of the question for next year.

Even though the Red Sox finished in last place once again, things just feel different – there’s hope for next season already and that optimism is led by the younger players the Red Sox were able to develop this season.

And in case you were wondering, roughly 19 weeks until pitchers and catchers report for spring training.