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Red Sox 2017 MLB season preview: World Series or bust for Boston

Chris Sale was acquired by the Red Sox this past December.

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David Ortiz is gone, but the Red Sox’ championship expectations remain the same. The Sox are not only the favorites to win the American League East for the second consecutive season, but they have the third best Las Vegas odds of winning the whole damn thing.

Westgate Las Vegas Superbook have the Sox with the third best odds of winning the 2017 World Series at 10-1. The Cleveland Indians, who swept the Sox out of the playoffs last fall, have 12-1 odds, and the reigning champion Cubs have 3-1 odds.

It’s hard to imagine this loaded Red Sox roster not being able to at least win the division, but there do remain some big question marks – starting with the obvious. Who will be able to replace David Ortiz’s production in the heart of the Boston order?

It won’t be one man, of course, but the Red Sox’ heart of the order committee looks promising. Andrew Benintendi (.295 BA, 2 HR, 14 RBI in 2016), Mookie Betts (.318, 31 HR, 113 RBI), Hanley Ramirez (.286, 30 HR, 111 RBI) and Xander Bogaerts (.294, 21 HR, 89 RBI) will all need to at least put up similar numbers that they put up last season – when the Sox scored the most runs in the majors. Benintendi’s sample size is small for sure as he only played in 34 games last season. But the 22-year-old is a favorite to win AL Rookie of the Year and he hit .344 with a .423 OBP in spring training.

“He’s extremely poised,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said of Benintendi. “I think everyone is looking forward to one, if not many years of a very good player that’s been on a rapid ascent into the big leagues and has handled everything in stride.”

Near the bottom of the Red Sox order is third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who had just six at-bats a season ago. The slimmed-down Panda looked like he was five years younger in spring training, batting .338 with five home runs and 20 RBI in 21 games. If the Sox can get him to bat around .285 this season, it should be considered a win.

Arms race

When the Red Sox acquired Chris Sale this past December, there was a train of thought that the Sox should consider trading away some pitching. They did deal Clay Buchholz to Philadelphia, but even then it was like, “They’re going to have to put one of these guys in the bullpen … they have too many starters.”

As tired as the old saying “you can never have enough pitching” is, it might be the most accurate cliché in all of sports. David Price will begin the season on the disabled list with a bum elbow and is not expected back until early May. Therefore, the Steven Wrights (13-6, 3.33 ERA in 2016), Drew Pomeranz’s (11-12, 3.32 ERA) and Eduardo Rodriguez’s (3-7, 4.71 ERA) of the world will still be a part of the rotation – at least to start.

Rick Porcello will get the Opening Day nod at Fenway today (2:05 p.m., NESN), a salute to the fact that he won the AL Cy Young Award last season.

But it’s clear who the Red Sox’ “ace” is.

The expectations for Sale are through the roof, as – now with a potent batting lineup to have his back – there’s no reason to think he can’t flirt with 20 wins this year. Last year, Sale went 17-10 (3.34 ERA, 233 Ks) – matching his career high in wins.

At just 28-years-old, the golden arm southpaw is just entering his prime.

He will make his Boston debut Wednesday against Pittsburgh.

Projected lineup

1. Dustin Pedroia

2. Andrew Benintendi

3. Mookie Betts

4. Hanley Ramirez

5. Xander Bogaerts

6. Mitch Moreland

7. Jackie Bradley Jr.

8. Pablo Sandoval

9. Sandy Leon

 
 
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