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The Red Sox last season welcomed back manager Alex Cora, who was let go because of his supporting role in the Astros sign-stealing scandal, and success followed. The skipper who guided them to 108 wins and the World Series title in 2018 once again enjoyed success, as Cora's Red Sox snared a wild-card berth and wound up pushing the Astros to six games in the ALCS. Boston once again has playoff aspirations, albeit in an AL East that looks particularly brutal in 2022. 

Now let's have a closer look at what may be in store for the Red Sox in the season to come. 

Win total projection, odds

  • 2021 record: 92-70
  • 2022 Sportsline projection: 83-79
  • World Series odds (via William Hill Sportsbook): +1800

Projected lineup

  1. Enrique Hernandez, CF
  2. Rafael Devers, 3B
  3. Xander Bogaerts, SS
  4. J.D. Martinez, DH
  5. Trevor Story, 2B
  6. Alex Verdugo, LF
  7. Bobby Dalbec, 1B
  8. Christian Vázquez, C
  9. Jackie Bradley Jr., RF

Story is the new face here, as he landed in Boston on a six-year, $140 million free-agent contract. We'll explore his new role and his chances for success in further depth below, but for now we'll just say he meets a pronounced need at second base. Other than second base and right field, where Bradley Jr. in essence replaces Hunter Renfroe, this is the same lineup. Last season, the Boston offense ranked third in the AL in runs scored and OPS. Correct for the hitter-friendly nature of Fenway Park, and the Sox still ranked a solid fifth in the AL with an OPS+ of 104. One key will be whether first baseman Bobby Dalbec can sustain the growth he showed at the plate down the stretch in 2021. 

Projected rotation

  1. Nathan Eovaldi, RHP
  2. Nick Pivetta, RHP
  3. Tanner Houck, RHP
  4. Michael Wacha, RHP
  5. Rich Hill, LHP

The five-man grouping you see above doesn't include ace Chris Sale and reclamation project James Paxton. Paxton, who has a long litany of injury concerns, is recovering from April 2021 Tommy John surgery. As such, he probably won't be ready to contribute until well into the second half of the season, if at all. As for Sale, his status and importance will be addressed below. Also worth mentioning is the free-agent departure of Eduardo Rodriguez, who wound up inking with Detroit. Last season, he gave the Red Sox 157 2/3 innings of quite solid pitching. He'll be missed, particularly given that Rodriguez projects for better numbers moving forward. Among other things, Boston needs continued efficacy from 42-year-old Rich Hill and for Tanner Houck to replicate his rate-based success to date across a full season.

Projected bullpen

Closer: Matt Barnes, RHP
Setup: Jake Diekman, LHP; Garrett Whitlock, RHP
Middle: Ryan Brasier, RHP; Hirokazu Sawamura, RHP; Matt Strahm, LHP; Darwinzon Hernandez, LHP
Long: Austin Davis, LHP

Last season, the Red Sox ranked sixth in the AL in bullpen ERA and fifth in bullpen FIP, or fielding-independent pitching. Right-hander Josh Taylor won't be ready for the start of the season because of a back injury, so he's not listed above. However, he's a key part of the mix and barring setback should be a reliable contributor for most of 2022. The closer situation is somewhat in flux, and Cora may play matchups with Barnes and Diekman. Whitlock also has the stuff to be a late-inning weapon. Overall, this is not a top-tier bullpen, but it's also not a pronounced weakness. 

Now for three things to know about the 2022 Red Sox.

1. The Sox are betting that Story is primed for a rebound

Boston's marquee free-agent addition is coming off an uncharacteristic 2021 season in which Story performed below his usual standards both at the plate and in the field. By committing nine figures to him, however, the Red Sox obviously believe better days are ahead. 

In terms of offense, last year Story put up an OPS+ of 103, which compares unfavorably to his 2018-20 run, when he had an OPS+ of 123. The concern is that some of Story's key batted-ball metrics declined after the 2019 season and have yet to rebound. Story can still be a useful hitter by the standards of middle infielders even if he hits like he did in 2021, but the Sox are no doubt hoping that he recapture his peak levels for at least a while. On defense, Story's 2021 decline was largely a function of his throwing troubles, and the assumed move to second base should help greatly on that front. There's a longer-term concern if Story winds up bumping Xander Bogaerts from short or replacing him there, but for 2022 the defensive worries for Story aren't as pressing. 

2. Much depends on Sale's health and durability

As noted above, the Boston would rotation would already in a somewhat precarious spot even if their ace were healthy. Sale, though, is not healthy. The veteran lefty who soon turns 33 suffered a stress fracture in his rib cage while undertaking a pitching session during the recent lockout. He doesn't yet have a timetable for his return, but it's going to be measured in weeks. The larger reality is that Sale hasn't often been healthy in recent years. Not since 2017 has he worked a qualifying number of innings in a season, and since the start of the 2018 season he's managed to make a total of just 61 regular-season starts. A lingering elbow injury that eventually resulted in Tommy John surgery has much to do with that lost time, but Sale also has a significant history of shoulder woes. If there's good news, it's that his present injury isn't of the arm variety. Once Sale recovers, the Sox need to him to stay healthy and resume something close to vintage form if this is going to be a rotation worthy of contention in the AL East. Whether that comes to pass is very much an unknown right now.  

3. The team defense is still a concern

The Red Sox last season had the worst team defense in all of baseball. In terms of Defensive Efficiency, which is the percentage of balls in play that a defense converts into outs, the Red Sox's 2021 mark of .659 was the worst in the majors by a wide margin (the Angels were next-worst at .680). That's a huge concern in 2022 because not much figures to change. Story should theoretically help matters, but it's worth noting that Boston second basemen on balance last season were pluses with the glove, at least according to Statcast measures. Keeping Verdugo out of center field as much as possible should help matters, but Bogaerts remains a major problem at short. Overall, this remains a poor defensive team, which is not what a suspect rotation needs, to say the least. Boston was able to overcome this deficiency in 2021, but it'll be perhaps a bigger challenge in 2022.