There has not been a lot to cheer about in Red Sox Nation over the last two summers.
Ever since Jonny Gomes put the 2013 World Series Trophy on the Boston Marathon finish line, the Sox have been mired in the bottom of the American League East, finishing in the basement the last two summers.
Will this be the year the Red Sox get back to the familiarity of October baseball?
They have the pieces to return to the top of the American League East, and for the first time since trading Jon Lester to the Oakland Athletics in the middle of the 2014 season, have a dynamite ace in David Price.
General manager Dave Dombrowski was aggressive in getting Price to sign a long-term contract with Boston in the offseason, and he gives the Red Sox that arm at the front of the rotation they sorely need. The acquisition of closer Craig Kimbrel also gives the Sox that stopper at the back of the bullpen that they needed, and former closer Koji Uehara should be one of the better setup men in the game.
Boston will also have one of the best young outfields in baseball, anchored by Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley, Jr. Xander Boegarts and Travis Shaw have been killing the ball in spring training. Dustin Pedroia is finally healthy (can he stay that way?). Hanley Ramirez has been doing OK in learning how to play first base, and when healthy is one of the best right-handed hitters in the game. Ohh, and some guy named David Ortiz, who has been the face of the Sox for more than a decade and three World Series titles, is hanging up his cleats at the end of the season.
All the pieces are there for a run to the American League East title, but of course, there are some question marks.
As far as the pitching staff goes, how is it going to fall into line behind Price? Young lefthanded star Eduardo Rodriguez will open the season on the disabled list. Which Clay Buchholz are we going to see? Maybe there will be less pressure on him not being a No. 1 starter. Can Rick Porcello rebound from an inconsistent 2015 campaign?
There’s also the drama surrounding portly third baseman Pablo Sandoval. Recent back problems have made it fairly likely that Shaw will be the starting third baseman next Tuesday in Cleveland. There have been questions surrounding Sandoval’s weight all spring, and the only way he’ll quiet his critics is by producing on the field.
I think this Red Sox team is good enough to win between 89 and 92 games. Their stiffest competition in the AL East will likely come from defending division champion Toronto. There’s nothing Red Sox Nation wants more than to send franchise icon Ortiz into retirement with one more run at a world championship.
MONTGOMERY RETURNS TO A FAMILIAR PLACE
It’s hard to fathom University of Maine hockey fans jumping on the University of Denver’s bandwagon, given the Black Bears’ heartbreaking loss to the Pioneers in the 2004 national championship game.
Jim Montgomery has given Black Bear fans plenty of reason to do so.
You see, Montgomery was the guy who proudly wore that “C” on his sweater during the historic 1992-93 season, and his natural hat trick spearheaded a third-period rally in Maine’s 4-3 victory over Lake Superior State.
More than two decades later, Montgomery is now the head coach in Denver, and his Pioneers advanced to their first Frozen Four in 11 years Sunday by winning the NCAA’s West Regional in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Late UMaine head coach Shawn Walsh would’ve been proud of Montgomery’s Pioneers stuffing longtime Maine rival Boston University 7-2 in the regional semifinals. Walsh would’ve also been impressed with the 13 goals Denver put up in two games. He would’ve also been proud of the way Denver kept their foot on the gas against Ferris State in the regional final after breaking a 3-3 third-period tie en route to a 6-3 win.
Next up for Montgomery and the Pioneers: A Frozen Four date with longtime rival North Dakota in Tampa, Florida, in two weeks. Both teams are looking to end long national championship droughts (2000 for the Fighting Hawks, 2005 for the Pioneers).
It’s great to see a lot of UMaine fans on the Denver bandwagon supporting their former Captain. It won’t be long before coach Red Gendron has the Black Bears playing for Frozen Fours again. No disrespect to Qunnipiac or Boston College, but I like whomever wins the Denver-North Dakota semifinal to be skating out of Tampa holding a national championship trophy. Seems odd for folks from New England to be cheering for anything from Denver, isn’t it?
Best of luck to the Pioneers. Maybe Montgomery will be partying like it’s 1993 in a couple weekends.
SAME NIGHTMARE FOR THE BRUINS?
In all the years I’ve been following the Boston sports teams, trips to the West Coast have not been nice for whatever reason.
I’ve witnessed many a Red Sox losing streak started by losing a series in Oakland or Seattle, even when those teams were well below .500.
The same held true for the Bruins last week, who lost all three games on their California swing before heading back East only to lose to the Rangers and Panthers, leaving fans wondering if a late-season collapse similar to that of last season’s was inevitable.
Boston put those thoughts on hold to a degree Saturday by grinding out a 3-1 victory over the Maple Leafs, holding on to that vital third-place spot in the Atlantic Division.
The Bruins have six games remaining – three on the road and three at home – starting with Tuesday’s trip to New Jersey to play the Devils. Much like Saturday’s game in Toronto, I’ll have to label Tuesday’s a must-win, with the rest of the road trip including stops in St. Louis and Chicago.
I don’t think we’ll see a similar season-ending tumble like the Bruins experienced last year, but Boston needs to stay out of a situation where they’d face Washington in the opening round.
Don’t forget, Bruins fans, Montreal was eliminated from postseason contention over the weekend. That alone is a glorious thing.