Chris Sale has made just 11 starts  for the Red Sox since the start of the pandemic. If he stays healthy this season, Boston will have an ace. Associated Press

The Boston Red Sox enter 2023 with a lot of ifs. If things go well, they could surprise people this summer. If things go as many expect, they won’t.

With spring training just over a week away, it’s a good time to lay out the various scenarios surrounding this roster. Here’s a look at what needs to happen if the Red Sox are going to have a competitive season, and how things could fall apart if things go poorly.

It all begins with the starting rotation. If Chris Sale can stay healthy, the Red Sox will have an ace. He has made only 11 starts and pitched just 48 1/3 innings for Boston since the start of the pandemic, and knows he has everything to prove. Even though he was once one of the game’s top starters.

“I owe my teammates the starting pitcher they thought they were going to get,” Sale told reporters at Red Sox Winter Weekend last month, “the front office, the starting pitcher they paid for, and I owe the fans performances they’re paying to come see.”

Sale’s not alone. James Paxton didn’t throw a pitch last year. Corey Kluber was healthy all year, but that was his first season with more than 16 starts in four years. Garrett Whitlock is coming off hip surgery. Brayan Bello was inconsistent in his first big-league stint.

It is the biggest collections of ifs on the team, and one of the biggest in the sport. If this was 2017 you’d be talking about some of the game’s top pitchers. But it’s 2023, and the top of the rotation is a group of aging veterans trying to show they can turn back time.


If they can’t, this team won’t be going very far this summer.

The good news is the bullpen has been completely revamped. It was one of the worst in the game last season, but features a quartet of newcomers in Kenley Jansen, Chris Martin, Joely Rodríguez and Richard Bleier.

Jansen has been one of the game’s top closers over the past 10 years, and Martin and Bleier are experienced relievers who throw strikes. Last year the Red Sox bullpen walked a higher percentage of batters than all but one American League team.

If the new arrivals can change that, manager Alex Cora will be able to use a quicker hook when his starters struggle. If they can’t, we could be in for more long nights at Fenway Park.

At the plate, the Sox have scored plenty of runs in recent years. Boston has been in the top four in American League run scoring and OPS in each of the last four 162-game seasons.

Of course, Xander Bogaerts was one of the anchors of those lineups. Now he’s a Padre and it’s Rafael Devers’ team. He’ll be surrounded by veterans like Kiké Hernández, Justin Turner and Adam Duvall who signed short-term deals and will try to serve as the bridge between the Bogaerts-led past and a future filled with young prospects who hope to make their mark at Fenway.


If Devers can handle the pressure that comes with a long-term contract and the expectations of leadership, and if the veterans around him can hold off time for another year, this team should be able to score plenty of runs. If opposing teams can pitch around Devers, and the veterans falter and struggle to provide protection, this team is in trouble.

Finally, the Sox need to get off to a good start. There is a lot of anger bubbling under the surface of Red Sox Nation. Fans are angry the team hasn’t spent the money needed to keep their biggest stars. If this team has any hope of winning them back they will have to grab our attention coming out of the gate.

Boston plays six of its first nine games against teams that lost more than 95 games last season, and 13 of their first 20 games are against teams that had losing records in 2022.

Of course, the Sox can’t take anyone for granted. They went 78-84 and finished last in the AL East for the second time in three years.

The pressure to win is real. If the Red Sox surprise us with a good season, calm will be restored. If they don’t, fans are going to be angrier. And the boos that team owners and management heard this winter will only get louder.

Tom Caron is a studio host for the Red Sox broadcast on NESN.

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