Newcomer Masataka Yoshida appears likely to become the Boston Red Sox cleanup hitter, coming off his record 13 RBI during the World Baseball Classic. AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko

Things are about to speed up.

Thursday is Opening Day. Grab your parka, maybe a knit hat and some gloves, because the baseball season begins in March this year. In Boston. After six weeks of sun and fun in Florida, the shivering Sox will play the first of 162 games later this week when they host the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park.

They’ll do it with a new pitch clock that shaved some 25 minutes off the average spring training game. It was a beautiful thing, nearly a half hour of inaction removed from a sport that suddenly is played at a near-breathless pace.

Regardless of the speed of the game, the Red Sox need to prove they are worthy of our attention in 2023.

When we last saw baseball at Fenway, the Sox were playing out the string of a last-place season. Alex Cora’s team finished six games under .500 and launched an offseason of discontent. Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez and Matt Barnes — all key members of the last Red Sox championship team — were soon gone.

Pessimism abounded through the winter, yet spring training saw some rays of hope emerge. The Red Sox started Grapefruit League play with an unbeaten streak that stretched through 11 meaningless games. It was hard to hate a team when they were winning every day. Even if the games meant nothing.


Other signs of optimism soon appeared. Masataka Yoshida, the free agent people thought Boston paid too much for, was one of the stars of a thrilling World Baseball Classic. He drove in a WBC-record 13 runs as Japan won the championship. His bat from the tournament was soon on the way to Cooperstown.

“He’s got swag,” said Cora upon Yoshida’s return.

It appears Yoshida will serve as Boston’s cleanup hitter, batting behind Rafael Devers and Justin Turner. Along with Adam Duvall, who was already wearing out the JetBlue Monster in Fort Myers, Florida, the Sox appear to have an offense that should produce for the coming season.

So they should hit. Can they pitch?

At the top of the rotation, Chris Sale has shown the type of velocity we have rarely seen from him in the past few years. That’s mostly because he’s been sidelined by a variety of random injuries.

“Just got to drive home safe,” Sale told NESN’s Jahmai Webster after his final start of spring.


Other pitchers are further back. Garrett Whitlock, Brayan Bello and James Paxton will all remain in Florida when the Star Spangled Banner is played in Boston on Thursday afternoon. The hope is some or all of them will be back soon.

That leaves the likes of Kutter Crawford and Tanner Houck to fill out the back end of the rotation. Crawford has been very good this spring, while Houck has struggled big time. His ERA grew to 9.74 after giving up six runs in three innings his final preseason start on Monday.

The injuries to the rotation will have a trickle-down effect on the bullpen. Josh Winckowski and Zack Kelly will be the only true multi-inning options for Cora when the season begins. That will change when Houck and Crawford return to the bullpen.

So what does it all mean? Most predictions have Boston finishing fourth or fifth in the AL East, winning just under 82 games.

The Red Sox feel they can be better. When the team first assembled in February, Cora told his group to forget about the past and try to be better this year. Seems like a simple message.

“One thing about the group, they really don’t care about what happened here last year or the year before or 2018,” said Cora. “They can care less about those guys. It’s a new season.”

It won’t take a lot to exceed expectations this season. If the Sox can finish five or six games above .500 and flirt with a wild card spot they will be a success.

Is this team capable of that? The players in the clubhouse believe so. Beginning Thursday, we’ll see if anyone in the outside world shares that confidence.

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

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