Red Sox

5 things to know as the Red Sox approach spring training

They have a mix of new and familiar faces.

Manager Alex Cora is back with the Red Sox. Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox

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The Red Sox are getting situated in Fort Myers, Florida, and spring training is quickly approaching.

Coming off a last-place finish in the American League East in a shortened 2020 season, the Red Sox still have many question marks heading into the 2021 campaign. They also have a new yet very familiar manager, steady producers from last year’s team still in the mix, and several newcomers who have a chance to contribute.

Here are five things to know as baseball season nears.

Spring training and the regular season will look different.

The Red Sox announced in early February that they plan to operate at 24 percent capacity for spring training games at JetBlue Park, and no fans will be allowed to attend workouts due to COVID-19.

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All tickets will be sold in physically distanced pods comprised of 2-to-4 seats that will allow for at least six feet between groups, the team said in a press release.

Truck Day took place Monday. The first workout for pitchers and catchers is set for Thursday, Feb. 18, the first workout with the full team is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 22, and the first spring training game is slated for Saturday, Feb. 27, against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The season is expected to start on time, as scheduled on April 1, after the Major League Baseball Players Association declined the league’s proposal for a 154-game season and delayed opening and instead elected for a typical 162-game slate.

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While the Red Sox have said they’re “very confident” they’ll be able to host some fans this season, the setup at Fenway Park will still likely look quite different than it typically does.

Alex Cora is back as manager.

The Red Sox brought Alex Cora back in November after firing him last January for his role in the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal.

Cora, who led the Red Sox to a World Series title in 2018, called 2020 a tough year and said returning to baseball was far away from his thoughts.

“I was spending time in my home for the wrong reasons,” Cora said. “I deserved what happened this year. I’m not proud of it. … In the end, I got my penalty and served it.”

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His 192 wins are the fourth-highest in a manager’s first two seasons with a club. More than 60 percent of Boston.com readers surveyed supported the team’s decision to give him a second chance.

They still have a lot of pop at the top of the lineup.

MLB.com recently listed shortstop Xander Bogaerts and third baseman Rafael Devers as the eighth-best tandem in MLB, just behind George Springer and Bo Bichette of the Toronto Blue Jays and ahead of Aaron Judge and DJ LeMahieu of the New York Yankees.

The article said that they’ve ensured that a Red Sox lineup without Mookie Betts has remained compelling. Bogaerts (.307 average, .379 on-base percentage, and .542 slugging percentage in the 2019 and abbreviated 2020 seasons combined) and Devers (.298/.348/.536) have established themselves as two of the more consistent hitters in the American League.

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Jen McCaffrey of The Athletic speculates that the lineup will look something like: Alex Verdugo (CF), Devers (3B), Bogaerts (SS), J.D. Martinez (DH), Christian Vázquez (C), Hunter Renfroe (RF), Bobby Dalbec (1B), Andrew Benintendi (LF), and Enrique Hernandez (2B).

“Martinez began last year in the two-hole and floundered during an overall tough season,” McCaffrey wrote. “I still think he ends up in the cleanup spot where he’s flourished in the past.”

Renfroe, a former 2010 draft pick of the Red Sox – who started his career in the majors with the San Diego Padres and most recently played for the Tampa Bay Rays – signed a one-year, $3.1 million deal with the Red Sox this past December. He finished with just a .156 average last season but hit two home runs for the Rays in the playoffs.

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Dalbec, who a season ago became the fifth player in MLB history to homer six times in his first 10 games, also struck out at a 42-percent clip and “was prone to extreme hot and cold streaks,” according to Sox Prospects.

Benintendi struggled mightily last season in limited action. Hernandez, who is described as a “super utility” player, comes to Boston after winning a World Series with Betts and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The rotation is rounding into form but still not firmed up.

Chris Sale is currently recovering following Tommy John surgery last March, and the Red Sox are reportedly planning on a “deliberate” approach that could keep him out for at least a major chunk of the season. WEEI reported that Sale suffered a setback earlier this winter and is dealing with neck stiffness that forced the team to adjust his timetable.

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Eduardo Rodriguez, however, is back with the club and is “100 percent” after battling COVID-19-related myocarditis and missing all of last season. He went 19-6 with  3.81 ERA in 2019 and pitched 203.1 innings in 34 starts, and he said he’s hoping to pitch 200-plus innings this season.

“I’m happy that I just had myocarditis and am not six feet underground,” Rodriguez told The Boston Globe‘s Alex Speier.

WEEI’s Rob Bradford believes Nick Pivetta is “on the verge of getting his big chance” and has an “inside track” at a spot in the rotation alongside Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, Martin Perez, and Garrett Richards. He said Tanner Houck and Matt Andriese are also in the mix, and of course Sale if and when he returns.

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“Once I got traded to Boston I talked to Chaim and he said he had been looking at me for a long time,” Pivetta told Bradford. “So to have an organization want me and have me in their starting rotation … I feel good. I feel really confident into the season.”

Speier reported that Richards possesses an ability that “represents a sort of superpower” in that he can spin a baseball better than almost anyone else. Though Richards doesn’t pay much attention to that particular trait himself, Speier called it “a peculiar talent.”

“Richards’s ability to spin and shape pitches — and, to a degree, the fact that he struggled at times in 2020 despite it — is at the heart of why the Red Sox wanted to add him to their rotation,” Speier wrote.

Their odds of contending are pretty bleak.

According to Sports Betting Dime, the Red Sox have the 19th-best odds of winning it all. DraftKings Nation slots them at No. 20. The Lines also puts them at No. 20 (+5000) and gives them the fourth-best odds to win the AL East (+2000), well behind the Yankees (-200), Blue Jays (+350), and Rays (+350) and well ahead of the Baltimore Orioles (+5000).

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McCaffrey doesn’t think the Red Sox have a shot at competing with the Yankees for the division, but she believes there’s “a good chance” they’ll finish better than .500 and will have a shot at earning a Wild Card spot.

The Boston Globe‘s Dan Shaughnessy wrote that this year “feels different” than their teams that finished in last place in 2012, 2014, and 2015.

“This time they appear content to stay in the basement as support erodes among the loyal fan base,” Shaughnessy said in January.

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