Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Some questions to ponder as MLB season gets going

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There was a disturbance in the Force on Thursday night in the land of coffee. Red Sox ace Chris Sale was rocked for seven runs in three innings in the MLB season opener for Boston. Sale gave up three home runs.

Not such a good look for a pitcher who just received a four-year extension from the defending World Series champions.

We will all know more about the Red Sox, but not maybe that much more, when they return from their season-opening, 11-game road trip to the West Coast.

Like, if Sale's next start reminds one and all of the way he began the 2018 season, then all will be right with Red Sox Nation.

The start of the 2019 baseball season brings about more questions than answers. Fortunately, the regular season stretches over six months, so most of those questions will get answered.

But here are a few early-season questions.

Can the Red Sox repeat?

Boston seems to be a team that many experts are picking to win the American League East, and with pretty good reason.

The rotation of Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Nathan Eovaldi and Eduardo Rodriguez might be as strong as any in the American League. Sale's opening-night performance, followed by Eovaldi's in Game 2, might send up some small red flags.

Boston does not have a Craig Kimbrel-type closer, choosing not to offer their former closer big bucks. It looks like manager Alex Cora will run a closer-by-committee rotation until someone steps forward and makes the job his.

The biggest question about the pitching staff resides in Pawtucket. That's where catcher Sandy Leon is, after the Sox removed him from the 40-man roster.

Leon seemed to have the trust of the pitchers at Fenway. That probably developed because he is a veteran catcher, while Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez are now.

How long might general manager Dave Dombrowski wait before bringing Leon back, if the Sox pitching falters, will be something worth watching.

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Have the Yankees done enough?

The boys from The Bronx added to their pitching staff in the off-season with reliever Adam Ottavino and starter James Paxton. It's a good thing, because starter Luis Severino, along with reliever Dellin Betances, are still in Florida working on getting healthy. CC Sabathia, currently on the suspended list, is also in Florida.

With Ottavino in pinstripes, the Yankees have beefed up their bullpen, which is an advantage compared to the Red Sox and their potential bullpen issues.

One potential advantage New York has is that the Yankees currently have more prospects in the minor leagues, which would give them a position of strength when it comes to making a mid-season or a trade-deadline deal.

Is there a real dark horse out there?

With Bryce Harper signing with the Phillies, that club leaves the dark horse category.

There are a lot of folks who seem to think the Cincinnati Reds might be a dark horse. Getting Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig has turned Cincy into one of those teams that folks really like.

The real dark horse to me, however, is San Diego. If Fernando Tatis Jr. has rookie-of-the-year type numbers, if Manny Machado will play hard all season, and if some other San Diego youngsters play up to their minor league resumes, the Padres could be the team in a pretty difficult National League West.

Who's going to win?

American League East: Boston. AL Central: Cleveland. AL West: Houston. Wild Cards: Yankees and Oakland.

National League East: Philadelphia. NL Central: St. Louis. NL West: L.A. Dodgers. Wild Cards: Chicago Cubs and San Diego.

Let's play some baseball.

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.


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