Joe Castiglione will call his 39th season opener for the Boston Red Sox on Friday when the Red Sox entertain the Baltimore Orioles.
Thursday’s game at Fenway Park was postponed by rain.
The 74-year-old Castiglione, the Red Sox Radio Network play-by-play man who has been a regular featured guest at the annual hot stove banquets in Bangor, said he still gets excited for opening day and is going into the 2021 season with some optimism.
“I feel a lot better about this team now than I did at the beginning of spring training,” Castiglione said Wednesday night.
The Red Sox are coming off a COVID-19-abbreviated, 60-game season in which they finished 24-36 and in last place in the American League East.
“They should be a lot better. They will score runs. They led the world in home runs (45) and runs scored (159) in spring training,” Castiglione said. “The starting pitchers are going to have to stay healthy especially [Nathan] Eovaldi, Garrett Richards and E-Rod (Eduardo Rodriguez).
He compared the dynamics to 2013, after Boston finished last in 2012.
“Nobody expected much in 2013, but they signed some mid-tier free agents and won the World Series,” Castiglione said.
Rodriguez, the ace of the staff, was scheduled to start the opener after missing all of last season after contracting the coronavirus. He came down with a “dead arm,” something Castiglione said that isn’t uncommon in spring training, especially considering Rodriguez missed last season.
The new Red Sox players with Major League experience include Kike Hernandez and Marwin Gonzales, who are capable of playing multiple positions.
“They’re pretty good players,” Castiglione said.
He also said slugging first baseman Bobby Dalbec, who hit seven home runs and drove in 16 in 19 spring training games, could have a big year.
Dalbec hit eight homers and knocked in 16 runs last season in 80 at-bats.
The offensive catalysts will again be third baseman Rafael Devers, who hit .263 with 11 homers and 43 RBIs last season and shortstop Xander Bogaerts (.300-11-18) along with designated hitter J.D. Martinez, who looks to bounce back from a poor 2020 season (.213-7-27). He batted .304 with 36 homers and 105 RBIs in 2019.
The outfield will have a different look with Andrew Benintendi being traded to Kansas City and Jackie Bradley Jr. signing with Milwaukee.
Castiglione expects the bullpen to be better with Matt Barnes and former Northeastern University star Adam Ottavino, who was acquired in a trade with the New York Yankees, serving as the late-inning specialists. Barnes started the season as the closer with Ottavino in the setup role.
“They are proven commodities,” said Castiglione, who also is impressed by Garrett Whitlock, who had a 1.00 earned run average in spring training with 12 strikeouts in nine innings.
He is happy about the return of Alex Cora as Red Sox manager. Cora served a one-year suspension by major league baseball last year after being linked to the 2017 sign-stealing scandal when he was a coach with the Houston Astros.
“The players really respond to him,” Castiglione said.
He said each of the American League East teams has flaws.
“Tampa Bay lost its top two starters [pitchers], the Yankees have question marks in their rotation; Toronto should be a lot better, but Baltimore won’t be any better,” he said.
The return of ace left-hander Chris Sale from arm surgery sometime this season will give the Red Sox a lift.
Castiglione, who is in his 42nd year overall in broadcasting, will be doing all the games, home and away, from Fenway Park, as he did last season, due to COVID-19 concerns.
Castiglione, who said he always enjoys his trips to Bangor for the hot stove sessions, wouldn’t predict how many games the Red Sox will win due to the injury factor, but he’s confident they will be competitive.