Red Sox Opening Day has arrived.

What a glorious ride it was, starting with the season’s first pitch on March 29th, 2018 and culminating with a World Series championship on October 28th. Along the way we watched our beloved Red Sox win a franchise record 108 regular season games and cruise through the playoffs to get the opportunity to win their fourth title since 2004.

The offseason was relatively uneventful. The headlines coming from who the team chose not to retain (Craig Kimbrel; Joe Kelly), rather than any splashy additions to an already solid roster. There are looming free agency issues that will likely dominate next offseason’s headlines, and luxury tax implications may force some difficult decisions. However all of that is conversation for another time, for Opening Day is upon us.

On Thursday, March 28th, at 7:10PM (EST), the Boston Red Sox officially begin their title defense as reigning World Series Champions. Chris Sale, the pitcher who threw the first and last pitches of the magical 2018 season, will take the mound. He’ll be backed by a defense that looks nearly identical to the one that took the field behind him one year ago, with Mitch Moreland playing first base instead of 2018 Opening Day starter, Hanley Ramirez, who was released in May of last year. The lineup will feature the same cast as much of 2018, but will feature Andrew Benintendi in the lead-off spot, flip-flopping positions with reigning 2018 AL MVP ,Mookie Betts, who will now man the two-hole in a strategic move by manager, Alex Cora, to produce more RBI opportunity for Betts.

While there is no doubt that Cora has this team prepared to deal with the expectation that comes along with being the defending champs, they are not a team without questions headed into the 2019 season. Chief among them, the bullpen. The loss of Joe Kelly and the hole left behind by not re-signing Craig Kimbrel, leaving the team without an experienced closer. There will be plenty of opportunity for one of Ryan Brasier, Matt Barnes, Tyler Thornberg, or possibly a dark horse candidate, to assume the role. There is, however, just as likely an opportunity that early season growing pains consume the back end of the bullpen. The Sox will head into 2019 with two catchers on the roster – Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart – and a first base platoon that will begin with Mitch Moreland and Sam Travis, as World Series MVP, Steve Pearce, starts the season on IL while recovering from a late spring calf injury. The team is hopeful that that former MVP, Dustin Pedroia, returns to health and has an impact in 2019. He missed nearly all of 2018 after having multiple knee surgeries to repair cartilage  and ligament damage.

The Red Sox will look to become the first team since the 1998-2000 New York Yankees to win back-to-back World Series titles. Most major media sites and gambling platforms project the team to win between 95-100 games, and all expect them to be a playoff team.

While Opening Day is a time for hope among all thirty teams in baseball, and opportunity to start fresh and outperform expectation, the Red Sox come into 2019 with a target on their back. Anything short of a World Series title will be looked upon as a failure and they wouldn’t want it any other way.