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Springtime Storylines: Does anyone remember that the Boston Red Sox were really good last year?

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: The Boston Red Sox.

The Big Question: Does anyone remember that the Red Sox were actually, you know, good last year? 

When alien archaeologists come to visit the ruins of our planet — and if they are wise and decide to study the game we extinct humans called “baseball” —  they will likely conclude that the 2011 Red Sox were an abject failure, done in by a manager and general manager not worthy of their jobs and of indifferent players who consumed food that was bad for them.

They’ll think that because that’s the legacy we have left thanks to our obsession with an unfortunate late-season collapse and a couple of articles in which people with the Red Sox organization thought it appropriate to air the sort of dirty laundry that many teams have but so few teams ever share. But the Red Sox were and are more than a team who choked on beer and chicken and then fired the most successful manager and general manager the team has ever known.

They were, for most of the year, the best team in the AL. And they have almost all of the parts that helped them get that way back and much healthier than they were last season. They have Gonzalez and Youkilis and Pedroia and Ellsbury and Ortiz and a pitching staff that, while not ideal, could easily be the staff of a World Series winning team.  They lost their closer. That’s the big loss. And to hear some people tell it, the Red Sox are a mess.

Know what? They’re not a mess. They went and created more drama for themselves than they needed to by firing Terry Francona and bringing in Bobby Valentine — a move that unnecessarily accentuated those late season foibles rather than defuse them — but they are not the sort of disaster area some people like to pretend they are.  Oh, yes, your beer and chicken joke is funny. Laugh? I thought I’d DIE!

I ain’t having it, though. The Red Sox will win a lot of baseball games this year. Maybe by the time Mother’s Day rolls around and they’re doing just fine, thank you, more people will remember that they’re pretty damn good.

So what else is going on?

  • Here’s my thing on Valentine: he seems like a bigger problem than he really is. He gets a lot of headlines and causes a lot of perceived controversy because he is one of those guys who is smart enough to see that empty cliches are not a meaningful form of communication, but not smart enough to realize that there’s a reason why managers use all of those empty cliches. Something will happen and Valentine will make the big mistake of saying something informative and interesting regarding his thoughts on the matter. And then he’ll suffer the lot that those people who try to say informative and interesting things often suffer.  I don’t think, however, that that sort of thing will hurt an otherwise talented team.
  • The rotation has obviously been shaken up. Assuming Josh Beckett’s thumb is OK, the Sox are looking at a rotation of Lester, Beckett, Buchholz, Bard and some combination of Alfedo Aceves and Felix Dubront. Bard may be the key man here. If he transitions successfully — and he has looked pretty sharp this spring — it could be a very good rotation.  If not, the Sox may be taking a second run at Roy Oswalt or someone.
  • For as good as the lineup is, there is a decent chance that David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury will regress some. At the same time the Sox have to expect that Carl Crawford — once healthy — will look a lot more like the Tampa Bay version of Crawford than the Boston version they’ve seen thus far.
  • Jonathan Papelbon is gone, and that will probably hurt more than a lot of people are saying. Papelbon had a really good year last year but did so very quietly. I wouldn’t have paid him what Philly ended up paying him, but he’s probably underrated now, and Andrew Bailey will be a step back, though certainly not a critical one.

So how are they gonna do?

Very well. They should challenge for the division and/or the wild card. And if they do win the division, they’ll probably end up giving Valentine the manager of the year award, all the while forgetting that, hey, this was basically the same team as last year, only a freak skid didn’t happen to them.

Chris Sale doesn’t regret protesting wearing White Sox retro uniform

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 12:  Chris Sale #49 of the Chicago White Sox reacts during the 87th Annual MLB All-Star Game at PETCO Park on July 12, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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White Sox ace Chris Sale was scratched from Saturday night’s start against the Tigers due to a confrontation he had with White Sox coaches and front office staff over the 1976 retro uniforms the club was to wear. Sale used a knife to cut up his uniform as well as the uniforms of some other players, protesting the club’s decision to wear them. The White Sox suspended Sale five games “for violating team rules, for insubordination, and for destroying team equipment.”

Sale spoke about the incident for the first time, as MLB.com’s Scott Merkin reports. The lefty apologized to fans who came to see him pitch and said he regrets “not being there for my guys,” referring to the bullpen, which had to cover for Sale on Saturday. Matt Albers got the spot start and went two innings.

Sale felt the uniform would have impacted his performance, saying, “[The ’76 uniforms] are uncomfortable and unorthodox. I didn’t want to go out there and not be at the top of my game in every aspect that I need to be in. Not only that, but I didn’t want anything to alter my mechanics. … There’s a lot of different things that went into it. Looking bad had absolutely zero to do with it. Nothing.”

Sale was firm that he doesn’t regret standing up for he believes in. “Absolutely not,” he said. He continued, “Do I regret saying business should not be first before winning? Absolutely not.”

With his five-game suspension to end after Wednesday’s game, Sale is on track to start Thursday against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

Dee Gordon will return from his 80-game suspension on Thursday

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 10:  Dee Gordon #9 of the Miami Marlins runs the bases against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on April 10, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
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At the end of April, Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon was handed an 80-game suspension by Major League Baseball after testing positive for exogenous testosterone and Clostebol, performance-enhancing drugs. Gordon says he took those substances unknowingly.

Gordon will return to the Marlins on Thursday, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro reports. The club was 10-11 prior to Gordon’s suspension. Since then, the club has gone 43-35 and is now tied with the Mets for second place in the NL East, five games behind the Nationals. Impressively, the Marlins have collectively hit .272/.330/.408 in Gordon’s absence, which compares favorably to the league average .252/.320/.410 triple-slash line.

Gordon, who made the NL All-Star team in 2014 and ’15, was hitting .266/.289/.340 with three doubles, two triples, five RBI, 13 runs scored, and six stolen bases in 97 plate appearances. Derek Dietrich has handled second base in the meantime and has done an admirable job, batting .275/.366/.398 with 22 extra-base hits, 30 RBI, and 26 runs scored in 314 PA. Nevertheless, Gordon is likely to return to full-time duty at second base.