There’s nothing quite like the afterglow of their worst season in nearly two decades to rev up the fan base, but that is exactly the steep challenge the 2013 Red Sox have on their hands. In their 69-win campaign last year, the Red Sox managed to numb the fervor of a fan-base all too accustomed to winning. The likely end to the Fenway Park sellout streak will be an unneeded reminder of just how bad it has gotten around here. The Red Sox seem to get that.

The 2013 team should be better than last year’s — how’s that for setting the expectations bar low? — but there is some optimism that it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the club could surprise as the Baltimore Orioles did last season. Realistically, the Red Sox are building toward 2014 and beyond. To get there, much is riding on 2013.

Here are nine areas of both worry and hope for the 2013 Red Sox:

Starting rotation

If you’re overwhelmed by concern for the Red Sox and can really only handle one topic, fretting about the fate of the starting rotation should provide you with all the material you’ll need. Without an improved, reliable and healthy rotation, this team has no shot at getting much better. You could further drill into the problem by zeroing in on the season of Jon Lester, who has become an ace in name only. For someone whose ERA and WHIP have risen the last three seasons while his strikeouts and strikeout rates have declined, Lester has mirrored the fate of the Red Sox. Lester, now 29, has not improved as he enters what should be his peak years, but the Red Sox believe he can regain his best stuff. Much more is also expected of Clay Buchholz, who turns 29 in August, like his first 200-inning season for starters. Felix Doubront has plenty of potential, veteran Ryan Dempster slots in as a solid pick-up, and then there’s John Lackey and his comeback from elbow surgery. The Red Sox starters begin the season knowing most are dismayed at how they have performed of late. There’s a lot riding on their ability to change the minds of doubters.