There are just twelve days to go until opening day and we’re steaming through our season preview series. Next up is Red Sox fan Phil Stone with his take on how the Sox will fare in 2018. Give Phil a follow on Twitter and catch up on the rest of the series so far here – Cubs, Brewers, Dodgers, Indians, White Sox, Mets, Rays, Phillies, Cardinals, Giants.
Back-to-back 93-69 seasons ensured the Red Sox enjoyed a first-place finish in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1916. It was a solid performance for a team that, following David Ortiz’s retirement, lacked power at the plate. Home runs were en vogue in 2017, but no-one told the Sox, finishing dead last in the category in the AL. Thankfully, lacklustre power at the plate was compensated for by plenty of it on the mound thanks to the performance of Chris Sale (308 Ks, 2.90 ERA) and Craig Kimbrel (35 SVs, 16.43 K/9). They ultimately went out with a whimper to eventual champs the Astros in four in the ALDS.
Comings and Goings
INs: J D Martinez (RF), Eduardo Nunez (3B)
Having won 93 games last year with a line-up that lacked power (no player scored more than 25 homers last year; a feat achieved by four in 2016), there are reasons to be optimistic in 2018. After a lot of to-ing and frow-ing in the offseason, the Sox finally signed J D Martinez (45 HRs in fewer than 500 PAs last year; a 690 slugging %) to a five-year deal worth $110m last month. His addition to the line-up should benefit the whole organisation but Mookie Betts in particular. Often targeted by opposing pitchers, Betts had a solid year (5.3 WAR) but a less productive one than his stellar 2016. The other members of the Killer Bs, Jackie Bradley Jnr and Andrew Benintendi, and SS Xander Bogaerts, all saw their batting average and on-base percentages fall year on year and will be hoping to rebound in 2017.
With the likes of Joe Kelly and Craig Kimbrel bringing heat and proven set-up men Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg on their way back from long-term injuries, the Sox bullpen could be one of the strongest in the American League. Any question marks in terms of Sox pitching are largely reserved for the rotation: 1) Which version of Rick Porcello will pitch in 2018 – the CY Young-winning 2016 edition or the 17-Loss, 4.65 ERA 2017 edition? 2) Can the Sox manage Chris Sale better in 2018 after he went 4-4 with a 4+ ERA on August/September? 3) Will Drew Pomeranz remain Mr Reliable in 2018 after posting his best year in 2017? and 4) Will David Price a) remain healthy and b) keep his mouth shut?
Minor concerns aside, then, it appears the Red Sox under new, first-time boss and one-time Sox player Alex Cora, are in good shape for 2018. Which is just as well as Those Damn Yankees have been very noisy neighbours indeed this offseason. With the addition of Giancarlo Stanton to a team that already topped the majors in terms of home runs last year (241; 63 more than the Sox), the Yankees are projected by FanGraphs to win more games in 2018 than Boston. Despite a couple of key additions in weak areas (JD Martinez; fan-favourite Eduardo Nunez returning to replace a recovering Dustin Pedroia at second base, the Red Sox may struggle to top the AL East for the third straight year. Aaron Boone to break Red Sox hearts? It wouldn’t be the first time…
93-69, 2nd in AL East. The Red Sox will beat the Cards in the Wild Card game and will go on to lose to the Astros again in the ALDS.
Mookie Betts. He finished second to Mike Trout in the MVP 2016 vote; sixth behind Jose Altuve, Aaron Judge, Jose Ramirez, Mike Trout and Francisco Lindor last year. He’s one of the best players in major league baseball, pure and simple
One to watch
Rafael Devers. Questions remain about his defensive capability but few doubt the third baseman’s offensive ability. He should benefit from line-up protection following JD Martinez’s arrival, too.
Philip Stone – @mrphilipstone