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2018 MLB Preview: Boston Red Sox

2018 Boston Red Sox preview

2017: 93-69 (first place in the AL East)

Last postseason appearance: 2017

Last World Series title: 2013

2017 Recap

For most fan bases, a 93-win, division-winning season is spectacular. Unfortunately, in the eyes of Boston fans, the 2017 Red Sox failed.

Maybe you can blame the New England Patriots for creating this “championship or bust” culture in Massachusetts. Nonetheless, the Red Sox did not show up when it really mattered, losing the ALDS 3-1 to the eventual World Series champion Houston Astros. Because of the meltdown, and a lot of other things, manager John Farrell was fired and replaced with Alex Cora.

After acquiring Chris Sale in the offseason, Boston became an instant favorite to win the World Series. They started out well, hit a bumpy road in July, but got back on track with a great 18-9 August. Unfortunately, leading up to the playoffs, Boston finished 2-5 to close out the season, and the staff looked worn out in the ALDS, posting a 6.35 team ERA.

2018 Boston Red Sox preview
Chris Sale had a tremendous 2017 regular season for Boston. (Photo from NESN.com)

Sale was lights out throughout the regular season. The lefty ace finished first in K/9, FIP and strikeouts. He was fourth in WHIP, fifth in wins and seventh in WAR for pitchers.

All this was great, but Sale had never pitched in the postseason before, and also led the league in innings pitched. In one start, and one relief appearance during the ALDS, Sale went 0-2 with an 8.38 ERA. Translation: He was tired, and the Red Sox should have managed him better as the season went on.

Boston was fourth in the AL in hits, doubles and walks. They finished third in steals, fifth in OBP and sixth in runs. Although they won a hefty 93 games, they could have been even better had they played well against the Yankees and Orioles, two division rivals that Boston had losing records against.

Mookie Betts, who finished runner-up to Mike Trout for the 2016 AL MVP, was again Boston’s best player. Betts finished third in doubles, fourth in defensive WAR and ninth in overall WAR for position players.

Not only does he excel at offense, Betts is also one of the best defensive right fielders in the game. In 2017, he finished first in range factor/9 innings and second in total zone runs. Because of his stellar performance in the field, Betts earned his second Gold Glove Award.

His batting average dipped to .264, but he still had an OBP of .344 and hit .355 with runners in scoring position. As a team, Boston finished fifth in batting average with runners in scoring position, led by Betts, Eduardo Nunez (.394, acquired at the deadline) and Andrew Benintendi (.351).

Of course, we were unable to see Boston at full strength because of injuries to David Price. Price, a former Cy Young Award winner, started just 11 games. He was able to get some time out of the bullpen, which finished with the second best ERA in baseball.

2018: Around the Diamond

A major problem for the Boston Red Sox last year was their lack of power. After David Ortiz retired in 2016, Boston, out of the 15 AL teams, finished 14th in slugging percentage and 15th in home runs. J.D. Martinez is still up for grabs, so Boston fans should stay optimistic.

2018 Boston Red Sox preview
Devers looks to be an offensive star in the making. (Photo from The Boston Globe)

Even if they don’t reel in Martinez, this team is still very talented. Behind the plate, the Sox could roll with Christian Vazquez, who hit .348 at home, Sandy Leon or even Blake Swihart, whose last two seasons have been destroyed by injuries. Mitch Moreland will remain at first base, after hitting 22 home runs and 34 doubles last season.

Dustin Pedroia, who missed a chunk of time last season, had knee surgery in October, and is not expected to be back with the team until May or June, although he hopes to be back for Opening Day. If Pedroia is unable to go, the Sox have Brock Holt, Marco Hernandez, Deven Marrero and Tzu-Wei Lin. They have also remained in touch with free agent Eduardo Nunez.

At shortstop will be Xander Bogaerts, who finished with the second highest position player WAR on the team in 2017. Rafael Devers will hold down third base as he enters his first full season in the bigs. Devers was on pace for a 28 home run, 84 RBI season in 2017, but is significantly better against lefties (.400 BA), than he is against righties (.250). Although he started in July, Devers somehow finished with the fourth most errors by a third baseman, which should concern the Sox.

Left field will again feature Benintendi, who hit 20 home runs, stole 20 bases and had a .352 OBP during his rookie year. Jackie Bradley Jr., who struck out 22.9 percent of the time, will continue to be an elite defender in center field. And, of course, Betts, their only offensive All-Star, will be in right. Hanley Ramirez, who Boston needs more production out of, will remain at DH.

On the Bump

Pedro Martinez, Red Sox legend and member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, spoke to WEEI recently, a Boston radio station, and believes we will see a different David Price in 2018. He will start the year healthy and his track record shows he is gearing up for a monster year.

2018 Boston Red Sox preview
Expect a monster year from David Price. (Photo from The Boston Globe)

We know what Chris Sale did last year, but what the heck happened to Rick Porcello? Porcello, who won the 2016 AL Cy Young Award, was absolutely terrible in 2017. He gave up more home runs than anyone, allowed the second most hits and finished fifth in earned runs. The major issue was how Porcello would start games. When he faced the order, the first time around, opponents hit .301 against him.

Drew Pomeranz was a nice surprise for Boston, going 17-6 with a 3.32 ERA. He looks to be the third starter with Eduardo Rodriguez, who was banged up last season and had knee surgery in October, and Steven Wright, who missed almost all of 2017 and was also in the news for the wrong reasons.

2016 AL All-Star Craig Kimbrel, one of the best in the game, should continue to dominate in the ninth. Tyler Thornburg and Carson Smith look to be good to go for 2018, after both have dealt with injuries. Joe Kelly, who went 4-1 with a 2.79 ERA, will again be a key member of the pen.

The Future

As we know, to acquire Chris Sale, Boston traded Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, who at the time were two of the best prospects in the MLB. They have gone all in to win now, but they still have two members of MLB.com’s “Top 100 Prospects” of 2018. Michael Chavis (No. 79), who can now play first base, along with third, had a monster 2017 season between Class A Advanced and Double A. The 22-year-old smashed 31 home runs with 94 RBIs and had an OPS of .910.

Boston’s first-round pick in 2016, Jay Groome, also cracks the list at No. 85. This offseason, the 19-year-old Groome has been working out with Sale three to four times a week. Groome is a 6-foot-6 lefty who can touch 97 with his fastball. Sounds a little bit like Sale right? Unfortunately, Groome is averaging close to five walks per nine innings as a pro and needs to get his control intact. Only time will tell if the young stud can blossom into something special.

2018 Prediction: 98-64

The Red Sox are still pursuing J.D. Martinez, who would immensely improve this team. However, Price is now healthy and there are pieces in the bullpen.

In his first season as manager, Alex Cora is inheriting quite the roster. Sale and Betts are two of the best players at their positions. Devers and Benintendi appear to be absolute studs. They will need a better season from Porcello, but this team could easily win the World Series if they avoid injuries and get some pop in the lineup.

 

Featured image by MLB.com

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