Last years Boston Red Sox season ended with a pathetic display in the divisional series against the eventual World Champion Houston Astros. Any hopes the Red Sox had of advancing after Game 2 were shot faster than a teenager after their second pump into a holed-out microwaved cantaloupe. What was evident as the Red Sox picked up their gloves and jackets and headed into the clubhouse while Houston celebrated in the infield of Fenway Park, was that a shakeup was needed. The excitement was gone, the baseball gods needed a sacrifice, and that sacrifice was John Farrell. The Red Sox chose a smart, young, breakout bench coach from the team that led them to their demise in 2017, Alex Cora. Cora had rave reviews from the young Astros’ players who wanted him to remain with the team, but he was ready to take a big time gig. He interviewed with Detroit, Washington, and the Mets before taking the job in Boston. As a former player and World Series winner in 2007 with the Daisuke Matsuzaka led Boston Red Sox, I was glad to see him back in Boston.
The off-season was about as exciting as watching a sloth run a 100-meter dash. Excitement at the beginning, and relief it was finally over at the end. The Red Sox locked up Cora and introduced him as manager early in November and then joined the rest of baseball in making free agency a snooze fest. It wasn’t until February when Dave Dombrowski decided to finally put together his contender. They re-signed role players Mitch Moreland and Eduardo Nunez and then, after some back and forth negotiation drama, signed JD Martinez to a five year $110 million deal. The 2018 Boston Red Sox began to take form.
Let’s start with the rotation. Chris Sale is the clear ace followed by David Price, Rick Porcello, Drew Pomeranz, and Eduardo Rodriguez. Chris Sale is, well, Chris Sale. A dominating lefty who was the first American League pitcher to strikeout 300+ in a season since 1999. He’s reliable and arguably the best pitcher in the American League while showing no signs he cannot produce the same magic as last year. The only worry is that he leaves enough in the tank for the playoffs. David Price has a Cy Young, but he hasn’t pitched like a Cy Young award winner since getting to Boston on a fat contract. He was awful in his first year but turned a corner last year and became a decent #2 starter as the season progressed. However, his off the mound antics in the clubhouse, and calling out of fan favorite commentator Dennis Eckersley, put him back in the fans doghouse. So far the only constant redeeming factor for Price is he has a French bulldog he post pics of on Instagram. It is up to him this year to decide if he wants to be known as a whiny bitch and clubhouse cancer with a cute dog, or a dominating Ace who will cure the Red Sox early playoff exit woes and lead his team to the promised land… with a cute dog. I believe 2018 is the year he becomes the Price that Red Sox Nation thought they were getting two years ago. Rick Porcello is a magician of deception. Another Cy Young award winner in the rotation who should line up as the #3 starter. Rick’s modus operandi last year was giving up a handful of runs in the first few innings then settling in adequately for the remainder. Surprisingly, playing from behind in most games he started was not favorable to the Red Sox. If Rick can figure out how to get through the opposing order the first time without putting the offense in a hole, it would be a huge step for him this year. When he has confidence, he’s lights out Cy Young ‘Pretty Ricky,’ when he’s giving up bombs early, he’s just a Dick. Drew Pomeranz was a surprise to everyone last year with his consistent pitching and his consistency to throw 100 pitches by then end of the 4th inning. That’s his game though, make the batter swing at his junk pitches out of the zone. The fifth spot looks like a coin flip between Eduardo Rodriguez or Steven Wright. I am going to assume it will be Eduardo until he has a freak injury like dislocating his big toe putting his shoe on at the end of April and hitting the DL. Steven Wright would then takes his spot, pending he can keep his knuckles on the ball instead of his family members faces. Wright may find himself in the bullpen but it could be a good spot for him in cases where Drew Pomeranz exits early and a long reliever is needed.
Speaking of the bullpen, there are two huge question marks in my eyes as to whether this is a top AL bullpen or a middle of the road bullpen. Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg, two acquisitions from previous years, have been sidelined for major chunks of time and should be salivating to hit the mound like Jared from Subway in a Build-a-Bear. Smith was a good, young arm with wicked movement out of Seattle’s bullpen before being traded to the Red Sox and being injury plagued the past two seasons. Thornburg was the closer for the Brew Crew before being sent over in the Travis Shaw deal. Your regular crew of Red Sox bullpen cronies will still trot out from behind the small wall, Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly, and Heath Hembree along with the aforementioned Smith and Thornburg. Craig Kimbrel can hopefully continue his dominance of the 9th in the closer role. No signs of him slowing down, and he was almost unhittable in a stretch of the season last year.
The only thing the Red Sox batting order had more power than in 2017 was a Puerto Rican school after hurricane Maria. The addition of J.D. Martinez, to what should have been an already powerful lineup, was huge for fixing the power outage that plagued the order in 2017. Cora also made a wise decision hiring hitting coach Tim Hyers, from the Los Angeles Dodgers, to revamp the offense. The Dodgers set a franchise record and finished 4th in the NL in home runs with 221 long balls. Three dingers short from tying the Brewers for first, and 53 more than Boston. If Hyers can bring his pop from LA to Fenway, the Red Sox should have an order that can stack up against any team, even the Yankees, who now have plenty of power with Mike Stanton, Aaron Judge, and Gary Sanchez Productions. The lineup has a few spots that are secure. Mookie Betts leading off, Martinez batting clean-up, and Bradley Jr. and Vasquez interchangeable at the bottom. Betts is the Red Sox best player, hands down. He can get on base, hit dingers, and shows great plate discipline by working the count. He also has hit more leadoff home runs than any other Red Sox leadoff hitter. Benintendi or Nunez could both be suited for the second spot. Benintendi had a strong rookie year, and though he seemed to have a few slumps, his sophomore season should produce more consistency. The real question with this young fella is can he keep the fans on his side with short hair. Ladies love him, but if he struggles, will his tight new haircut leave fans screaming for the flow?
I will fully admit, I love Eduardo Nunez. Critics may call him out for being injury prone or inconsistent since his days with the Minnesota Twins, but one pattern is clear, if Nunez is getting regular playing time, he will produce. When he was acquired last year he finished the season strong and also used the Green Monster to his advantage. He hit shots over, and peppered the wall. With Pedroia shelved for the first month or two of the season, Nunez could be the spark this offense needs. He could easily fit in the two hole, but I suspect he will start the season hitting seventh. The three hole in this lineup is perplexing to me. From other previews of the lineup, most have Xander Bogaerts slotted here. I disagree. He may start the season in the order, but in his past two seasons he has regressed after June and turned into Xander Boringaerts. Like Mookie, he is just hitting his mid-20’s and has so much potential, but he has yet to put together a full season of consistent swings at the plate. If he follows his previous history, he should fall down to the bottom of the lineup and Benintendi should slide down to the third spot, Nunez or Pedroia in the two-hole. J.D. Martinez is hitting cleanup, as he should. He brings a 45 HR/104 RBI to the cleanup spot with him from Detroit and Arizona last season. I was skeptical of Martinez at first, but stats don’t lie. He has been a productive power hitter since 2014 and that wall in left field should increase his productivity.
Whoever is playing first base in the field will hold the fifth spot in the order. Mitch Moreland re-signed and Hanley Ramirez is still a part of the team, he was that guy who DH’d last year who should have been DH’ing for a local softball beer league. Moreland is a serviceable first basement and should get most of the reps to start the year. He was a doubles machine in 2017 and played most of the year on a bum foot. Hanley played most of 2017 as a bum. Hanley can be frustrating because of his demeanor. He appears sometimes to just blow off a strikeout like it was no biggie. But this year, at least according to his twitter, he is ready to kick some ass. If Hanley backs up his talk, the Red Sox WILL be the team to beat in the AL East. Rafael Devers rounds up the sixth spot in the lineup. I have not had more fun watching a young Red Sox lefty swing a bat since Mo Vaughan. Yes, David Ortiz was awesome at the plate and produced memories of a lifetime for Red Sox Nation from the left side… but Devers swings the bat with authority and malicious intent to murder the baseball. He is young, and if he can prove his value to the lineup in spring training I see no reason he should not be the everyday third basemen. I wouldn’t be surprised if he struggles a bit this year, too, and that’s where our homeboy Eduardo Nunez comes back in. If Devers falters, enter Nunez at 3B. I assume Nunez will find himself seventh in the order at the start of the season. Use your reading and comprehension skills to remember what I said about him earlier in this preview.
The 8-9 spot in the lineup is pretty easy. Jackie Bradley Jr. is so inconsistent at the plate there is no other place to put him but 8th. He is too streaky to put in the top half of the lineup but possesses the ability to hit 1-3rd in the order. I don’t have much to say regarding Christian Vasquez in the 9th spot. He and Sandy Leon should both assume regular duties behind the plate, with the advantage going to Vasquez. I have always hated platoon catching. Catcher is a weak position for 80% of major league team’s lineups. Vasquez and Leon bring no flair to the order, but they both put the ball in play, and that is all you need in this lineup. Let the top of the order do the work, just get on base. Dustin Pedroia is projected to be out of the lineup until late May or June after off-season knee surgery. Since he joined the team in ’08, he has been my favorite player on the Red Sox. A gold glove in the field and the Laser Show at the plate. Pedroia can still be a regular second basemen on any team in the majors, but, he is getting old, and he has found himself on the DL numerous times over recent seasons, or has played injured. One thing I respect about Dustin is he wants to be in the lineup every fucking day. And he has earned it. I think this year we see a more cautious approach from the organization, not Dustin, in his playing time IF he is banged up. You can’t take his glove off the field, and you can’t take his ability to get on base out of the lineup. He should return in the end of May and slot in to the second spot in the order.
The bench/utility players will look fairly similar to the 2017 Red Sox. Brock Holt, Deven Merrero, and perhaps Tzu-Wei Lin, who I loved last year in his limited appearances, will have pivotal roles coming off the pinch-hitting and giving regular starters a day off. Whether Ramirez or Moreland start at first, you can guarantee the other will get a pinch hit later in the lineup if needed. Hanley against LHP, Moreland against RHP. Brock Holt is the super utility man. You can play him anywhere on the field without hesitation. Marrero and Lin should be serviceable infield replacements, whether it be resting starters, or defensive subs in later innings.
The Red Sox will make the playoffs in 2018. How they get in, whether it be winning the AL East, or wild card, is the big question. The Yankees focused on off-season moves that added to their already powerful lineup. The Red Sox countered with JD Martinez. Will JD be enough though? The rivalry has not been the same since the Red Sox broke the curse, but this year both teams will have power in the lineup and solid rotations. If both teams stay healthy, I see the Sox and Yankees going down to the wire for first. I don’t see much of a threat from the other AL East teams. The Blue Jays and Orioles will be competitive, but they don’t have the depth in the order or rotation Boston and New York pack. The Tampa Bay Rays will be bottom feeders in the standings this year, where they should be. I don’t expect the Red Sox to win 100 games or anything crazy, but this year’s team has a good balance on offense and defense and will compete. As a Red Sox fan, I expect wins and a championship contender every year on the field. I don’t make predictions, but I do have high expectations. They will be met.
@JimmyCate on Twitter