2018 Record: 108 – 54
2018 Finish: 1st in the A.L. East, and World Series Champs
The Midseason Acquisitions
The Red Sox were bound for the playoffs from the beginning of the 2018 season. The question became how deep of a run in the playoffs could they manage. And by mid-season, a few deficiencies on the roster had made themselves known that could hinder such a run: a lack of reliable arms in the bullpen, and a lack of offensive production from anyone in the bottom half of the batting order.
Red Sox fans watched as the teams around them in the A.L. loaded up in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline. The Yankees added Zach Britton. The Rays got Tommy Pham. And the Red Sox, by most accounts, stood relatively pat. Their two most notable moves were barely notable at all: the acquisitions of pitcher Nathan Eovaldi and infielder Steve Pearce. Fairly forgettable journeymen at the time.
Now, they’re names that are forever etched into Boston Red Sox lore.
Eovaldi pitched well enough 12 games for Boston at the end of the regular season. He posted a 3.33 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 48 innings pitched, almost all of which as a starter. But Eovaldi turned into something altogether special come the postseason. He went 2-0 as a starter against New York and Houston, while also making a relief appearance in the ALCS. He then went on to pitch 8.0 stellar innings in relief in the World Series against the Dodgers, including throwing the final 6 innings of an 18-inning marathon in Game 3. His final stat line for the postseason: 22.1 innings pitched, 1.61 ERA, 16 strikeouts, and a WHIP of 0.806. He filled all kinds of roles for this team in the most crucial of times, and excelled at it all. And for his troubles, he earned himself a sweet 4 year/$68 million deal to stay in Boston.
Pearce’s story is eerily similar. That of a journeyman, and otherwise solid MLB player, who wildly surpassed expectations. Pearce was originally brought in to face left-handed pitching and platoon with Mitch Moreland at first base, and occasionally fill in at third base as needed. And in the regular season, he did just that. In 50 games, Pearce hit .279 with 7 home runs and a sneaky high .394 OBP. He also did his job against lefties, slashing .302/.433./585 against the pitching he was specifically brought in to hit.
The move could have been deemed a small success by the time the postseason started. But Pearce would go on to make a statement literally nobody saw coming. In 13 games, he batted .315 in October with 4 homers and 11 walks. Two of those homers came in Boston’s World
You know your team had a pretty good year when their biggest disappointment might be a player who made the All-Star team. With Kimbrel, be careful not to put too much weight into his 42 saves last season when evaluating his performance as a whole. There is a lot there that should give pause. In 53 games, Kimbrel’s ERA ballooned to 2.74, nearly a run and a half higher than in 2017. His control was sporadic at best, as Kimbrel allowed more than twice as many walks (31) as he did in 2017. He hit 2 batters and threw 7 wild pitches (a career-high). He also allowed 19 runs, all of them earned, and surrendered a career-high in home runs (7).
Unfortunately for Boston, Kimbrel’s postseason production may have been even worse. Yes, he managed to collect 6 saves in 9 appearances. But many of them did not come easy. Kimbrel and the Red Sox hung on by the skin of their teeth in a few of those late-inning adventures, as we saw Kimbrel allow 7 earned runs in just 10.2 innings of work. He also put another 10 guys on base between 8 walks and 2 more hit batters. If it weren’t for a couple incredible defensive plays in the outfield, and a few opposing batters just missing the sweet spot on the bat, consider a few of Kimbrel’s saves blown.
He got the job done, somehow. No taking that away. But those numbers are good by any standard, let alone a guy who got paid $13 million a year to be a lock-down closer. It looks like Kimbrel may be on his way out the door if he can get the money he is looking for in free-agency. But he’s not the only A-list free agent still without a place to call home.
Looking Ahead to 2019
The Red Sox are in a pretty comfortable spot coming off their World Series title. Most of their roster projects to be identical to last season. There’s a few outstanding questions, though: will Kimbrel still be the team’s closer? Does Dustin Pedroia have anything left in the tank? Will the team finally settle on their situation at catcher?
Of course, two of these are relatively small-potato issues. As much as Pedroia has meant to this team, they were able to make it by just fine with a platoon at second base. If they have to start the year with Brock Holt there, it’s not the end of the world. Because if even Pedroia can make it back on the field, that nagging knee injury of his might seriously limit his baserunning and defensive range. And as far as behind the plate is concerned, the Sox will likely cut ties with one of either Christian Vazquez, Blake Swihart, and Sandy Leon, in order to get the other guys regular playing time.
The real concern the Sox should have is in the bullpen. Their bullpen, which was surprisingly dominant in the postseason, still lacks consistent strike throwers. Look to Ryan Brasier or Matt Barnes to be options at closer if Kimbrel leaves town. But even still, Boston needs to bring in some arms. They can’t count on getting the same production from the bullpen as they did at the end of last year. To bank on it would be foolish.
Overall, there is no reason why Boston won’t be right back in contention for a title next season. They have the best outfield in baseball, a healthy and complete starting pitching staff, and two of the games best hitters in Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez. The Yankees, with their shiny new bullpen toys, will look to over take their rivals in the A.L. East. And it’s bound to be a close race. Expect the Red Sox to, at the very least, keep a healthy hold on an A.L. Wild Card spot as they look to repeat as A.L. East (and World Series) champs.