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Boston Red Sox: A Fresh Start

The Boston Red Sox’s postseason struggles over the past couple of years are well documented, but this year is different.

100 Years of Fenway Park by Jason Mrachina is licensed under CC BY NC ND 2.0

Boston Red Sox: A Fresh Start


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Estimated Reading Time: 7 Minutes

The Boston Red Sox’s postseason struggles over the past couple of years are well documented. The John Farrell era got off to an auspicious start in 2013, with a World Series win one year after finishing last in the division. Those feelings of optimism for the franchise were soon squashed when they not only didn’t make the postseason, but finished last in the division during the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

Finally, in the 2016 and 2017 seasons, the Red Sox broke through and made it into the postseason. They didn’t do much once they got there, however, getting swept by the Indians and winning only one against the Astros, respectively. Despite Dombrowski’s big signings and trades, to the detriment of the farm system, it was fair to wonder if the Red Sox would ever break through and live up to the expectations rightly put upon them.

That brings us to now, right before the beginning of the 2018 World Series, where the Boston Red Sox take on the LA Dodgers. The Red Sox are and should be favorites. They were the best team this season and they have demonstrated why that is with two gentleman sweeps against the New York Yankees and the Houston Astros. 

I admit that I didn’t see their postseason success coming. Despite JD Martinez, Alex Cora, and a few other, smaller additions such as Nathan Eovaldi, this roster is quite similar to the previous rosters that fell apart as soon as the playoffs came. I got to thinking about went right for this team. Is it just these additions that drastically changed the makeup of this team? The firing of John Farrell? Something else?

Offense

The major change for the Red Sox offense is clear. JD Martinez. This season he has hit for a .330 average with 43 HRs, 130 RBI, and 111 runs. He has drastically changed the entire offense. With the threat of his bat, it affects how pitchers have to attack the lineup as a whole, freeing up other bats to find opportunities, which you can see in the increased power numbers for the Red Sox this year. I just hate that JD signing, Mike.

The major benefactor of the JD signing is, in my opinion, Mookie Betts. He has always been a Gold Glove caliber outfielder, but in recent years he didn’t always live up to what was needed of him, particularly in the postseason. With JD though, Mookie no longer has to be “the guy,” taking pressure off of him and allowing him to play with more freedom at the plate.

Just look at Mookie’s stats from 2017 to 2018. He played 22 more games in 2017 than 2018,, so keep that in mind when looking at this 2017 vs. 2018 seasons breakdown: 101 vs. 129 runs, 166 vs. 180 hits, 24 vs. 32 runs, .264 vs. .346 average, .803 vs. 1.078 OPS. Those are big differences, and I can’t help but connect the dots between his rebound season and the JD signing.

Mookie, though, has been relatively quiet this postseason. The bigger story to me, is the bottom of the lineup, and in particular Jackie Bradley Jr., the ALCS MVP. Bradley’s recent performances have been clutch. He’s not really hitting for average, but when he’s at the plate with men on base and two outs, he’s been the guy. Now, I don’t anticipate this continuing. His recent performances don’t wash away his offensive ineptitude during the regular season and I am waiting for the other shoe to drop, but if the bottom of the lineup keeps producing, then the Red Sox will be fine.

David Price proved that he is a man to be trusted. The fact that he saw Chris Sale hurting gave him an extra push to take the load for the team, the fan base and for the city of Boston— Pedro Martinez (@45PedroMartinez) October 19, 2018

Pitching

The Red Sox can win the World Series without Chris Sale. There, I said it, and I’m sticking to it. They’ve gotten this far in the postseason, essentially without Chris Sale, and that’s no small thing. Somehow, David Price has gotten the monkey off his back, outpitching Justin Verlander to clinch the pennant. Nathan Eovaldi has been one of the best pitchers this postseason in general, not just on the Red Sox. The bullpen has found their go to guys in Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier, while we’re being told Craig Kimbrel is fixed and will no longer tip pitches.

I was a doubter, but there’s something with this pitching staff and how the rest of the team supports it that has me being unable to doubt them. Chris Sale will start Game 1 at Fenway Park on Tuesday, and perhaps this extended rest has done him some good, but considering he hasn’t been himself in awhile and his recent illness that hospitalized him, it’s not fair to expect him to be 100%. If they can get a good 5 or 6 innings out of him though, that’s all you need, then hand it over to the unexpectedly good bullpen.

I’m riding the Nathan Eovaldi train until I die at this point. He has been lights out this postseason, and I refuse to doubt him. When Dombrowski traded for him before the deadline, I was a bit frustrated. I wanted an 8th inning guy, and while there were rumors Eovaldi could go to the bullpen, I’m glad he didn’t. He’s throwing fire on the mound and has been the anchor this team desperately needed on the pitching staff.

The big question mark is David Price. There are two ways to think about this. Does his big win in Houston mean his postseason woes are over? I can argue that by winning this game in such a dominant fashion, David Price has lifted a huge weight off his shoulders and thus freed him up to be the pitcher he should be. I could also say that even a broken clock is right twice a day. David Price did what he is paid to do against the Astros, he has shown us what he’s capable of, and now that is what we should expect when he takes the mound for Game 2 at Fenway.

Defense

One of the greatest weapons that the Red Sox have is their outfield. The primary combination of Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Mookie Betts has been one of, if not the best outfield combination in the MLB. Due to rules in a National League ballpark though, Alex Cora will have to figure out how to arrange that combination to get JD Martinez in the lineup.

Up to this point though, the outfield has been a major story for this team. Mookie made an incredible catch and throw in the bottom of the eighth inning during Game 4, getting Tony Kemp out at second, to give Kimbrel a much needed first out. That’s not to mention the fact that Mookie was at the center of the controversial fan interference call that robbed Altuve of a home run. No matter how that played out, Mookie’s skill and athleticism were at display there. Andrew Benintendi sealed Game 4 for the Red Sox when he made a ridiculous diving catch with the bases loaded.

The three plays I listed were from Game 4 of the ALCS, but those plays sum up just how potent a weapon this outfield can be. Especially when  compared to the relatively weak infield, mainly due to third base. Between Devers and Nunez, we are left waiting for some blunder, but the rest of the defense has been able to pick up the slack, thanks to veteran guys like Xander Bogaerts and the outfield.

One year ago today, the Boston Red Sox signed Alex Cora to be the team’s manager — and what a good decision it has been! https://t.co/Ln8cTmtqLP pic.twitter.com/m1s44u2gjm— WCVB-TV Boston (@WCVB) October 22, 2018

Manager

In my opinion, this is the most important difference, but also the easiest to lay out the details for. John Farrell was bad and Alex Cora is good.  You can tell just by the energy in how this team plays. The 2018 Red Sox are a team that plays for their manager, whereas the John Farrell Red Sox played in spite of their manager. 

John Farrell did not have control over or the respect of his locker room. He was unable to identify and connect with his younger players and his grating personality did nothing to inspire the team to play to the fullest of their capabilities. In fact, John Farrell was a distraction to the clubhouse, with his sordid personal life and antagonizing his own players, if rumors are to be believed.

Alex Cora, on the other hand, is bilingual, allowing him easy access to his younger players. He’s a former, relatively recent Red Sox player, so he knows what comes with the territory of being a player in Boston and what those expectations are. He’s shown a willingness to fight for his players and he has clearly gotten those same players to buy in and fight for him.

Looking ahead to the Dodgers, it’s hard not to be optimistic as to what this team can accomplish. I won’t make the mistake of overlooking the Dodgers and especially their talented starting pitching, but there is something about this Red Sox team. They’ve gotten a fresh start this year, and now they look poised to be a team of destiny.

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