Monday, March 4, 2019

Boston Red Sox 2019 season preview

Ryan Brasier. Photo from the LA Times


                Championships aren't easy to win, and the Boston Red Sox have won four in the last 15 years. The fourth came in 2018, when the Sox led the league with 108 wins, then cruised to a victory over the Dodgers in five games. Despite big relief arms hitting free agency, the Sox didn't add to their team. But, they still possibly have the best chance of any team to win the World Series in 2019.

                Offseason additions: RHP Erasmo Ramirez, RHP Zach Putnam, OF Gorkys Hernandez

                Offseason subtractions: RHP Craig Kimbrel, RHP Joe Kelly, LHP Drew Pomeranz, 2B Ian Kinsler, DH Hanley Ramirez

                 Rotation
Along with the outfield, the rotation is the Sox' biggest strength. Injuries have always been Chris Sale's issue, but the ace had a 2.11 ERA in 158 innings in 2018, and will again lead the rotation. David Price finally stayed healthy, and was very good in the ALCS and World Series. Some years, Rick Porcello looks like an absolute ace, others he looks terrible. The 2016 Cy Young winner had an average 2018, but still won 17 games. After acquiring Nathan Eovaldi from the Rays, Eovaldi posted a 3.33 ERA in 11 starts, and got a $67.5 million extension. Eduardo Rodriguez, another injury-plagued starter, was good when healthy in 2018. Knuckleballer Steven Wright can make the rotation, but most likely will be a swingman.

                 Bullpen
Going from their strength to their weakness, Boston didn't re-sign closer Craig Kimbrel or set-up man Joe Kelly. 30 year old rookie Ryan Brasier, who posted a 1.60 ERA in 33.2 innings, is the favorite to close, with Matt Barnes as the set-up man. Hector Velasquez had a 3.18 ERA in 2018. Heath Hembree, Brian Johnson, Wright and Brandon Workman, plus Tyler Thornburg (if ever healthy) are middle relief options.

                 Catching
Another weakness for Boston, their catchers had a league worst .525 OPS in 2018. Sandy Leon is a good defender, and Christian Vazquez isn't bad. Their workload is very similar, and their platoon will keep up in 2018. Catcher and outfielder Blake Swihart will have to make the roster, or be moved.

                 Infield
The Boston infield is good, but it isn't great. That describes first baseman Mitch Moreland pretty well, a guy who'll hit around .250 with 15-20 home run power. Rafael Devers will need to improve defensively, after committing 24 errors in his sophomore season. But, he is still just entering his age 22 season, coming off a 21 home run season. At second, Dustin Pedroia barely played in 2018 due to cartilage restoration surgery, and will hope to stay on the field. If not, pencil in Eduardo Nunez. Xander Bogaerts is their best infielder at shortstop, coming off a .883 OPS season with 103 RBIs, the first 100 RBI Boston shortstop since Nomar Garciaparra.

                  Outfield
Boston has the best outfield in baseball, and it all starts with right fielder and AL MVP Mookie Betts. Betts hit .346 with 32 home runs and 30 stolen bases, plus a 1.078 OPS. Plus, he won a gold glove, along with center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., though his power has regressed. Andrew Benintendi had a .290 batting average, with with a .830 OPS. The three Bs are defensive wizards at Fenway Park.

                   DH/Bench
The Red Sox' big addition last offseason, JD Martinez, hit .330 with 43 home runs and a 1.031 OPS. Had he played the field, he might have been Betts' MVP runner-up, instead of a 4th place finish. World Series MVP Steve Pearce platoons at first with Moreland, and he has a .501 career slugging percentage against lefties. Utility man Brock Holt can play all seven positions, and delivered the first ever post-season cycle in the ALDS. If Pedroia is healthy, Nunez is also on the bench.

                   Lineup
LF Andrew Benintendi
RF Mookie Betts
DH JD Martinez
SS Xander Bogaerts
1B Mitch Moreland
3B Rafael Devers
2B Dustin Pedroia
CF Jackie Bradley Jr.
C Sandy Leon

                   Rotation
Chris Sale (L)
David Price (L)
Rick Porcello (R)
Eduardo Rodriguez (L)
Nathan Eovaldi (R)

                   Bullpen
Ryan Brasier (R)
Matt Barnes (R)
Hector Velasquez (R)
Heath Hembree (R)
Brian Johnson (L)
Steven Wright (R)
Brandon Workman (R)

                    Bench
1B Steve Pearce
UT Brock Holt
UT Eduardo Nunez
C Christian Vazquez

                     Additional Information
Ballpark: Fenway Park
Manager: Alex Cora
GM: Dave Dombrowski
World Series Championships: 9
2018 record: 108-54

                      Steal of the Decade
The Red Sox haven't had an absolute steal in the 2010s, but the jury is still out on one of them. The Sox acquired LHP Chris Sale from the White Sox on December 7th, 2016, and gave up baseball's top prospect, 2B Yoan Moncada, plus Michael Kopech, Luis Alexander Basabe and Victor Diaz. Moncada hasn't done much yet for Chicago, and led the majors in strikeouts in 2018. Kopech will miss 2019 with Tommy John surgery, and Diaz and Basabe haven't made the majors yet. On the other hand, Sale has a 2.56 ERA in two seasons for Boston, and was the 2017 Cy Young runner-up, and was 4th in 2018. The Red Sox also don't win the 2018 World Series without Sale. They could still give up a lot of talent in Moncada and Kopech, but it still won't matter, they won the World Series.

                      Prediction
The Red Sox have a bad bullpen, which will bring them down a lot, but a potent offense and a great rotation will always keep them in games. But, their bullpen will lose them some, which could have them still make the playoffs, but drop to second place in the AL East.

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