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Photo Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Rival Preview: The very-good-but-oddly-forgotten Boston Red Sox

This is a multi-part series in which I’ll preview the other teams the Blue Jays will be facing this season. Today’s Bad Guy: The Boston Red Sox. 

With everybody wanking on about the Yankees adding Giancarlo Stanton this off-season and how that makes them a sure-bet to win like, 140 games, over the course of the regular season, the Red Sox, who are back-to-back American League East champions, have kinda flown under the radar.

Actually, maybe it’s because the Sox have won a grand total of one playoff game over the past two years. Yeah, okay, it’s probably that. Still, the Sox are good, and are a good bet to three-peat in the AL BEast.

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Just give me a TLDR:

Boston’s 93-69 record was good enough to earn the team their second AL East banner in a row, but it wasn’t good enough for John Farrell to keep his job. The former Blue Jays skipper got canned from his dream job after failing to get out of the ALDS for the second year in a row, and now the Sox are moving forward with rookie manager Alex Cora.

They’ll roll into 2018 with largely the same group as the one they had last season plus one major addition in J.D. Martinez. While the Yankees are getting all of the attention, this is still an incredibly solid roster. Even though quite a few things — injuries to pitchers, a homer-less offence — went wrong last year, the Sox still won the division. So what’s it going to look like if things go right?

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Starting rotation:

The Red Sox had the American League’s third-best starting rotation last season in terms of WAR according to Baseball Reference, which is pretty impressive given that David Price was injured for most of the season and reigning Cy Young winner Rick Procello (it’s still so fucked up to put that in a satirical sentence) turned back into a pumpkin.

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Chris Sale was ridiculously good, posting a 2.90 ERA while striking out 12.9 batters per nine. He’ll be the team’s ace again this year, but after Sale, things become a little murky for the Red Sox. Price could be great, as we know, but given the elbow problems that derailed his 2017 season, it’s difficult to predict how effective he’ll be. Porcello is healthy, but he’s probably more the pitcher he was in 2017 than 2016.

Drew Pomeranz, who was probably Boston’s second-best starter last year, is sidelined with a flexor strain. He’s apparently going to be ready for Opening Day, but missing all of spring with an arm injury usually isn’t good for a pitcher. Eduardo Rodriguez, a breakout candidate for years, had off-season knee surgery and won’t be back until late April or early May. Stephen Wright also won’t be back until mid-April.

If fully healthy, a rotation with Sale, Price, Porcello, Pomeranz, Rodriguez, and depth options like Wright and Hector Velasquez is quite good, but, like I said, injuries have made it so that’s far from a sure thing.

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Bullpen:

The Sox also had the third-best bullpen in the American League last season, behind only New York and Cleveland.

Craig Kimbrel, the weapon at the back of that ‘pen, was better in his second go around with Boston than he was in his first. Kimbrel finished sixth in AL Cy Young voting after a season in which he picked up 35 saves, posted a 1.43 ERA, and struck out 16.4 batters per nine.

Getting to Kimbrel wasn’t really a problem for the Sox either. Joe Kelly and Matt Barnes were both good in late-inning roles, while Heath Hembree and Brandon Workman were solid in middle relief. All four of those relievers will be back next year, and the Sox will have a healthy Carson Smith, giving them another late-inning weapon.

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Lineup:

The first post-David Ortiz year for the Red Sox offence was a struggle. The team ranked dead-last in home runs in the AL, which isn’t something Boston is used to. The team managed 4.85 runs per game, which was above average, but you’d expect a lot more fireworks from this Red Sox lineup.

There were a lot of cases of underachievement last year in Boston. Like, you know things aren’t going well when Mitch Moreland has the third-highest OPS on your team. Mookie Betts led the team with an .803 OPS, which isn’t even great for his standards. Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley both had a disappointing season with the stick, Dustin Pedroia struggled through injury, and Hanley Ramirez looked far from the elite hitter he used to be.

The Sox should get an upgrade this year with J.D. Martinez getting thrown into the middle of the lineup. It’ll give them that true power bat that they didn’t really have last season with Ortiz out of the picture. There are a lot of good contact bats on this team which should bode well for Martinez in a run-producing role.

Sort of objective prediction:

Like I said earlier, quite a bit went wrong for Boston in 2017 and they still managed to win the division. Life won’t be quite so easy as the Yankees are better this year than they were last year, but making the playoffs should be a breeze for the Red Sox.

It’s really, really cool that we’re talking about how good the Yankees and Sox are and how the only real discussion is about which one will win the division and which one will have to play in a wild card game. Good. Yes. Cool Cool. Everything is fine. This is good. *jumps out of helicopter and into volcano*

Even though Price was hurt last year and Porcello was bad, the Sox managed to win 93 games with Doug Fister getting tossed out for regular starts. And even though nobody on their team could hit a homer and they figured Mitch Moreland could replace David Ortiz, the Sox still had an above average offence. I can’t see things going much worse for the Sox this year, so they really seem like a sure bet to make their third-straight playoff appearance.