As Chris Sale struck out Manny Machado to put a satisfying end to the 2018 MLB season the Boston Red Sox were crowned World Series Champions. In a season where many national sports media outlets crowned the Red Sox as a wild card spot favorite in spring training the Red Sox casually had the best spring training record, won a league leading, franchise record 108 games and went 11-3 in the playoffs, where they were an impressive 7-1 on the road and 7-0 after being taunted by their various opponents.
This Red Sox team is deservingly in the conversation for the best team in franchise history. With a powerful yet relentless offense, strong starting pitching and solid bullpen play all tied together by rookie manager phenom Alex Cora. They won an aforementioned 108 games and are the only team to beat two 100-win teams in the playoffs. The 100-win rival Yankees were dismissed in 4 games despite setting an MLB record for homeruns hit in a season. This was the first indication that this year, the playoffs were going to be different for the Red Sox. They then defeated the reigning champions and 103-win Houston Astros in 5 games. An Astros team said to have the edge in Stating and relief pitching was handled by the potent Red Sox offense lead by none other than the eventual ALCS MVP Jackie Bradley Jr despite Boston media calling for his head after a rough first 2-3 months of the season. After that series the Red Sox took on the back to back NL champion Los Angeles Dodgers. They beat them in 5 games as well. As some of the best postseason legacies in recent memory for the Sox were formed and finalized, the likes of Josh Beckett’s ’07 run or any David Ortiz postseason. Nathan Eovaldi was stellar all postseason with his competitive spirit backed by a 100-102mph fastball and some devastating offspeed pitches. Steve Pearce provided many clutch moments as he won WS MVP. None as large as David Price. The man who couldn’t catch a break in the postseason the few times he pitched well showed up. After a rocky first outing against the Yankees he rebounded by winning 3 out of his next 4 playoff starts including outpitching Cy Young candidate Justin Verlander to clinch the ALCS and dominating the Dodgers in the World Series clincher against Clayton Kershaw.
This season could not have happened if it wasn’t for the offseason prior to the 2018 season. The Red Sox fresh, off a second straight ALDS swiped Alex Cora away from the champion Astros to be their new manager. He brought along Houston bullpen coach Craig Bjornson to fulfill the same role. Former bullpen catcher turned bullpen coach Dana LeVangie was promoted the Pitching Coach to continue his long tenure with the club. Tim Hyers, the former Dodgers hitting coach and analytics savant was brought in to fulfill the same role as well. With a new coaching staff fluent in the current state of baseball the Sox ha one big hole left to fill, and that hole was shaped like David Ortiz.
After his retirement prior to the 2017 season the Red Sox missed his production dearly, having an offensive threat of his caliber with his reputation is incredibly rare. It makes everyone better and as expected not having him made everyone worse. John Farrell tinkered with the lineup but along with poor health the Sox offense never became a strength. In comes one Julio Daniel Martinez. Fresh off an MVP caliber season between the Tigers and Diamondbacks the Red Sox seemed like a natural fit for him from the beginning, the Sox has money to spend and needed a player of his offensive caliber. It took a painstakingly long time, but it happened and then JD blew away everyone, even those who had high expectations. With a big time bat in the top/middle of Alex Cora’s lineup everyone benefitted. Mookie Betts won the batting title and should probably win AL MVP with his excellent offensive performance, gold glove defense and elite baserunning. Andrew Benintendi had an all-star caliber season with excellent defense as well. Xander Bogaerts set career highs in homeruns and RBI’s to go along with improved defense. A finally healthy Brock Holt recaptured the performance of his best years.
However, as the 2016 Red Sox proved, you need pitching to win in October. Well the Sox had that too. Despite an injury riddled second half, Chris Sale was dominant, David Price had his best full season with the Sox pitching like an ace during the second half especially, picking up for Sale. Rick Porcello had a solid season bouncing back from a terrible 2017. Eduardo Rodriguez returned from injury to pitch like and all-star for the first half until a freak ankle injury derailed his second half, but he got his moment providing a much need solid World Series start after the 18-inning game. The Sox flipped through depth starters all year as Pomeranz struggled returning from an injury after an all-star caliber 2017, Steven Wright was great in an injury limited season and Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez filled in just fine for the Sox. The bullpen had an underrated year despite a rocky second half. Anchored by All-star closer Craig Kimbrel and other reliable arms like Matt Barnes and another man who would be a key to the playoffs, Joe Kelly. The breakout of Ryan Brasier was also a big boost.
The Sox cruised through most of the first half, sending 5 All-stars to the All-star game, Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, Mitch Moreland, Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel. They won a lot because they never counted themselves out of a game. They would put themselves back into many games by great play across the team. The offense came back from 5+ run deficits multiple times if the pitching was off then when the offense was cold the pitching won them plenty of 2-1 type games. There were some holes that needed to be filled however.
At the trade deadline the team needed a boost and Dealin’ Dave Dombrowski delivered. The veteran, AL East journeyman, first baseman/outfielder, and soon to be World Series MVP Steve Pearce was first to join the club. Imagined to be a platoon first baseman against left handed pitching he became a lot more as Moreland dealt with injuries and slumps in the second half and most of the playoffs. Then came the wild card in Nathan Eovaldi and his rocket of a right arm. fresh off his second tommy john surgery Eovaldi was pitching well for the Tampa Bay Rays and was shipped up to Boston to become a folk legend. Then long-time veteran Ian Kinsler was brought in to patch up the defense hole at second base, allowing Brock Holt to move back to his super utility role, move Nunez back to his natural position of third base and create some more depth for the Sox. As these new acquisitions got settled in arguably the biggest series of the regular season rolled along and guess who it was? The red-hot Yankees. Yankees GM, Brian Cashman, was confident in his ball club stating:
“You wonder what their record would be if they weren’t playing us… Because when we go head to head, we do some damage against them and it doesn’t seem like anybody else is capable.”
Big words that the Sox would eventually make him eat. With the AL east lead down to 5 and 1/2 the critical 4 game series felt like it could decide the division and it was only the beginning of August. Then something happened that only this writer saw coming. The Red Sox swept the series. Steve Pearce hit 3 home runs in a first game blowout, Rick Porcello threw a 1 hit/ 1 run complete game, Nathan Eovaldi threw 8 scoreless innings and then the Sox rallied off of Yankees All-star closer Aroldis Chapman to have Andrew Benintendi walk off the 4th game. Red Sox really damaged the Yankees season didn’t they Mr. Cashman? Then about a month later the Sox clinched to division in New York to go to the playoffs. The rest of the damage done by this team is history.
Next: Be on the lookout for an MLB free agency article, My MLB awards predictions and then some Pats and Celtics news.