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It used to be so predictable. From 1998 through 2009, the Boston Red Sox finished in 2nd place in the AL East 10 out of 12 seasons. They won the division once (2007) and took third another year, but for most of that time span, their role was to play second fiddle to someone else (usually the Yankees) while still remaining quite successful themselves. They got into the playoffs via the Wild Card seven times in 12 years, which is bizarre given that only one team out of 14 drew that honor each year. Twice, they took home the World Series hardware behind the services of Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz.
The Red Sox of the recent past have been considerably more volatile, with win totals of 90, 69, 97, 71, 78, 93, and 93. In the last six years, they’ve taken first place three times and last place three times. However, as might be indicated by back-to-back 93-win seasons and an extremely strong start to this one, things seem to be stabilizing once again for the Red Sox. This time, they’re no one’s bridesmaid, and it’s probably no coincidence that the beginning of this current stretch started with Dave Dombrowski being named president of baseball operations. A notoriously aggressive dealmaker, Dombrowski paid steep prices to acquire Chris Sale, J.D. Martinez, David Price, and closer Craig Kimbrel. All of these players are critical to the Red Sox’ success.
Let’s start with Sale, just because we’re extremely familiar with him. Sale’s been essentially the same guy for the Red Sox that he was here. He kept the approach of throwing fewer changeups we saw in his last year on the south side but now he’s using his slider more often and the fourseam a little less. The results have remained remarkably consistent. Price has taken a step back from his prime, and that will happen when you lose a few ticks on your heater. Still, he’s a good starter that probably will have to deal with unnecessary jabs about his big contract. Price has become a cutter-heavy pitcher who throws some variety of fastball (fourseam, sinker, cutter) about 80 percent of the time. He uses just a changeup to keep hitters off base and rarely throws a traditional breaking pitch.
Former Cy Young award winner Rick Porcello may have been an early leader of the spin rate revolution; since coming over to the Red Sox, his fastball vertical movement has increased along with the associated whiff rate, giving him respectable strikeout totals to go along with his great control. He’s off to a very strong start this year, reminiscent of his outstanding 2016 season. With these three guys in the rotation, Eduardo Rodriguez is something of an overqualified fourth starter. On a good day, Rodriguez can run it up to 97 mph, but it’s his wipeout changeup that’s behind his sterling strikeout rate. These four guys have been collectively excellent for the Red Sox, with lefty Drew Pomeranz the only punching bag on the starting staff.
As might be expected for a team with baseball’s best record, Boston has plenty of thunder in the lineup, which will make things interesting for the soon-to-be-activated Carlos Rodon and the upward-trending Dylan Covey and Reynaldo Lopez. The absence of the world-beating Mookie Betts (owner of 17 homers and a .750 SLG) will ease the pain for this series, but there’s plenty of threats without him. J.D. Martinez has been doubted seemingly every year even though he just keeps on mashing. He currently leads the major league in home runs, continuing the torrid pace he set in the second half of last season in Arizona. Many White Sox fans are aware of Mitch Moreland‘s success this season mostly because of this ridiculous tweet from Buster Olney suggesting he belongs in the All-Star Game over Jose Abreu. The truth is, Moreland has been stellar (and better than Abreu) on a per-plate-appearance basis, but some pitchers are left-handed and he’s not allowed to face those.
Elsewhere, Xander Bogaerts has again been excellent as a slugging shortstop who consistently hits for high averages. He’s joined at the top of the lineup by lefty Andrew Benintendi, who’s taking a star turn this year. The former top prospect is starting to see his power numbers go up while maintaining a very good OBP and continuing to emerge as a threat to swipe bags. Utility man BROCK HOLT! has seen his playing time increase with Betts on the shelf, and he adds another .300-ish batting average to a lineup that has plenty of them.
There’s been weak spots in the Boston lineup, but the Red Sox’ stars have been plenty able to compensate for them. It has not been a banner season for third baseman Rafael Devers, who hasn’t been lacing enough line drives to keep his batting average afloat (and a K:BB north of three is doing him no favors). Still, the 21-year-old has plenty of time to figure things out. The Red Sox have received basically nothing from second base in the absence of the injured Dustin Pedroia, as Eduardo Nunez‘ inability to draw walks makes him a poor fit for everyday duty. Jackie Bradley’s great out in center field, but his bat has been trending downwards for a couple seasons now and he’s spending a lot of time hanging out below the Mendoza line. The catcher position has also been problematic, as none of Christian Vazquez, Sandy Leon, or Blake Swihart have been hitting enough to cut it.
Boston’s run of success has been interesting in that they’ve been able to build the key pieces of their roster from a variety of means. Their biggest stars are a combination of home-grown talent (Betts, Benintendi, Bogaerts), free agents (Martinez, Moreland, Price), and trades (Sale, Porcello, Rodriguez, Kimbrel). The collective success in these three facets of the game has made the Red Sox the hot shots of the American League. The only danger they face is the division they’re placed in, as the New York Yankees won’t let them simply waltz to the ALDS without a fight. Baseball fans that lived through the back half of the 90’s and the earlier part of the 00’s probably have had their fill of battles between these two juggernauts. However, with a new cast of young stars anchoring each of them, it should be a refreshing departure from the clashes of high-priced veterans from the past. The games will probably still take four hours, though.
Probable Starting Pitchers
- Friday, June 8: Dylan Covey vs. Chris Sale
- Saturday, June 9: Carlos Rodon vs. David Price
- Sunday, June 10: Reynaldo Lopez vs. Rick Porcello
- Andrew Benintendi – LF
- Xander Bogaerts – SS
- J.D. Martinez – DH
- Mitch Moreland – 1B
- Eduardo Nunez – 2B
- Brock Holt – RF
- Rafael Devers – 3B
- Christian Vazquez – C
- Jackie Bradley – CF
- SP1: Chris Sale – LHP
- SP2: David Price – LHP
- SP3: Rick Porcello – RHP
- SP4: Eduardo Rodriguez – LHP
- SP5: Drew Pomeranz – LHP (DL)
- CL: Craig Kimbrel – RHP
- RP1: Matt Barnes – RHP
- RP2: Joe Kelly – RHP
- RP3: Heath Hembree – RHP