Prior to this season, I predicted that the 2018 Red Sox would finish second to the Yankees in the AL East, and would once again get bounced in the first round of the playoffs.
However, after this four-game sweep of the Yankees, I may have to amend that prediction.
From the beginning of the season I did not believe in the team’s starting pitching, especially in the postseason.
David Price and Rick Porcello have been putrid in the playoffs. Chris Sale also was shaky in his first postseason performance last season. The Red Sox also didn’t have a bullpen, and spent a whopping 22 million on JD Martinez who was simply coming off a big year … he was far from the consistently-dominant player that the Sox were paying him to be.
But now, on Aug. 7, the Sox still hold the best record in the MLB and just rocked the Yankees in four-straight games. This is the first time in about five years that I actually have real confidence in them.
Let’s look at the things that have gone right this season.
Chris Sale is once again proving why is he is among the top three pitchers in the league. Rick Porcello has rebounded from a terrible 2017 in which he led the league in losses. David Price has also been pretty good as of late.
I’m still not sold that the trio will show up come playoff time, but all three have come up in big spots this year. If this isn’t the year that they finally keep it together on the big stage, then I don’t think they ever will. Not to mention that recently-acquired Nathan Eovaldi is 2-0 In his first two starts for Boston and has allowed no runs. Not that he is the answer, but it is at least an encouraging start.
The offense has been dominant this season, and has helped the Red Sox’ run differential soar past 190 overall, another league-best. Mookie Betts returned to his 2016 form and is the frontrunner to win the MVP Award. JD Martinez has also shocked me and has been arguably the best hitter in all of baseball and leads the league in home runs.
Andrew Benintendi has been a solid guy in the No. 2 spot, Xander Bogaerts and Mitch Moreland have been steady in their roles, and Steve Pearce has been really consistent since being traded to Boston from Toronto. Hitting three home runs last Thursday may have ensured that he’ll never have to pay for a beer in a Boston bar again.
As far as the bullpen goes, I’m not too concerned about it.
Although Craig Kimbrel has also been inconsistent in the postseason, I believe that he has the talent and attitude to succeed on the big stage. Guys like Joe Kelly, Matt Barnes, Brandon Workman, Hector Velazquez, Tyler Thornburg won’t blow you away, but have been consistent enough to keep things afloat.
After the weekend demolition of the Yankees, the Sox have all but ensured the AL East crown and will avoid having to play in the one-game Wild Card playoff.
It will certainly be interesting to see how this group handles being the favorite (at least of paper) heading into the big show.
It’s hard to really put a finger on its struggles over the past two postseasons in which they’ve gone 1-6.
If I had to guess, I’d say the inexperience of the young guys had to do with it. Betts, Bogaerts, Benintendi and Jackie Bradley failed to live up to their regular season success.
On top of that, it looked as though the starting pitching just didn’t have the mental edge to get it done. David Price has been a train wreck and even admitted to letting nerves affect him. Rick Porcello also seemed a bit lost out there.
After this past weekend though, I’m finally convinced that this Red Sox team is ready to take the next step.
I think the MVP of this team has been new manager Alex Cora. Cora has refocused the clubhouse while also getting the best out of every player while providing a healthy atmosphere. He’s tough, gritty, and I think he has been able to get through to the team in ways that John Farrell wasn’t.
I’m not predicting a World Series win and for the sake of not being wishy-washy I will still predict a first-round loss. But deep down, I have a feeling that I will be wrong this year, and the sky is the limit for the 2018 Red Sox club.