THE 2018 RED SOX

Last year, at this time, with Spring Training ready to start, Red Sox fans were wondering what their boys were going to do without David Ortiz and the huge offensive boost he gave them in 2016, his last year. Big Papi, at age 40, in his final year in baseball, had put together a last season unmatched in the history of baseball. He had hit .315, with 38 homers, led the league in runs batted in with 127, doubles with 48 and slugging percentage with an average of .620.

With him leading the way, the Sox had won the American League Eastern Division with a record of 93 wins and 69 losses but had been swept by the Cleveland Indians in the American League Division Series. They had led all of baseball with a .282 team batting average, a .348 on base percentage, a .461 slugging percentage, 1,598 hits and 878 runs scored. They had the Cy Young winner in Rick Porcello, who won 22 and lost 4, the runner up in the Most Valuable Player voting, Mookie Betts who had hit

.318, with 24 homer and 102 runs batted in and led the league in total bases with 359.

Until the meltdown in the last week of the season, when they led by 5½ games with six to play and lost five out of their last seven and still won by four games, and the collapse in the playoffs, 2016 had been a magical year. Xander Bogaerts had hit .294 with 21 homers and 89 runs batted in, Hanley Ramirez, out of left field and playing first base, hit .286 with 30 homers and 111 runs batted in, Jackie Bradley, who had a huge hot streak mid season, batted only .267 but had 26 homers and 87 runs batted in, Dustin Pedroia hit .318 with 15 homers and 74 runs batted in and Sandy Leon had a career year, batting .310.

In addition to Porcello’s great year, David Price, although not living up to expectations, won 17 and lost 9, Steven Wright, although he missed the whole month of September, won 13 and lost 6. Craig Kimbrel had 31 saves with only two blown saves.

Over the winter, before starting Spring Training in 2017, the Sox got left handed starter Chris Sale from the White Sox. Sale, in five years as a starter with Chicago, had won 74 and lost 50 and had finished in the top six in the Cy Young voting each year. They also picked up Mitch Moreland, a left handed hitting, first baseman, who had batted .262 with 110 homers and 354 runs batted in in seven years with the Texas Rangers.

In the 2017 season, the offensive production of several key players in the Sox lineup fell off dramatically. Mookie Betts hit .318 in 2016 and just .264, in 2017, Xander Bogaerts fell from .294 to .273, Hanley Ramirez from .286 to .242, Jackie Bradley, from .267 to .245, Sandy Leon from .310 to

.225.

In addition, Betts fell from 31 homers in 2016 to 24 in 2017, Bogaerts from 21 to 10, Ramirez 30 to 23, Bradley 26 to 17. On top of this, Dustin Pedroia who played in 154 games in 2017 and batted .318, missed a large part of the 2017 season with injuries and hit just .293 with 82 less hits and 8 less homers. These five players had 42 less homers than they did in 2016.

Mitch Moreland, the first baseman who was acquired from Texas and was expected to provide a boost offensively, batted just .246 with 22 homers and 79 RBI’s. Between Moreland and Hanley Ramirez, there is bound to be more production this year than last in the first base/designated hitter slot.

Sale, despite faltering toward the end of the season, won 17 and lost 8 with a 2.90 ERA and Drew Pomeranz, after a 3-5 season with a 4.59 ERA in 2016, won 17 and lost 6, with a 3.32 ERA. The rest of the staff left a lot to be desired. David Price after a 17-9 season, won just 6 and lost 3, Rick Porcello went from his 22-4 Cy Young season to 11-17 and David Wright, who had won 13 and lost 6 in 2016, won only one game and lost three before being lost for the season to surgery.

With all the disappointments of 2017, the Red Sox managed to win 93 and lose 69, the same record as the previous year and won the American League East for the second consecutive year, edging out the surprising, young Yankees by two games, despite losing five of their last seven games again in a collapse as bad as that in 2016. They then faced the Houston Astros in the ALDS, the eventual World Series winners, and lost in four games to end the season.

All through the winter, there has been speculation that the Sox would pick up a power hitter and some pitching help but, as of this writing, there have been no significant acquisitions in those areas. There is the possibility that they might resign Eduardo Nunez, who became a Free Agent at the end of 2016, but is still available as of this writing.

Nunez, who hit .321 with 8 homers and 27 RBI’s in just 38 games, while playing second base, third base and all three outfield positions, after being acquired late in the season, should be brought back. When he played his first game for the Sox on July 28th last year, the Sox had won 56 and lost 47, a .544 win/loss percentage. From then until September 25th, when, if you remember, John Farrell tried to play him when he could barely walk, the Sox were 35-18, a .660 win/loss percentage. Even on one foot, he doubled off the wall in his first at bat and lined out in his second before having to be helped off the field, ending his season. His bat and versatility could be key to the success of this team. If Moreland and/or Ramirez should fail to produce he could fill in at either first or DH.

The position players, Moreland at first, Pedroia at second, Bogaerts at short, Devers at third, Benintendi in left, Bradley in center and Betts in right, with Vazquez and Swihart or Leon behind the plate, all have the ability to produce offensively at a higher level than they did last year.

Sale has never had a bad season, Price appears to be healthy and Porcello should rebound from last year’s off season. With those three Cy Young winners and Pomeranz who seems to have come into his own, Rodriguez, if he can stay healthy, and Steven Wright regains close to his 2016 form, the Sox have, potentially, as good a starting staff as anybody in baseball.

The bullpen, with Closer Craig Kimbrel, Matt Barnes, Blaine Boyer, Heath Hembree, Joe Kelly, Kyle Kendricks, Carson Smith and my favorite youngster Austin Maddox, can compete with any team in baseball.

This Red Sox team, if they stay healthy and produce to levels at or close to levels at which they all have shown they can, could win the Eastern Division again. If they produce as they have shown they can, even that young powerhouse in New York will have trouble staying with them.

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