The 2017 season, as expected, was a strange one for the Boston Red Sox. That vaunted rotation struggled with health and performance. Chris Sale was a revelation, Drew Pomeranz surprised with in his second year with the team, and Rick Porcello regressed beyond any expectation. Everyone else, the myriad who made multiple starts over the course of the year, fell somewhere in the middle. At the plate, hits came in bunches, but few left the park. A drop-off in power was expected in the post-David Ortiz era, but the way his absence seemed to affect Mookie Betts and the others came as something of a constant shock.
Yet, depsite the inconsistency and the head-scratching lack of home runs, the team kept finding ways to win. They managed to overcome their heap of injuries and win the American League East, and even gave the Houston Astros a decent fight before finally bowing out of the postseason.
Boston Red Sox 2018 Season Preview
There’s really no telling what the Red Sox 2018 season will bring to the team’s loyal fans. The rival New York Yankees are vastly improved on offense, but their pitching remains unreliable. The rest of the division, stuck in the mud, won’t be any threat. The Red Sox, though in need of power, return much the same squad the won the division last season. A little luck in the health department, coupled with rebound seasons from a couple of key players, should allow them to take the AL East crown once again.
Where Will the Power Come From?
Although the Sox skated by in 2017, they probably won’t survive against the Yankees this season unless they find some way to generate consistent, explosive offense. That power could still come from an outside source. It seems inevitable, despite percieved grumpishness on both sides, that J.D. Martinez will eventually wind up in a Red Sox uniform. Then again, maybe he won’t.
In the event that Martinez winds up elsewhere, the power will have to come from other players. What most seem to have forgotten is that the Red Sox have several players more than capable of providing it. Last season, many of their big bats were hampered by injury. Dustin Pedroia, Hanley Ramirez, and Jackie Bradley Jr. all missed significant portions of the season, and Xander Bogaerts played through injury all year long. Injuries to so many key hitters would have crippled any other team. Yet the Red Sox kept going. Renewed health should inject life into each of their swings. If a couple others get back on track, the Sox will be golden.
You see, it wasn’t just injuries that slowed Boston’s offense; Ramirez, Bradley Jr., Betts, and Andrew Benintendi all saw declines in their home runs totals from 2016 as they adjusted to life after Big Papi. Though it took some time, they certainly did adjust. Betts hit well early in the season, blasting nine homers through May. As the weather warmed and opposing pitchers got into grooves, he slowed down. Opponents had figured out how to attack the lineup without Ortiz, and the lineup had to adjust.
It took some time, but Betts ended the season with six September home runs, more than he had hit in July and August combined. Benintendi also got back on track as the summer wore on. He notched a combined eight home runs in August and September, after hitting a combined nine between the beginning of May and the end of July. After a whole offseason to continue improving on those adjustments, there’s good reason to think a power surge is coming for those two in 2018.
In the event that the Red Sox need a boost, Sam Travis and Michael Chavis should get their shots this year. Both are young and have big bats, and could see permanent roles in Boston relatively soon. Add in a full season from Rafael Devers, who hit 10 home runs in just 58 games, and the Red Sox, potentially, have all the power they need. Admittedly, this optimism relies on a lot of things going right, but the scenario is decidedly not doom and gloom if Martinez does not sign.
Can the Rotation Stay Healthy and Consistent?
Boston’s rotation looked fearsome in the 2017 offseason, but injuries significantly limited Eduardo Rodriguez, Steven Wright, and David Price. Even Sale wore down toward the end. While he didn’t deal with injury per se, fatigue nevertheless diminished his skill set in the playoffs.
Now, they’re all rested and healthy. Sale will be back to his old self, and a plan to lighten his workload should prevent a similar breakdown this year. Price looks raring to go. He seems determined to prove himself, and this could be his year. He looked fearsome out of the bullpen in the 2017 playoffs; if that same bulldog is backing up Sale this year, Boston will have as good a one-two punch as any.
Rodriguez was excellent in April and May, but injuries decimated his season after that. However, after finally working his way back to the mound full-time in August and then working through some rust, Rodriguez finished the season with a 3.33 September ERA. He has the talent; that has never been his issue. Look to see if he can carry over his strong work from September. If he can, this could be the year he finally puts it all together. As a fourth or fifth starter, he’s a solid option.
The most intriguing starting pitcher to watch will be Pomeranz. Following a dismal beginning to his Red Sox career, Pomeranz began 2017 looking much like he had in 2016. Then, in June, he flipped a switch and became the Red Sox best starter not named Chris Sale. He didn’t chew up innings; that’s never been his game. Yet he did record an ERA of 3.00 or lower in June, July, and August. He fell back to earth a bit in Septmeber, but still provided some quality starts. Without him, the rotation might truly have fallen into chaos. Whether the Red Sox get the Pom from the second half of 2016 or the Pom from June 2017 onward could determine their ability to overcome offensively geared team like the Yankees.
Then, sitting in stark contrast, we find Porcello, the most concerning member of the rotation. Porcello was the Pomeranz of 2016, but even better. He struggled in his first year with Boston, but then won the Cy Young Award in his second. In his third, however, regression hit him hard. He set career highs in home runs, walks, and hits allowed. His numbers from that ugly season sit well above his career averages, so some improvement is to be expected. Yet, if he once again struggles to keep the ball in the park, the Red Sox may have to trade for an arm at the July deadline.
One last name to keep an eye on is Brian Johnson. The prospect more than held his own in spot work last season. Many believed he had earned a permanent spot in the rotation. With Doug Fister gone and Steven Wright hardly a lock to make the rotation, watch for Johnson to earn the fifth spot out of camp or soon after.
While fans may panic if the Red Sox don’t land that big bat, there’s a lot of hope for 2018. The lineup is talented and the rotation can, on its best days, compete with any starting five in the league. Health and consistency are the key words for this team. New manager Alex Cora has the smarts and experience to guide the roster, but it’s up to the players to perform up to their abilities day-in and day-out.