Opening Day is tomorrow, which makes today Christmas Eve. For the first time since 1999, the Red Sox finished with the Grapefruit League’s best record. Just for fun I decided to take a peak at the 1999 Red Sox baseball reference page (even though I was a whole 4 years old and remember it fully anyways). The team finished the regular season with a 2nd place 94-68 record, won the wild card, and moved on to the ALCS where they lost to the Yankees in Game 5. Not bad. While the ’99 season has no bearing on this year’s team, it eerily mimics my expectations for the 2018 Red Sox season.
While all of these “superlatives” are total guesses and can certainly go drastically wrong, picking a team’s finish might be the biggest shot in the dark of them all. Looking at this division, it’s clear the Yankees are the biggest competitors for the Red Sox. I think it could honestly go either way in terms of who lands first or second, and I usually always pick wrong when I’m forced to decide between two things. Therefore I’m picking the Sox to finish the AL East in 2nd place at 92-70. This is a playoff caliber team who I believe will get their shot at a postseason run this year, even if they do it from the wild card spot.
This off-season the Red Sox built on an already pretty impressive roster, adding last year’s obvious missing piece in J.D. Martinez. Though everyone is talking about the Yankees lineup, I can’t help but notice nobody is talking about their rotation. The Red Sox have a solid offense, albeit not one comprised of monster hitters like the Yankees, but they have the edge in their rotation (well, sort of). The season will start with Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez. While that rotation starts with you nodding your head in excitement, it might end with you staring blank faced, or googling “Hector Velazquez”. With Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez starting the season on the DL, and Steven Wright starting the season on the DL and then serving a 15 game suspension, the Red Sox were rather limited in selecting their season starters. Though I’m rather confident in the front end of that rotation, Porcello’s on again off again seasons make me nervous. BJ of course had his complete game no hitter last season, but his lack of reps in the majors leaves me somewhat weary. Velazquez is a guy I watched in Pawtucket multiple times where he posted an ERA under 3 over 19 starts. I’ve got a good feeling about him fitting in as the fifth guy, at least until the others return from their injuries/punishments. My standout starter pick is being handed to David Price. While I expect another knockout season from Sale, I’m confident in Price having not only a strong, consistent regular season but continuing that into the postseason (that’s right we’re playing October ball). Price has nothing and everything to prove, depending on who you ask. Granted it’s hard to compare his 2016 and 2017 seasons as one he started 35 games while the next he was limited to 11, but I was satisfied with Price last season and can only see him going up from here. Price has had his share of run-ins with Boston media/fans, and it seems this off-season he’s re-routed those frustrations from anger to productivity. Less talk, more doing. We shall see.
Plot twist: I’m not giving this one to J.D. Martinez. While I think JD is going to help the Sox improve on their pitiful 2017 home-run figure, I’m going with a different outfielder to give the Sox their biggest push on offense. Andrew Benintendi came out of the off-season last year much bulkier than he left the 2016 team. And it appears Benny Beefcakes was busy in the weight room once again this off-season. Benintendi crushed 20 homers last year, and based on his .391 average, 1.236 OPS and .804 SLG this spring, it appears he’s not taking offense lightly this year. Give me at least 25 dingers from Benintendi, and over 100 RBI’s. (Sidenote: none of these figures are taking into account the haircut, RIP)
There is nobody I’d trust to cover right field more than Marcus Betts. You may be familiar with Mookie if you’re an avid bowling fan, but let me tell you this guy can also play baseball. Mookie is consistently one of the best right fielders in the league, often in the same territory as other stars such as Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper. Last season Mookie had the 9th highest FPCT (Fielding Percentage) out of all right-fielders in the league with .987. He also had the highest DWAR (Defensive Wins Above Replacement) among right-fielders at 2.6. Mookie has spoiled Red Sox fans in his ability to cover the grass in RF and manages to consistently rob guys of home-runs. Just ignore the triple he gave up to Kris Bryant in yesterday’s spring training finale.
— MLB (@MLB) March 27, 2018
If you know me then you’re probably well aware I’m the biggest Hanley defender on the planet. After the 2016 season, Hanley’s numbers took a drastic plunge. Perhaps he felt a bit too inclined to take over and be the next Papi in the clubhouse. Every time Hanley stepped up to the plate last year you knew he was swinging for the moon on every pitch. His career low .242 and just 23 homers proved that maybe not every one of your at bat’s is going to result in a ball hitting the mass pike. Alex Cora has Hanley batting third to start the season, perhaps one of the more puzzling lineup moves so far. Though he’s new to managing, Cora is no stranger to baseball and I trust his decision here in hoping we get 2016 Hanley this season. I don’t expect him to remain in that spot after Pedroia returns and the lineup is shaken up once again. Hanley will be moving around quite a bit, as he platoons with Mitch Moreland at first base and will undoubtedly occasionally fill in for JD at DH. Giving Hanley the three spot might be a move to boost his confidence and give him some assurance for this season. While I think we can expect a big bounce back from Hanley this year, either way I’m happy to have this sunflower seed throwing, camera loving, dancing character on this team.
I’ll be honest; I’m worried about Xander Bogaerts. It’s not that he has been especially terrible, it’s that he’s been just “meh”. Bogaerts falls in the lower half of the MLB’s shortstops in terms of fielding percentage (.969) and all too frequently falls in and out of slumps on offense. In the first half of the 2017 season, Bogaerts hit .303 compared to .235 in the second half. I’m not expecting some monster season from the shortstop, just hoping for a consistent one at the least.
I’m surprised that (in my opinion) I didn’t drop any crazy hot takes in these predictions. I think it’s safe to say these are all fair assumptions and nothing I wrote is too out of reach. But playing it safe is boring so I’ll leave you with one toasty take: Devers hits 20 home-runs this season.