The 2017 Boston Red Sox season ended just like it did the season before. Both teams won 93 games, won the American League East division, and disappointingly lost in the first round to the eventual AL champion. The one staunch difference to both teams was an extreme lack of power in the 2017 lineup.
Despite finishing tenth in runs last year, the Sox finished 27th in the league in home runs, hitting just 168 dingers as a team. By contrast, the Sox blasted 208 home runs in 2016, led by David Ortiz and his 38 homers in his final season. Boston struggled to replace Big Papi’s power, and it’s the reason why the General Manager Dave Dombrowski went out and signed free agent J.D. Martinez to a 5-year, $110 million contract.
Not only is J.D. Martinez the power bat the Sox desperately needed, he is literally the only new edition to the 2018 squad. While playing for both the Detroit Tigers and Arizona Diamondbacks last year, Martinez slugged 45 home runs, third-most in all of baseball, behind only current Yankees Giancarlo Stanton (59 HR) and Aaron Judge (52 HR). Martinez, who is now 30, has slugged at least 20 HRs in each of the last four seasons. Martinez joins a lineup that scored 785 runs despite the lack of power, led by young studs Mookie Betts, Xander Boegarts, and Andrew Benentendi, who all crossed the plate at least 80 times in 2017.
Outside of Martinez, who will split his playing time at DH and OF, the rest of the AL East champs are back. Defensively, the team was stellar in 2017, allowing only 4.12 runs a game, which was fifth best in baseball. Chris Sale returns as the ace of the pitching staff, following a season where he finished second for the AL Cy Young with a 17-8 record, a 2.90 ERA, and a league-leading 308 strikeouts. Also back, and reportedly healthy, is David Price. After leading the league in innings pitched in 2016, Price struggled with elbow problems most of 2017, missing nearly four months of the regular season. When Price came back in a relief role on September 17th, Price was dominant, not allowing an earned run in 16 2/3 innings out of the bullpen.
While the top of the rotation is formidable with Sale, Price, and 2016 Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello, the final two spots are question marks. Fourth and fifth starters Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez will start the season on the DL. Luckily for new Red Sox skipper Alex Cora, the Sox play two of the worst teams in baseball to start the season, the Tamp Bay Rays and Miami Marlins. Both teams are currently at least 200-to-1 odds to win the World Series (Boston is 12-to-1), and after playing their first six games against baseball’s cellar dwellers, the Sox have three off days scheduled between April 3rd and 10th. The breaks should be enough for one of Rodriguez or Pomeranz to be activated off the DL, and just in time for the first series against the rival Yankees on Tuesday, April 10th.
After finishing third in the league in saves with 35, Craig Kimbrell is locked in as the team’s closer. He leads a corp of relievers that was second in the bigs in bullpen ERA (3.15) in 2017. Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly, and Heath Hembree are all back to set up Kimbrell and they will be joined by Carson Smith. Smith was acquired by the Sox in December 2015 from Seattle, after posting 92 strikeouts in 70 relief innings for the Mariners. Elbow injuries have sidelines Smith in his two seasons in Boston. If Smith can match his numbers that he posted before the injuries, he will be another weapon at Cora’s disposal before tabbing Kimbrell to close out games.
In the end, the AL East will belong to either the Red Sox or Yankees. While the Red Sox improved their offense with J.D. Martinez, the Yankees are loaded offensively with the aforementioned Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankee bullpen is also a huge strength with flamethrowers Chad Greene, Delin Betances, Tommy Kahnle, and David Robertson all setting up the 105-MPH fastball of closer Aroldis Champan.
Luckily for both teams, both the Red Sox and Yankees will make the 2018 postseason. The Red Sox will Win, Dance, Repeat their way to their third straight AL East title and hopefully we will see another great Red Sox-Yankee ALCS that we have not seen since 2004.