Red Sox hopes for next step with rookie manager, new slugger
FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — Before the 2016 season, Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski added former Cy Young winner David Price and closer Craig Kimbrel to help win the World Series. It didn’t happen.
Before last season, he got Chris Sale to help win the World Series. It didn’t happen.
In February he gave slugger J.D. Martinez $110 million over five seasons to help his team win the World Series. Is this the year it happens?
For the last two seasons, the Red Sox finished with identical 93-69 records, winning the American League East both years. All they have to show for that was getting bounced in the first-round of the playoffs both times with just one combined win.
With those four, a crop of homegrown burgeoning stars, and a mix of solid veterans the Red Sox are poised as well as any team to win the World Series this season. Rookie manager Alex Cora has been given the keys to a baseball Cadillac. His only directives — as with any new driver — don’t crack it up and don’t bring it back on empty.
But that does not mean it will be easy.
Sale and Price were brought along slowly this spring to keep them strong throughout the season. Sale finished second in AL Cy Young voting last season, going 17-8 (2.90 ERA), leading the majors with 214 1/3 innings and 308 strikeouts. But he faltered in the second half, as has been the trend in his eight-season career. In 11 August and September starts, he went 7-4 (4.09). Price was limited by an elbow injury to 11 starts last season, a career low for a full season.
Rick Porcello followed up his 2016 Cy Young season with a dismal 2017, the worst of his career in many aspects. He went 11-17 (4.65), leading the majors in losses and home runs allowed, and the AL with 236 hits allowed. So, which of the last two seasons is the aberration?
After that, lefties Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez and knuckleballer Steven Wright were expected to be available for the rotation. All three have been slowed by injuries this spring and Wright is facing potential disciplinary action from MLB for an offseason domestic violence incident. Until they are available, right-hander Hector Velazquez and left-hander Brian Johnson are expected to fill out the rotation.
Pitching concerns are not limited solely to the rotation. Kimbrel, the 2017 AL reliever of the year, was a major component last season to the success of Boston’s bullpen, which was second in baseball with a 3.15 ERA. Kimbrel led all relievers with a 16.43 strikeouts-per-nine innings ratio and 0.68 WHIP. He struck out 126 of the 254 batters he raced - an eye-popping 49.6 percent. But he was out of camp for almost three weeks, in Boston with his family as his 4-month-old daughter, Lydia Joy, who was born with heart complications, underwent another heart procedure. He typically does not need many spring training innings to ready for the season, but if he isn’t ready to go the team could turn to Carson Smith, Matt Barnes or Joe Kelly.
The outfield - Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley and Mookie Betts - is one of the best and most athletic in baseball. There’s no reason to think that cannot continue.
The infield might be a little more suspect. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia is sidelined until at least May following knee surgery. Eduardo Nunez replaces Pedroia but his 2017 season ended with a knee injury. He has avoided surgery, but his range has appeared limited this spring.
At first base, 2016 Gold Glover Mitch Moreland is the better defensive option but will rotate with Hanley Ramirez, who was limited by a shoulder injury to just 17 starts at first last season.
On the left side, Boston has third baseman Rafael Devers and shortstop Xander Bogaerts. Devers, who made his debut last season, committed 14 errors over 56 games last season. Bogaerts was charged with 17 errors last season, fewer than only five other big league shortstops.
A World Series championship. Yes, every team goes into the season saying this is the goal. The Red Sox are one of the few teams that can say it and actually mean it. If everyone stays healthy.
Winning the division and losing again in the first round of the playoffs. If that is the worst case, what’s the word to describe anything less than that? Cataclysmic? Apocalyptic?
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