Depth The Key To Red Sox Regular Season Hopes
In a blog post earlier this week, I noted that I should be more excited about the Boston Red Sox this season. This is my 22nd year as a Sawx fan and for the first time, I’m living in New England on Opening Day. But the locals are known for being pretty demanding of their sports teams and maybe I’m starting to fall into line, because for the last few months I’ve had a hard time getting past this team’s postseason shortcomings. But it’s spring, October is a long way away and at least for now there’s reason to be excited about the 2018 edition of the Red Sox. The biggest of those reasons is depth.
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*Boston has only one weak spot in their order and that’s catcher, where Christian Vazquez is the starter and Sandy Leon will get time. And even that “weak link” might not be that bad—Vazquez started to show some flashes as a hitter last year and Leon had a big offensive year in 2016.
There’s also two good players in reserve and that’s already become apparent. Dustin Pedroia will be out until May with his knee problems, but when you look at Eduardo Nunez taking the spot, it doesn’t seem like there’s any drop off. If anything, with Pedroia starting to slow a bit at age 34, the lineup might be even better. And when Pedey comes back? Nunez is a versatile utility infielder. If 21-year-old Rafael Devers struggles to build off his fine 2017 season, Nunez can fill in at third. He can fill in at short and give Xander Bogaerts a night off.
The other key reserve is Mitch Moreland. A decent hitter with nice power to the alleys, Moreland was in over his head last year as the regular at first base and the de facto replacement for David Ortiz in the lineup. Boston’s power production struggled as a result. But Moreland is in his sweet spot getting part-time duty at first or DH.
The entire outfield gets on base consistently, from Mookie Betts to Jackie Bradley Jr to Andrew Benintendi. Even if Mookie doesn’t replicate his 2016 season that left him runner-up to Mike Trout in the MVP voting, what he did last year is still more than enough on a lineup this deep with steady contact hitters.
What the Red Sox needed was the one big power bat that could clean up all these baserunners in a hurry. They struggled last year to replace Big Papi and that was certainly quite predictable. This year, with J.D. Martinez signed, Boston again has real muscle in the middle of the lineup.
Starting pitching is similarly stocked. I’ve been as tough on Chris Sale and David Price over their autumn failings as anyone, but from April to September, this is as good as a 1-2 punch as it gets. Keep in mind that Price’s 2017 season was marred by injuries and if he returns to his usual form—which is top-3 in the Cy Young voting—that basically boils down to a new acquisition, at least when measured against last year’s AL East champs.
I don’t expect Rick Porcello to ever repeat his dazzling 2016 Cy Young campaign, but the mere fact you have a #3 starter capable of such a year speaks volumes about the depth. At the back end, Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez are on the DL right now, but both look like very short-term situations and each is capable of pitching like a #2 or #3 starter.
Finally, the bullpen. Admittedly, I’m fighting back aggravation on this topic right now after Joe Kelly and Carson Smith coughed up a 4-0 lead in the eighth inning at Tampa Bay yesterday. But if we take the longer view, this was a strong area of the team last year and should be again. Having Craig Kimbrel to close is the ultimate anchor and between Kelly, Smith, Matt Barnes and young Bobby Poyner, new manager Alex Cora has plenty of weapons to build a 7th-8th inning crew. And if nothing else ,this is an area where big-budget teams can go basically buy someone at the trade deadline if all else fails.
Those are a lot of good reasons to be excited. This is a Boston team that should be in the 95-100 wins range and fully capable of at least forcing the Yankees into a one-game wild-card playoff. As to what happens once the field is pared down to its final eight teams? Well, I promised myself I would be positive. We’ll deal with that when the time comes.