My previous article highlighted why the Red Sox are not World Series Favorites. Despite these factors, it does not mean that the Red Sox cannot defend their title in 2019.
Here’s 5 reasons why the champs can still repeat this upcoming season.
#1 – Dustin Pedroia’s Return
Have we all forgotten about Dustin Pedroia? It would be understandable since the Boston Red Sox had a historic 2018 season without their legendary second basemen. Now, allow me to address two things: first, yes, Dustin Pedroia has a history of injuries and we cannot count on him to stay healthy; two, yes, Pedroia’s production is not what is once was.
However, the return of the 4-time all-star is still massive for the Red Sox. Second base was a huge blackhole in 2018, totaling a -2.3 positional WAR which was 2nd worst in the entire league (the only position that performed worse for Boston was catcher). Even acknowledging the injury risk Pedroia poses, any extended period of play from him will surely improve the position’s production in 2019. After having a long injury-recovery time, Red Sox nation should expect Pedroia to at least play significantly more games than last season. As we all know, Pedroia is a world-class defensive player. In terms of offence, Pedroia has posted a DRC+ of 114 in 2015, 120 in 2016, and 109 in 2017.
While we should not expect him to return to his MVP form, these recent numbers are still encouraging from an offensive perspective, even if we anticipate a dip in production due to age and injuries. In comparison, Eduardo Nunez posted a DRC+ of 84 and Ian Kinsler contributed a DRC+ of 97 with his time in Boston. For context, Nunez’s score is very bad while Kinsler’s is slightly below average (100 is considered average). Dustin Pedroia’s return at the bare minimum would improve the offensive production at second while still providing excellent defence.
#2 – A Likely Playoff Berth
It is true that the American League will be very good once again in 2019. However, that does not mean that Boston’s playoff hopes are in jeopardy. The closest teams to making the second Wild Card spot last season were the Tampa Bay Rays and Seattle Mariners who won 90 and 89 games respectively. Even if Boston were to have a huge regression in the upcoming season, it is hard to imagine them not securing a Wild Card spot at the least. Hell, even in 2017 the Red Sox managed to win 93 games, and in that season, the Wild Card teams won just 91 and 85 games.
What does this really mean? Well, it suggests that the Red Sox should make the postseason at a bare minimum, and if you get into the playoffs, you always have a shot of going all the way. Just the fact that Boston is likely to secure a playoff berth is a reason to be optimistic for 2019. With the experience of winning the World Series, this group could be lethal in the postseason, regardless of their seeding.
#3 – Relief Pitchers Are Replaceable
One of the arguments against Boston being the World Series favorites was the current status of the bullpen. While it is true that this year’s group is significantly weaker on paper, one fact remains relevant for Red Sox nation: relief pitchers are more or less replaceable. Take for example the rise of Ryan Brasier. He emerged from virtually nowhere and became one of Boston’s best relief pitchers. It is quite possible that relatively no-name pitchers can come in and fill in for Joe Kelly. Moreover, take for example proven relief pitchers like Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg. Both are coming off injuries and could see a return to a higher level of play. They are proven talents and any positive production would go a long way in shoring up the bullpen’s depth.
Neither reliever needs to regain their peak form prior to their injuries (although if either did that would solve a lot of problems), but just solid play would be very beneficial for the Sox in 2019. Furthermore, take into consideration that one of Boston’s top prospects, Durbin Feltman, could make an impact in the upcoming season. He was a highly regarded reliever in college and could see major league innings this year. Matt Barnes can likely replace Kimbrel’s production in 2018.
However, that leaves Boston with 2 obvious roles to replace: Joe Kelly and Barnes’ 2018 performance as the set-up man. I wrote earlier this offseason how the former can be easy to replace. Between internal options and external possibilities still available, the Red Sox can easily find themselves with a “good” bullpen group that isn’t a season-killing liability.
#4 – Protection Against Regression
One of the biggest factors that could potentially sink the Red Sox in 2019 is regression. That being said, there is one key element that can protect this club from suffering an offensive dip like they did in 2017: more depth. When the Red Sox lost David Ortiz, and key players like Mookie and Xander struggled to produce at the same level as 2016, the Red Sox offence stagnated immensely. However, the 2019 Red Sox team is fundamentally different. With offensive players like JD Martinez, Steve Pearce, and Rafael Devers, Boston has more cover and protection from regression. If any of the key players regress, the offensive damage won’t be catastrophic due to so much depth in talent.
This is key for Boston becoming a consistent, legitimate yearly contender in the MLB. In order to contend every season, the Red Sox need their roster to remain perennially potent and dangerous. Luckily for fans in 2019, Boston has more much depth to ensure Alex Cora’s men perform at a level capable of winning the World Series.
#5 – All-time Great Teams and Repeating as Champs
In the last article I outlined one damning historical trend that should have left Sox fans with despair: no team has repeated as World Series champs in 19 years. There is, however, one crucial contextual factor to discuss in relation to this. The last team to win a second title in a row was the 1998-1999 New York Yankees (they won it a third consecutive time in 2000 but that’s not important right now). Why is this relevant? Well, the simple fact that it took an all-time great team to overcome the odds of repeating as champs.
What does this have to do with Boston in 2019? Well, if you recall an article I wrote after they won the World Series, the 2018 Boston Red Sox were one of, if not the greatest team of all-time. Their 108-win season followed by a rigorous (and dominating) path to the title is on par with the legendary Yankees team of 1998. So, if the 1998-1999 Yankees defied the odds and repeated as champions, then so too can the Boston Red Sox. While the 19 years without a repeat champion looks gloomy at first, this fact of history should give everyone hope this season. Besides, can history even dictate what happens this season?
All I know is that if I were to place a wager, I would side with the club that dismantled an entire league in a historically competitive season, with a mostly returning roster led by an extremely talented manager. But that’s just me.