They began the season on fire. They dominated the dog days of summer. They overpowered their opponents throughout the American League playoffs and outplayed the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Fall Classic; the Boston Red Sox were relentless from start to finish in 2018.
Going into the 2018 season, first-year manager Alex Cora and the Red Sox were viewed as an American League powerhouse. With a lineup featuring the likes of Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts, Mitch Moreland, Rafael Devers, and the recently signed J.D. Martinez, the Red Sox looked poised to have one of the game’s most potent offensive attacks. On the hill, they had the likes of Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, and David Price to throw at opposing teams, and a bullpen of proven arms such as Craig Kimbrel, Joe Kelly, and Matt Barnes.
But the Red Sox were viewed, by many, as the third, or fourth, best team in the AL. The majority of attention was on the defending champion Houston Astros and the New York Yankees after acquiring Giancarlo Stanton. Once the season began, the Red Sox shifted the nation’s attention to Fenway Park.
Beginning the season 17-2, the Red Sox made a clear and concise statement: they were a force to be reckoned with. Their offense was firing on all cylinders, Sale was pitching at a Cy Young Award caliber level, and their pen, for the most part, was getting the job done. This play was contagious, and the additions of right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, second baseman Ian Kinsler, and infielder Steve Pearce before the MLB trade deadline further strengthened the Red Sox en route to a 108-win season. In doing so, they won the American League East for the third consecutive season.The Boston @RedSox were the game's best team from the outset of the season to the final pitch. Their talent and relentless pursuit of excellence were unbeatable, writes @RPStratakos.Click To Tweet
The Red Sox finished the 2018 regular season first in Major League Baseball in runs (876), hits (1,509), total bases (2,550), batting average (.268), on-base percentage (.339), slugging (.453), and OPS (.792). Meanwhile, their starting rotation was eighth in ERA (3.77), sixth in strikeouts (930), and ninth in opponent batting average (.238). And while their bullpen took a beating from critics, they were still ninth in ERA (3.72) and opponent batting average (.235) and fifth in strikeouts (628). In the postseason, it was more of the same for Cora’s ballclub.
In the 14 games they played this postseason, the Red Sox led MLB in runs per game (six). And their pitching staff recorded a 3.29 ERA while holding opponents to a .202 batting average.
On their run to the Fall Classic, the Red Sox overpowered every one of their opponents. In the ALDS, they matched up against the archival Yankees and won in four games. Their offense exploded for a combined 20 runs in Games 3 and 4 at Yankee Stadium, and, outside of Price, their rotation was reliable and out-pitched the Yankees.
The ensuing round, the Red Sox matched up against the Astros in the ALCS. After losing Game 1 in Fenway Park, the Red Sox rolled the Astros. Winning Games 2-5, three of which were played in Minute Maid Park, and outscoring the Astros 27-14 in that time span, the Red Sox reiterated that their regular season success was no fluke. Their offense was electric, Price was lights-out in their series-clinching Game 5 win, and their rotation, as a whole, was lockdown. And Cora plugged his starters into pivotal relief spots in the late innings — which helped punched Boston’s ticket to the World Series.
In the World Series, the Red Sox averaged 5.6 runs per game, which was lower than their standards throughout the better half of the season. But their rotation, once again, answered the call; Sale was efficient and came out of the pen to clinch the series in Game 5; Price surrendered just three runs in 13.2 innings of work; Eovaldi’s six innings of relief in the 18-inning Game 3 helped save the Red Sox pen for Games 4 and 5. And Porcello gave up just one run in 4.2 innings pitched in Game 3.
There wasn’t a team who took advantage and overpowered opposing teams with a particular aspect of their ballclub like the Red Sox did with their lineup. They were 13-men deep, and if they scored early, they couldn’t be stopped, whether it be in the regular season or the last month. When someone struggled, there was always someone ready to pick up the slack. And their rotation stepped up when it mattered most, as did Cora when it came to maneuvering around his bullpen’s inconsistency in the postseason. The Red Sox went 11-3 in the postseason and 7-1 on the road; they were better on the road than at home.
So, what’s next for the Red Sox? Do they repeat as champions, or fall off a cliff?
Every team who has won the World Series since 2012 has taken a step back after their triumphant victory. The San Francisco Giants missed the playoffs in 2013 after winning the Fall Classic in 2012; the Red Sox missed the playoffs the next two seasons after theirs; the Giants missed the playoffs after yet another World Series championship in 2014; the Kansas City Royals haven’t made the playoffs since their 2015 World Series championship; the Chicago Cubs lost in five games to the Dodgers in the NLCS after breaking the Curse of the Billy Goat; the Astros lost to the Red Sox in the ALCS two weeks ago.
With that said, the Red Sox have to be thrilled about the state of their ballclub going forward. The majority of their core is in place for next season, and Cora will be entering the second year of his managing career; he can only improve from here on out. Sure, they could potentially lose some players to free agency such as Kimbrel, Eovaldi, Kelly, Pearce, Kinsler, and Drew Pomeranz. But the Red Sox have a proactive president running the show in Dave Dombrowski.
When ownership hired Dombrowski to be the team’s president back in 2015, expectations were high; he was expected to come in and turn around the franchise after they were poised to miss the playoffs for a second consecutive season. And Dombrowski wasted no time doing as such. Inking All-Star left-hander David Price to a seven-year, $217 million deal, Dombrowski got the Red Sox the ace they had been deprived of in recent memory. While his first two years with Boston were underwhelming, Price made his mark on the team’s World Series run in his final three starts of the postseason.
At the 2016 Winter Meetings, Dombrowski came out of nowhere to acquire Sale from the Chicago White Sox, gutting the Red Sox farm system in doing so. But Sale was — and is — one of the best pitchers in the sport and instantly became the team’s ace. Hasn’t that trade paid itself off? Before the 2018 season, Dombrowski played a four and a half month staring contest with Martinez and his agent, Scott Boras. Convincing he and his camp to take a five-year, $110 million deal, the Red Sox ending up making the best free agent signing of the offseason.
Dombrowski has made a number of significant maneuvers in his three-plus years with the Red Sox. Now, is having ownership that can afford and is willing to have one of the highest payrolls in the sport a crucial component to Dombrowski’s ability to swing for the fences in free agency? Absolutely, but dishing out contracts of that magnitude is still a huge risk, and he put all the Red Sox’s eggs in one basket in trading for Sale. And it’s paid off. The Red Sox have won the AL East in each of the three years he’s been running the show, and Sunday night, they won their ninth World Series in franchise history.
Dombrowski put a powerhouse ballclub on the field. Cora managed it to perfection. The Red Sox, as a team, dominated all season long. They lost their first game of the season to the Tampa Bay Rays; they would go on to win 119 of their next 175 games. They never took their foot off the pedal. They continued to beat up on teams, deepened their roster before the MLB trade deadline, and kicked it into another gear once October arrived.
The future is never a given in sports, but the Red Sox are in a healthy way when it comes to going on another deep postseason run in 2019. For the meantime, they’re world champions, and no one can take that away from them; they, undoubtedly, earned that right. And if they continue to play with this grind and produce at this relentless rate, the Red Sox could find themselves creating a pile in the infield once again in the near future.