The 2018 World Series Champions, the Boston Red Sox are off to a rocky start in their quest to defend the title. The Sox are 2-8 thus far in the 2019 campaign, which began March 28, and are in last place in the AL East. What’s going wrong?
Pitching has been an early issue, as the starting rotation has been uneven at best. Even with the loss of Drew Pomeranz, who is now with the San Francisco Giants, the pitching rotation should be a strength for this team over the course of the season. With ace Chris Sale recently extended for five years with a $145 million contract and Nathan Eovaldi on board for four years and $67.5 million – not to mention former Cy Young Winner David Price – the top of the starting pitching should be solid. Rising star lefty Eduardo Rodriguez and returning contributor Rick Porcello round out the rotation.
Unfortunately, the bullpen isn’t nearly as strong. The team chose not to re-sign current free agent and last season closer Craig Kimbrel. Instead, the Sox are relying on Matt Barnes or Ryan Brassier – a 31-year-old virtual unknown until he burst onto the scene last July – to close down the ninth. Righty Joe Kelly also jumped ship, signing with the Dodgers in the offseason. Additionally, the Sox will be without the services of knuckleballer Steven Wright until late June due to an 80-game performance-enhancing drug use (PED) suspension. That leaves a bullpen consisting of Brandon Workman, Tyler Thornburg, Colten Brewer, Hector Velazquez and Brian Johnson – which does little to exude confidence. All together, that group boasts a collective lifetime earned run average (ERA) of 3.75. It’s not terrible, but it could certainly be seen as a weakness on a team attempting to win back-to-back championships for the first time since the New York Yankees won three World Series’ 19 years ago.
Luckily for the Sox, the batting lineup boasts Mookie Betts, one of the best players in baseball. Last season, he sported a .346 batting average and .640 slugging percentage en route to his first American League MVP. His defense was equally spectacular, as his fielding percentage of .996 was the highest for right fielders in the Majors. J. D. Martinez is also coming off a strong first year in Boston, where he posted 43 home runs and league-leading 130 runs batted in (RBIs). Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi and Raphael Devers also delivered crucial hits in a lineup that busted out for a 108-win regular season. The 2019 Sox will need to get similar production from their offense in order to keep pace with an improved AL East.
Ultimately, however, the fate of this season will rest on the arms of the bullpen. This team needs to figure out its best option to close out games. Even if Betts and Martinez cannot replicate their monster seasons of 2018, Bogaerts and Benintendi could continue to make significant strides this year. At 24 and 26, respectively, they still have yet to hit their ceiling. Jackie Bradley Jr. also looks to contribute more this season. He can hit with a lot of power, even if he isn’t knocking the ball out of the park. It will be interesting to see how Dustin Pedroia fares this season, as he will be attempting to come back from injury and add a veteran presence on the team. He faces an uphill battle, however, after coming off a season in which he played in only three games because of a left knee injury. It’s fair to wonder how much the 35-year-old second baseman has left in the tank.
It’s doubtful that the 2019 Red Sox can recapture the magic of last year’s team. However, if the starting pitching can recover from its early-season funk, the Sox certainly have a roster that should fight for a division crown once again. It will be a much tighter race this year than it was last year, but back-to-back championships are not out of the question for this year’s Sox team.