Posted on March 16, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine

Boston Red Sox
Image via npr.org

After winning 108 games and more or less cruising to a World Series title last year, the Boston Red Sox have a lot to live up to in 2019. Of course, the Red Sox accomplished all of that with a young core of players that should be hungry for more. Can the Red Sox become the first team to repeat as champions in nearly 20 years or will they suffer a World Series hangover and fall shot?

Rotation

Boston’s rotation has a chance to be one of the best in baseball this season. Chris Sale will continue to serve as the team’s ace after arguably the best season of his career last year. David Price is also coming off a strong campaign in which he won 16 games and stayed healthy after elbow issues held him back the previous year. Those two can go head-to-head with just about any rotation tandem in baseball.

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The Red Sox also re-signed Nathan Eovaldi, giving them another starter with electric stuff. The club will also be happy to have Rick Porcello in the back-end of the rotation, even if he’s never matched his Cy Young form of 2016. Lefty Eduardo Rodriguez will also be a full-time part of Boston’s rotation after winning 13 games a year ago. At age 25, Rodriguez is still getting better and could end up being just as good as the other two lefties in the rotation.

If there’s a weakness to Boston’s rotation, it could be the depth beyond the top-5. Steven Wright will miss the first half of the season with a PED suspension. Also, Drew Pomeranz is elsewhere after being key for the Red Sox a couple of years ago. Most of the team’s top pitching prospects are at least a year away, so Boston could be in trouble if their rotation suffers too many injuries. Keep in mind their starters worked deep into October last year, so they could be a little more vulnerable to injuries.

Bullpen

The bullpen is easily the biggest question mark for the Red Sox heading into 2019. Closer Craig Kimbrel isn’t coming back and top setup man Joe Kelly also signed elsewhere this winter. The club also declined to go after any of the top relievers on the free agent market this winter, so there is definitely some uncertainty back there heading into the season.

The likes of Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, and Tyler Thornburg are all candidates to serve as Boston’s closer in 2019. Thornburg has some experience as a closer from the 2016 season with Milwaukee, but he also struggled the second half of last year after returning from thoracic outlet syndrome. Brasier certainly has the stuff of a closer, but he’s a late bloomer with little track record in the majors. Barnes has plenty of experience pitching late in games, but he’s never served as a team’s closer, much less on a team that has championship aspirations.

The good news is that the Red Sox have a fair amount of depth in their bullpen beyond those three. The likes of Brandon Workman, Heath Hembree, and Hector Velazquez were all reliable coming out of the bullpen last year. Even if the Red Sox don’t have a proven, standout closer, there should be safety in numbers.

Lineup

The Red Sox were the highest scoring team in baseball last year, and it wasn’t even close. That could very well be the case again this season. Every important player from last season is back again in 2019. It starts with reigning MVP Mookie Betts and DH J.D. Martinez, the tandem that carried the team last year. But the likes of Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, and Mitch Moreland are also back, keeping the heart of the lineup intact.

There’s even hope for improvement if young third baseman Rafael Devers can take another step forward. Center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is also better than what he showed last year. Finally, there’s the return of second baseman Dustin Pedroia. How healthy he is after missing almost all of last season with a knee injury remains to be seen. But the Red Sox should feel comfortable knowing that Brock Holt and Eduardo Nunez are still around as insurance plans if Pedroia can’t play every day. If that wasn’t enough, World Series MVP Steven Pearce is also back in Boston.

Prediction

On paper, the Red Sox look nearly as good as they were last season. However, they play in a difficult division and the lack of a proven closer is tough to ignore. Look for the Red Sox to finish 102-60 this season, although that may not be enough to beat out the Yankees in the AL East, potentially forcing the reigning world champions to try their luck in the Wild Card Game.

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