Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Playing Pepper 2018: Boston Red Sox

I had the pleasure of being a part of group of five Red Sox bloggers who took part in  "Playing Pepper 2018: Boston Red Sox." We were asked six questions concerning the club for 2016 by Daniel Shoptaw, who runs the fine St. Louis Cardinals blog "C70 At The Bat."

Every year Daniel asks bloggers from all 30 teams questions about their teams chances for the upcoming season. This is the fifth straight year I have taken part.

My thanks to Daniel for letting me take part again. Here are the questions and my answers:

C70: What are your thoughts on the offseason? Did the club improve over the winter?

John: The Red Sox improved where their biggest need was, and that was a power bat in the person of J.D. Martinez. The Red Sox needed him, and he needed the Red Sox, so that deal was going to get done. They also filled an infield need with the return of Eduardo Nunez, who will see plenty of time at second base with Dustin Pedroia’s knee injury keeping him out the first two months of 2018. Even with Pedroia’s return, Nunez will get plenty of playing time around the infield. The Sox have a strong bullpen, but will be without Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright to start the year, but this will give Brian Johnson an opportunity to move up on the Red Sox pitching depth chart. Overall, I think the Sox will top their 2017 total of 93 wins, especially with two of their rivals clearly takes steps downwards this winter (Tampa Bay and Baltimore).

But as big an addition as Martinez is, the addition of Alex Cora as the new manager is probably even bigger. Cora has been a widely respected baseball man going back to his days as a middle infielder with the Dodgers and then the Red Sox. (I remember back in his Sox days that Peter Gammons always called Cora one of the smartest players in the game and would manage a team in MLB one day.) The Sox moved on from John Farrell after five years at the helm of the club, and left with three division titles, a World Series title and two last place finishes. Cora will be under the microscope as soon as the bell rings for the start of the season. The Red Sox are expected to win, so Cora walks in with huge expectations in his first MLB managerial gig. He’s played in Boston before, so he knows exactly what he’s getting himself into.

C70: It’s David Price’s third year with the club. What are your expectations for him this season?

John: I fully expect a strong bounce back year for David Price. He was strong coming out of the pen late last year, and he has a lot to prove to the club, as well as the fans. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a Cy Young-caliber season in 2018. He and Chris Sale will be a devastating 1-2 punch in the rotation this year.

C70: What’s one thing people may overlook (either positively or negatively) about this team?

John: The strong tandem behind the plate. Christian Vazquez opened a few eyes with his strong arm and defense, and continues the handle the staff very well. He showed a bit of a stick last season, and he maybe on the verge of taking over the number one catching position. Sandy Leon had a bit of a fluke year with the bat in 2016 and came down to earth in 2017, but continues to throw out runners well above league average. The wild card in this whole thing is Blake Swihart. He’s out of options, and the Sox have to decide what to do with him. I hope they carry him and use him as a utility player, and use him behind the plate on occasion. He’s off to a good start this spring, which makes the brass’ decision even tougher.

C70: Who is the one key player, the guy that must have a good year for the Red Sox to do well?

John: Tough question. On offense, I would say that is Mookie Betts. He is now the heart and soul of the Red Sox offense, and his numbers were slightly below his near-MVP season of 2016 last year, and I expect him to have a season closer to what he did two years ago. Pitching-wise, I would say that is Craig Kimbrel. He was simply outstanding in 2017, but whenever you have a closer struggling through a miserable season, that can mean big trouble. I don’t expect a big regression for him in 2018, but we’ll see if he can match what he did last season.

C70: What’s your projection for 2018? Where does the team wind up overall?

John: I would love to see the Red Sox finally eclipse the 100-win mark in the regular season for the first time since 1946. I think that is possible, but I see them around 97 for 2018, with another AL East title. Can they get to the World Series? Houston looks as good as they did in 2017, so it will be tough.

C70: What’s one question I should have asked and what’s the answer to it?

John: What? No questions about the “Behemoths to the South?” You know, “The Little Engine That Could”, New York Yankees. Sure, they are a concern, with another banger in the middle of their order in Giancarlo Stanton. But I am still of the opinion that pitching and defense wins championships, and I think the Red Sox are still better than New York in both departments. It will be a dogfight all year between the two rivals, and expect both teams in the 2018 postseason.

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