Based on record and playoff success/failure alone, the Red Sox only improved a hair from the 2016 season to the 2017 campaign. The Sox went 93-69 in 2016, and were swept out of the playoffs by the Indians, 3-0, in the ALDS. In 2017, the Sox again went 93-69 but this time they actually won one game in the postseason … Hooray!
Make no mistake, though, for 2018 there is legit pressure for a much bigger leap from this team. The Sox need to at least win a playoff series this year and return to the ALCS for the first time since 2013 – or the roster may very well be blown up next winter.
Leading the way for the Sox this season – just as it did in 2016 and 2017 – is the pitching staff. The Sox were fourth in all of baseball in team ERA last season with a sparkling 3.70 mark. Chris Sale had plenty to do with this in his first season as the Sox’ ace, posting a 2.90 ERA with a 17-8 record and an MLB-leading (by far) 308 strike outs. Boston’s ace of the bullpen, Craig Kimbrel, also had a world-class year in 2017, as he registered 35 saves.
Unfortunately for Sox fans, however, Sale was a dud in October and Kimbrel never really got a chance to strut his stuff. Sale gave up a whopping nine earned runs in 9.2 innings of work in the divisional series loss to the eventual World Series champion Astros. Kimbrel, meanwhile, gave up three hits and one key run in the deciding game of that series.
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Both Sale and Kimbrel are expected to pick up where they left off in the regular season – but they won’t be able to ultimately silence their critics until the playoffs roll around (all assuming the Sox even make it).
The supporting cast
If all is going as planned, the Red Sox have – on paper – one of the best starting rotations in MLB. David Price is as good as any No. 2 in baseball, Drew Pomeranz is an All-Star caliber lefty, Rick Porcello won the AL Cy Young Award in 2016, and knuckle-baller Steven Wright was unhittable for long stretches two years ago (Wright spent most of last season on the DL).
Of course, nothing goes as planned over the course of a 162-game baseball season – so the Sox will have to make adjustments.
In fact, new manager Alex Cora is already dealing with a few issues to open the season as Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez will start the season on the DL. Both could wind up starting by mid-April, but there is nothing set in stone just yet.
Then there is the 15-game suspension for Wright, who violated MLB’s domestic violence policy in a December 2017 incident at his home. Wright is said to have been involved in a heated verbal argument with his wife but he did not “raise his hand at anyone,” according to his lawyer.
Carson Smith is back as the set-up man for the Sox and the 28-year-old righty was phenomenal in limited action down the stretch last season. In 10 outings in September and October, including the playoffs, Smith surrendered just one earned run. Joe Kelly, Matt Barnes and Heath Hembree will again play key roles.
Tyler Thornburg, who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury, threw live batting practice this past Saturday and could make his debut in the Sox pen sometime before Memorial Day.