Keith Foulke flips to Doug Mientkiewicz. Jonathan Papelbon whiffs Seth Smith. Koji Uehara fans Matt Carpenter … Craig Kimbrel blows away Kris Bryant?
The Red Sox enter the 2016 Major League Baseball postseason having won three World Series titles in the last 12 years, an amazing reality for an organization that once went 86 years between championships. When all is said and done this time around, Boston again will sit atop the MLB mountain.
That’s right. These Red Sox, who won 93 games after finishing in last place each of the last two seasons, will defeat the Chicago Cubs in the World Series and send David Ortiz riding off into the sunset with a fourth ring — fifth, if you count his 2013 World Series MVP ring — to add to his jewelry collection.
Is this a homer prediction? Yeah, probably. But why half-ass it and say the Red Sox could win the World Series when we can throw caution to the wind, put our feet down and say, “Listen, Boston’s winning that damn trophy come hell or high water.”
(To be honest, I’m not even totally sold on the Cubs making the World Series because the San Francisco Giants are a dangerous opponent in the National League Division Series.)
Saying the Red Sox are going to win the World Series isn’t crazy. They’re the No. 3 seed in the American League, meaning they’re opening the ALDS in Cleveland rather than at Fenway Park, but there’s no clear front-runner in the Junior Circuit. The Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays (who defeated the Baltimore Orioles in the AL Wild Card Game) all have their flaws in addition to the strengths that ultimately enabled them to punch their tickets to the postseason.
We can’t just throw out a World Series prediction without some justification, though. So let’s run down some reasons why there will be a parade through the streets of Boston in a few weeks.
Dissect the situation however you want. You’ll still arrive at the same conclusion that Boston’s offense is the best in baseball and it’s not even close.
The Red Sox led the majors in runs (878), average (.282), on-base percentage (.348), slugging percentage (.461), OPS (.81o) and wRC+ (113). They had three players finish with at least 30 home runs and 100 RBIs — Ortiz, Mookie Betts and Hanley Ramirez — for the first time in franchise history, and there really isn’t one glaring hole in their entire lineup. Boston received contributions from all over the place throughout the regular season.
ESPN’s Jayson Stark recently predicted the Red Sox will win the World Series — smart man — and within his column was an excellent quote summarizing just how dangerous Boston’s offense can be.
“Boston’s offense is the singular best strength of all the (playoff) teams,” a rival general manager told Stark.
In other words, you better bring your A-game to the mound every time you face the Red Sox. And even then, it might not be enough, as Boston has feasted on good pitching this season — something that bodes well for the playoffs, when games tend to become tighter and the margin for error is so thin.
According to Stark, Boston’s OPS (.798) against pitchers defined as “power” pitchers is 65 points higher than the next-best team. The Red Sox also have the best OPS against pitchers defined as “finesse” pitchers (.848). So it really doesn’t matter the style. The Sox can rake, rake and rake some more.
The Red Sox’s bullpen improved dramatically late in the season, especially after Uehara returned in September and solidified the eighth inning in front of Kimbrel. Joe Kelly has been terrific as a reliever and Brad Ziegler has provided a sturdy seventh-inning bridge to Uehara.
Sure, Kimbrel has had some control issues recently. And he’s technically having the worst season of his career, although him at his worst still is better than a lot of closers at their best. But Boston’s ‘pen no longer is a weakness. In fact, the unit is a strength, which is huge in October.
The other stuff
… you know, like baserunning and defense.
While everyone tends to emphasize offense and pitching when analyzing a team’s strengths and weaknesses, largely because they’re easily quantifiable, the Red Sox have thrived on the bases and in the field. And that shouldn’t go unnoticed at a time of year when every little thing within a game is magnified.
The Red Sox ranked sixth in the majors in FanGraphs’ BsR mark (11.1), an all encompassing baserunning statistic that turns stolen bases, caught stealings and other plays (taking extra bases, being thrown out on the bases, etc) into runs above and below average.
They also ranked seventh in the majors in FanGraphs’ Def mark (28), which measures defensive value relative to positional average (fielding runs) and positional value relative to other positions (positional adjustment). Boston finished tied for third in fielding percentage (.987).
Big Papi magic
It’s fruitless to argue for or against the value of intangibles. You either put stock into them or you don’t. But this Red Sox team wants to win badly for Ortiz in the slugger’s final season before retiring. And I’ve seen enough crazy things over the years to believe there’s something to rallying behind a player, a cause or an event.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images