To say the Boston Red Sox’s 2016 playoff run was disappointing would be an understatement.
It certainly was a step forward after finishing dead last in the American League East in 2015 only to turn it around the next season and win the division with a 93-69 record. But after losing five of their final six games, the Red Sox surrendered home-field advantage in the American League Division Series to the Cleveland Indians and were promptly swept, scoring just seven runs over the course of three games.
But Boston turned the page on that in the offseason, making some big moves to turn the team into an even fiercer competitor than last season. In fact, the Red Sox are favored to win the AL pennant and have good odds to win their fourth World Series in 14 seasons, which would be the most of any team in that time frame.
The Red Sox certainly are capable of winning it all, too, so let’s take a look at all the reasons they can.
Boston’s biggest offseason move was a blockbuster trade that sent high-ranking prospects Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Luis Alexander Basabe and Victor Diaz to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for starting pitcher Chris Sale. The Red Sox were in need of another solid starter after various injuries to Steven Wright, Eduardo Rodriguez and Clay Buchholz — who Boston eventually traded to the Philadelphia Phillies after acquiring Sale — showcased their lack of starting pitching depth on multiple occasions. But Sale is a five-time All-Star and has finished in the top five of Cy Young voting for the last four seasons. Even with fellow left-handers Drew Pomeranz beginning the season on the disabled list and David Price expected to join him, Sale’s presence, along with Rick Porcello’s, gives them an ace to fall back on so the Red Sox aren’t caught with their pants down in April.
The rookie outfielder likely won’t carry the Red Sox to the World Series on his own, but he gives the team something it hasn’t had in two seasons: an actual full-time left fielder. Hanley Ramirez struggled through 2015, playing in the outfield for the first time in his career in probably the most difficult left field in Major League Baseball. Moving him to first base last season was great for Ramirez and his offense, but it left a rotating pair of Brock Holt and Chris Young in left field after Rusney Castillo was sent to the minors.
Benintendi excelled in his cup of coffee last season, batting .295 with 11 doubles, a triple, two home runs and 14 RBIs in 34 games and 105 at-bats. The 22-year-old has been doing much of the same in spring training with a .322 average and 1.007 OPS. Benintendi joining right fielder Mookie Betts and center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. makes for a talented defensive outfield, and Young can go back to his usual fourth outfielder role while Holt can excel as a super utility man.
The Red Sox have some of the best young talent in baseball, but their lack of playoff experience was woefully obvious during the ALDS. Betts, the runner-up for AL MVP, managed to go just 2-for-10 after batting .318 in the regular season, while Bradley went 1-for-10 with seven strikeouts and shortstop Xander Bogaerts went 3-for-12. They weren’t the only ones in the lineup that turned in subpar performances, but most of the other regular starters were more seasoned veterans. Bogaerts did see some time at the plate during the Red Sox’s 2013 World Series run, but he was limited to 34 plate appearances in 12 of Boston’s 16 games.
Now, three games don’t exactly equate to being a playoff veteran, but they all got a chance to get the jitters out and come back in a better state of mind. Benintendi is the exception, though, as he apparently is impervious to nerves and went 3-for-9 with a double and a home run in the ALDS.
Experience with the Indians
The Indians are the Red Sox’s biggest competition in the AL, so it wouldn’t be surprising if we see a rematch somewhere along the way in the playoffs. But luckily for Boston, the team got a good long look at Cleveland last year thanks to the fact that the AL East played the AL Central in the regular season. The Red Sox and Indians met nine times, with Boston winning the regular season series 4-2 and Cleveland obviously winning the ALDS 3-0.
The Indians have only gotten better in the offseason, but their personnel hasn’t changed all that much. Designated hitter/first baseman Edwin Encarnacion was Cleveland’s biggest addition, but the Red Sox’s pitching staff has seen plenty of him during his tenure with the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East. So while another Red Sox-Indians playoff series seems inevitable, Boston likely will have a better game plan this time around.
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