Man, oh man. I don’t even know where to start with this one. You see, the thing about championships is you’re never quite sure when you started expecting your team to actually pull it off. Besides the Patriots, who are championship or bust basically every year, championship teams only feel like championship teams part-way through the season. For the 2013 Red Sox, there were approximately zero (0) expectations at the beginning of that year. They were last in the division the year prior, John Farrell was a new manager with the team, and the roster moves in the offseason were pretty lackluster. Even when the season began it was just, eh, they’re doing alright. It wasn’t until June/July where that team picked up steam and really made it feel like they could actually make some noise. There was no question that there was magic surrounding that team, but there’s always a little something in the air whenever a team makes a run at a title.
This season, while there were plenty of expectations, it certainly wasn’t title or bust. Hell, the Sox weren’t even favored to win their own division. That’s right, in case everyone forgot the New York Yankees were literally everyone’s favorite team to win the American League East. That just goes to show how much people were expecting much of the same from the Red Sox, and truthfully I can’t really blame them. This was a team that won the same amount of games the past two seasons, won the division both years, and then proceeded to do absolutely nothing in the postseason. Even their offseason moves didn’t entail much, they hired a new manager and signed a new offensive weapon. However, the Yankees got the shinier toy in Giancarlo Stanton, and the Red Sox could’ve traded for Marcell Ozuna but failed to do that, too. How much could one new guy on the roster and one new manager actually change?
As it turns out, a whole lot.
Alex Cora and J.D. Martinez were exactly the culture shock this team needed to wake up and play some damn good baseball again. Almost everyone on the 2017 team had a down year. Mookie went from MVP runner up in 2016 to just pretty good. Bogaerts took a step back, Hanley (when he was still on this team) took a step back. Benintendi had a good rookie season but some guy in New York just had a better one. Travis Shaw was gone, Pedroia was hurt, JBJ still only played defense, and Mitch Moreland was good but not good enough. This season, however, everyone came into their own. Mitch Moreland filled in his new role nicely, Devers hit well (I can’t say much about his defense), Brock Holt played well, Bogaerts and Benintendi stepped it up, JBJ still couldn’t hit much but my god his defense, and Mookie Freakin’ Betts returned to MVP status. Oh, and that bat we signed? He only swatted 43 home runs and drove in 130 runs. No biggie.
This team was the pits. Those locker room troubles the Red Sox ran into last year? They were completely gone. Cora’s player management and ability to create a new culture really showed. We had Eric on the show last semester and he and Dubs railed on the Red Sox and all their locker room troubles. I tried my best to explain that Cora was creating a new culture and the chemistry of the team was changing but they just wouldn’t listen. But when all was said and done, those group of guys had each other’s backs every step of the way. Cora gave everyone in the team room to grow, and made it fun to play baseball. It showed by how much every player on that team was able to bounce back from 2017, and how JD Martinez was able to step right into the thick of it and perform at the highest level. Mookie absolutely deserves the AL MVP, but I also think that what Cora did to this team should not be looked past, and he should be AL Manager of the Year.
The regular season was nuts. Again, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when it was that a team went from just being pretty good to actually feeling like they could win it all. I guess it varies person to person. Was it when they started the season 17-2? Was it when they headed into the All-Star Break at 68-30? Was it when they swept the Yankees to essentially clinch the division? Maybe it took some people until they broke the franchise record for most wins in a season (and then kept going) to feel that this team was special. Whatever the case may be, when Game 162 was over, the Red Sox had the best record in baseball with 108 wins. Despite that, some people still doubted them. It was justified, since the Red Sox still had one major hole heading into the playoffs: their bullpen.
The Yankees won the Wild Card game which meant that the Sox and Yanks would square up in the postseason for the first time since 2004, where we should all know what happened by this point. The Red Sox won Game 1 but our suspicions were true, the bullpen still looked shaky. Another playoff demon emerged as David Price did not look good in Game 2. However, Aaron Judge played Sinatra’s “New York, New York” for the world to hear after that game, and the Sox got the message loud and clear. The Sox would go on to continue their streak of postseason victories in the Bronx by completely wiping the floor with them in Game 3, and then by dancing on their graves in Game 4. A theme we will see quite often.
The ALCS was pegged to be the biggest matchup of the playoffs, as the defending champs took on the best team in baseball this year. Advantage: best team in baseball. The Red Sox forgot to show up in Game 1 and the bullpen sucked again. However, that would be the last time the Red Sox lost a nine inning game for the rest of the postseason. David Price didn’t do great, but did enough so that the Red Sox got a win out of it, even though the W went to Barnes. Eovaldi proved to be a great mid-season acquisition by making people forget it was the other starting pitcher that was a Cy Young winner. The Red Sox gave up a lot of runs but scored more runs so it didn’t matter in Game 4. Lastly, with the ability to send the Sox to the World Series, David Price pitched well and the Red Sox proceeded to dance on the Astros graves.
As was true with the 2004 World Series, this series seemed like a formality more than anything, though they sure made it interesting. But a few things stood out. First, the bullpen was actually the least worrying thing about the 2018 playoffs for the Red Sox. After a few troublesome innings in the early goings, the bullpen was lights out and probably the strongest part about their pitching. Second up, the heroes of each game were not who you’d expect, and that’s reflected in who the MVPs were. Our typical stars, Betts/Bogaerts/Martinez, were not really there throughout the entire postseason. It was up to people like Bradley, Pearce, and even a player like Nuñez. Who’d have thunk? And lastly, speaking of Pearce, while Dombrowski did not go and get a bullpen arm like everyone else, the people he did bring in proved to be very valuable. Take away one certain play, Pearce, Kinsler, and Eovaldi all added something special to this team throughout the playoffs. Pearce was the World Series MVP, Eovaldi cemented himself in postseason legend with some special appearances, and Kinsler was a defensive weapon but really screwed the pooch in a play that cost them a game (but not the series so who cares).
Some people wanted the Sox to lose two out of three so they could win it in Boston. Personally, I wanted the champagne to be popped as quickly as possible, wherever that occurred. Also, I wanted to dance on the Dodgers graves again, because it was a lot of fun doing so the first two times (three if you count clinching the division in New York). The Red Sox must’ve listened to our special Colbert & Dubs episode Sunday, because they hurried it up and clinched the series in Game 5. Even better, Chris Sale ended it by striking out Machado on a nasty slider that made Machado look like the fool that he is. It cemented this team as one of the greatest Red Sox teams of all time, if not THE greatest. Let’s go ahead and call this one of the greatest teams ever. Regular and postseason, this team won 119 games. They blew through the playoffs, only losing three times total. In case you forgot to read the title of this blog, the Boston Red Sox are your 2018 World Series Champs. And I will say that every day going forward until the new season begins. Boston is still Titletown, and the Red Sox just added one more ring to the growing collection.