Who to Watch: The 5 people who will dictate the 2018 season

jd martinez
JD Martinez press conference | Photo via Chad Jennings

As the 2018 MLB season begins, the expectations for the Red Sox will be what they always are: win, win, and win.  The Red Sox are coming off a division title and 93 wins; they are also coming off an ALDS exit, losing to the eventual World Series champion Houston Astros.  If it sounds familiar, well, it is. The 2016 season also featured a squad that won 93 games, topped the AL East, AND lost in the ALDS.

 

If you’ve paid attention to Boston sports, you know that unless your team is rebuilding, anything less than title contention will not satisfy.  Two straight years of early exits in the playoffs for a team dubbed the Golden State Warriors of the MLB will not cut it in Boston.

 

Something must change.

 

With a new manager (Alex Cora), and a new bat (JD Martinez), the Red Sox will feature a team that did not lose anyone of significance (sorry Devin Marrero and Addison Reed).  They have all the pieces of a group more than capable of winning 90 plus games yet again. Their additions should only serve to help. With that in mind, let’s highlight the people most crucial to the success of the Boston Red Sox this season.

 

Chris Sale

 

chris sale
Photo via Kim Klement/USA Today Sports Images

Simply put, Chris Sale was amazing last year.  Sale’s first season as a member of the Red Sox drew comparisons to Pedro Martinez, and the days he started were dubbed “Sale Day,” a must see event.  Sale led the league in strikeouts with 308, was fourth in the league in WHIP (first in the AL), and won 18 games with a 2.90 ERA; unfortunately, he finished in second place for the AL Cy Young.

 

Sale is the unequivocal ace of this staff. Although said staff features two Cy Young winners, Sale has finished in the top 6 of AL Cy Young voting every year since he became a full-time starter in 2012.  Sale is in his prime, and if his standard is being one of the best 6 starters in the AL, we should hold him to nothing less.

 

Expect nothing less than a Cy Young-caliber season from Chris Sale in 2018.  Anything less should cause concern.

David Price

David Price
Photo via Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Year 3 of the David Price Experience in Boston.  Price (as it seems to be with a bunch of non-homegrown talent) has had a difficult time adjusting to the media scrutiny that comes with being in Boston.  Well, I’m sorry David; you signed up for it. When you’re deciding what you want your life to look like for the next 3-7 years, you need to take everything into account.  

 

You chose money, David.  And with that money comes expectations.  You’re a great pitcher, we all know that.  But look at Chris Sale. If you’re quiet, put up Cy Young numbers (as Price had done prior to arriving in Boston), and do your job, the media will be fine with you.  If not, you face scrutiny. The Boston media serves as a check on the expectations one is meant to live up to given their past production, as well as their current contract.

 

All is not lost with Price.

 

Last season, Price was on the DL for the majority of the season.  That, in addition to an altercation with former Red Sox (and current commentator) Dennis Eckersley led to intense criticism.  

 

That is the past now.  This is a new season, and a fresh start.

 

Price is in year 3 of a contract that features an opt-out after this season.  If Price wants out, he ought to pitch his behind off; show the league you still got it, and you’ll be compensated.  If not… well, you’ll have a hard time finding a better contract, in terms of salary, than the one you already have (and you’ve already shown that’s why you came to Boston).

 

There have been stirrings that Price knows he will have a tough time if he were to opt-out, and that he’ll be best served making the best of his remaining time (i.e. the next 5 seasons) in Boston.  What’s the best way to make everyone happy? Win.

 

John Lackey had a tough start in Boston as well, but once 2013 came around, he was a key component to winning the World Series.  By the time Lackey left, he was remembered fondly by most. Let that serve as a sign to David.

 

Another tough year where Price cannot perform (or gets hurt) will not be a good sign.  However, if Price can replicate his 2016 season (17 wins, 230 IP), which he is more than capable of doing, he can look those reporters in the eyes and say he did his job.  17 wins from your number 2 starter, in addition to Chris Sale doing Chris Sale things, would be a very good sign.

 

Eat innings, win games, and you’ll reap the benefits.

 

Xander Bogaerts

Xander
Photo via Nancy Lane

Bogaerts in no longer a prospect.  He is 25 years old, has been a full-time starter since late 2013, and has been an All-Star.  We know what Bogaerts can be, and we should expect nothing less.

 

Well, questions have begun to multiply.

 

After what started off as a great 2016 season, Xander finished the year hitting below .300.  Nevertheless, he won his second Silver Slugger, and had a career high OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) of .802.  

 

Bill James (the father of sabermetrics) tells us that an average OPS is anywhere between .700 and .766.  Above-average? Between .766 and .833. Very Good? Between .833 and .899.  Great? Anything above .900

 

In 2016, Bogaerts was above-average.  However, in 2017, he regressed. His OPS in 2017 was .746 (average). He had less hits and his power went down.  If you don’t get on base, you can’t score. And the key to winning baseball games is scoring runs (how you get there, that is your choice, but the goal is to score more than the other team).

 

There is no reason Bogarts cannot be a superstar in this league.  He has shown he can be an All-Star and be the best hitter at his position.  The Red Sox will need that if they expect to improve this season. If Xander can do what we all see he has the potential to do (and has already done), the Red Sox offense will be in a great position.  

 

Expect a rebound season from Bogaerts.  Anything less will be the writing on the wall for an end to his time in Boston.

 

JD Martinez

JD Martinex smiling
Photo via JD Martinez twitter/ @jdmartinez14

The big get of the offseason.  The opening day lineup will have one new face that was not on the team in 2017, and that will be Martinez. JD Martinez had a stellar 2017 season.  With 45 HRs, 104 RBIs, a .303 batting average, and an OPS of 1.066 (all in less that 120 games), JD was one of the best hitters in the game.

 

The 2017 Red Sox featured a vacuum left by the great David Ortiz, one that they simply were unable to fill internally.  If 2017 is any indication, Martinez has it in him to fill the void left by David Ortiz. On a per season basis, Ortiz was a monster hitter, who you could expect to hit more than 30 home runs, have an elite OPS (.956 during his career with the Red Sox), and just be an overall charming human being.  

 

As long as Martinez can replicate those first two things, he will be fine.  If not, well, just ask David Price what happens when you don’t meet your expectations.  

 

JD Martinez has to be David Ortiz in terms of production.  If he puts up the numbers he has, on average, since 2014, he’ll be fine.  Lets hope Martinez can live up to that output (for his sanity, I hope so).

 

Alex Cora

Alex Cora
Photo via Matt Stone

The new sheriff is in town.  I personally think he’s got some Jeff Bezos in him, but that’s just me.  I was calling for him to run the team the second the job became open.  I’m a huge role player fan (if Shane Larkin decided to retire, I know in my heart Barry taught him enough about baseball to be a bench coach, and I’d welcome it), and Alex is just a personable guy.

 

I’m under the belief a huge issue with the Red Sox last year was the culture.  I thank John Farrell for his time with the team (no one will forget 2013), but what worked in year 1 was not reaping the same results by year 5.  That’s okay, it happens.  Only the greats (and not even then) get a long leash.  Many (including yours truly) would argue this was long overdue (even given the team success of the past two seasons).  Any fan of the team could tell that chemistry was an issue, and that the culture, as well as in-game decisions, were questionable.

 

A new face may be the answer.

 

The 2004 Boston Red Sox featured a manager in his first year in Boston, and I don’t need to tell you how that season ended.

 

2013 featured a new manager (and familiar face) by the name of John Farrell; a World Series soon followed.

 

I won’t go into 2012, because I don’t see a similar situation.

 

This is a team that has all the pieces to win over 90 games and make the playoffs.  They did so in 2017, and many players remain from 2016 that did the same. They have all they need to win, and maybe what they need most is a new outlook on how to get there.  There is no reason this team should not win 90 games, nor be in the playoffs. If Alex Cora can get these guys to mesh, you should expect an even BETTER output than 2016 and 2017.

 

That’s the goal.

 

This article was written 3/30/2018; anything that has happened thus far this season was not taken into account during the writing of this article, which is meant to serve as a preview for the season.

All statistics come and derive from Baseball-Reference

Author : Nick Collins

Follow him on twitter @Nick_Collins14

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