The Red Sox were, on the whole, an incredibly balanced team throughout this 2018 run. You don’t win 119 out of 176 games without being good at everything, or at least having the potential to be good at everything. There were points where every aspect of the roster slumped, but in true team form other areas of the team showed up to pick up the slack. All that being said, at least in the regular season it seemed like an offense-based team insofar as it was based on everything. It was the big difference from the 2017 version of this team, and it was basically there throughout this summer. There were a few areas of slumps here and there, but for the most part the lineup was expected to perform every day and they lived up to those expectations.
Now, the offense obviously had plenty of moments in the postseason as well. It wasn’t the same kind of performance, as it was dominated by a rotating crew of role players rather than the stars, but the Red Sox lineup came through with clutch hit after clutch hit. It seemed like every time they needed a two-out rally, they got one, and then another, and then another. There’s a reason both series MVPs came from the lineup rather than the pitching staff. That being said, as time goes on and we’re further removed from this run, I suspect the thing I’ll remember the most about this 2018 postseason is the pitching.
It wasn’t even necessarily the simple production from the pitchers that made it so special, although that didn’t hurt. They pitched to a 3.29 in 134 innings, which doesn’t seem like a special number until you remember they faced two of the best offenses in recent memory and another in the World Series that had almost unprecedented depth and versatility. More than just keeping runs off the board, though, it was the gutsiness (for lack of a better word) from these guys that I just can’t seem to shake. This group of pitchers left their comfort zone night after night, pushed themselves to the brink and did everything that was needed to get Boston to the promised land.
The entire staff was impressive, of course, but really it was the rotation. These were the guys that filled multiple roles on consecutive nights, and were liable to pitch on a daily basis despite not at all being used to it. Among these guys, Nathan Eovaldi certainly stands out the most. The midseason trade acquisition opened eyes for everyone, and in the World Series specifically he was the clubhouse MVP. His performance in Game Three, somewhat ironically the only losing performance from any Red Sox pitcher in the series, was an all-timer. It saved Boston’s pitching staff, and came after he threw each of the first two games in Boston. That he was still humming 100+ mph fastballs like it was nothing was bananas. That, to me, was the defining performance of the World Series. Overall in the postseason, Eovaldi made two starts and three relief appearances (one of which lasted six innings) totaling 22 1⁄3 innings with a 1.61 ERA. Good lord.
It wasn’t just Eovaldi, to be clear. David Price probably should have won the World Series MVP for no small part because of his willingness and ability to do whatever was needed. He started Game Two, came out of the bullpen in Game Three, warmed up in Game Four, then dominated on short rest in a Game Five start. Over his last four appearances of the postseason, he pitched to a 1.37 ERA in 19 2⁄3 innings.
Then there’s Chris Sale and Rick Porcello. Neither of these guys had the kind of memorable performance of the other two, but they shouldn’t be brushed aside. I’m pretty convinced there’s some real physical issues with Sale right now. There’s no way he doesn’t start Game Five if he’s 100 percent, to say nothing of the fact that he just couldn’t ever get his command to its normal level. But he still gutted through the playoffs and eventually got the final three outs, all by way of the K. Porcello, meanwhile, was Eovaldi in the first half of the run. The righty pitched the eighth in both Game One of the ALDS and Game Two of the ALCS, and was perfect. Porcello was great in four of his five postseason appearances.
In addition to the starters, the bullpen deserves all of the credit for their work, too. Obviously, having the guys from the rotation come down and handle some of the biggest innings helped matters, but remember that this group was supposed to be the reason this team would be eliminated. Craig Kimbrel was rough, but he also pitched a lot more than usual and in some multi-inning games. That’s an excuse for his performance, to be clear, but rather another example of pitchers doing whatever was needed. The performances of Joe Kelly, Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier were eye-opening too. They will be overshadowed by the starters, especially the last two, but they pitched some massively important innings in this run and they came through every single time.
I suspect that most every pitching staff that has made it this far would do whatever it takes to win. It’s why the play the game, after all. I don’t know that everyone would be able to pull it off physically, however. That Eovaldi and Price in particular, but really every starter on this team didn’t watch their arm fall off in the World Series or even see a drop in production was amazing. The 2018 Red Sox were about the star-level players dominating at the plate, but the postseason was all about one of the most special collection of pitchers this organization will ever see.