When this post first hits the eyeballs of the interwebs, we are only going to be seven short hours away from Opening Day. It’s almost here! For writers like me, that also means we only have seven more hours out of which we can squeeze some of that sweet, sweet season preview content. The consensus opinion on the upcoming season is that the Red Sox are good and that they will make the postseason, but it will come via the wildcard. It seems to me that the Yankees are the clear favorite in the American League East, which I both disagree with (I think it’s basically perfectly even) and I am also fine with it. I’m not going to go through season predictions today or anything like that. I don’t need to open myself up to having these thrown back in my face in October. Instead, we’re going to go down two roads for the upcoming season. We’ll look at the best-case scenario for the Red Sox along with the worst-case scenario.
It’s really not too difficult to see what this roster would look like if everything clicks and goes exactly according to plan. In short, it would look like a damn juggernaut. David Price would pitch like the Price of 2015, Drew Pomeranz would pitch like the guy he’s been for the last two years, Eduardo Rodriguez would take the next step and be a consistent number three-caliber arm and Rick Porcello would be above-average again as the team’s number five starter. Those four, along with Chris Sale simply being Chris Sale, would give the Red Sox a rotation that is at least in the conversation for being one of the best in the game.
Meanwhile, in the bullpen, Craig Kimbrel has another monster year as he gets set to hit the open market. Carson Smith shows that he’s fully recovered from Tommy John surgery and looks like the guy he was in Seattle. Tyler Thornburg takes a little time to come back, but when he does he gets back to being the breakout, strikeout machine he was in 2016 with Milwaukee. Together, they form a legitimate terrifying back-of-the-bullpen that can hang with the Yankees’.
In the lineup, J.D. Martinez continues to be one of the best hitters in the damn game and gives the Red Sox that consistently elite bat that was missing last year. Mookie Betts sees his batted ball luck turn around, Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers progress as young players often do and Xander Bogaerts has the breakout everyone looks for. With Hanley Ramirez looking like old Hanley and Mitch Moreland doing damage against righties, the Red Sox have a strong and deep offense that keeps the team in games on the rare occasion in which the day’s starting pitcher doesn’t come through.
All of this combines to let the Red Sox be included in the superteam talk sweeping the nation and not only wins them the division but allows them to do it with a more comfortable margin than anyone could have imagined. They then make a deep run in the postseason. I like this scenario!
The best case was fun, but as we know things probably aren’t going to go perfectly from the start of the year on. The hope is that they don’t completely fall apart, either. Obviously, the real worst case is that everyone dies, or at least a significant portion of the roster suffers injuries. That’s the worst-case scenario for literally every team in baseball. Things can get more Red Sox-specific, though. It starts in the same place the best-case scenario began, with David Price. If he’s not his old self and/or his elbow starts to act up again, the rotation becomes a lot shorter. That also becomes true if Pomeranz and Rodriguez take longer than we expect to come back from their injury and/or suffer more ailments through the year. All of this is feasible. It’s also feasible that Porcello continues to fall victim to the long ball, and all of a sudden the Red Sox rotation is just Sale and a whole bunch of average-at-best starters.
A similar thing can happen in the bullpen. There’s not a ton of reason to expect anything too bad from Kimbrel, but there’s questions throughout the rest of the group. Smith could simply be okay rather than the dominant force he once was. Thornburg could never come back, or at least not in an effective manner. Joe Kelly and Matt Barnes could regress heavily and the bullpen could turn from the team’s biggest strength in 2017 to arguably its biggest weakness in 2018.
It’s hard to see the lineup being worse than it was a year ago, but there’s a chance it’s not quite as good as we are hoping for. J.D. Martinez could just be very good instead of elite. Betts could just be the slightly-above-average hitter he was a year ago instead of taking the big step forward. The other young players could just settle in where they were last year. We could be looking at another lineup that finishes in the back-half of the pack instead of getting that expected boost.
All of this combines to a team that could very well miss the playoffs. I really can’t see them tanking completely and falling out of the race early, but they are not 100 percent certain to make it to the postseason. I don’t like this scenario so much.