I’m excited for this season even if I’m not ecstatic, because as soon as it starts, depending on how you view these things, the singularly great 2018 is officially over and the Red Sox are no longer champions. Maybe some of you declared it dead months ago, but I didn’t. I held on as long as I could, past the expiration. It never went sour.
That said, I can’t put it off any longer. Red Sox baseball is here, and we can only hope last year’s title heightens the joy and stems the misery that will invariably follow the team this season, even if every game is potentially — invariably — a referendum on everything, or something large enough to matter. Last year’s opener was the perfect object lesson: the Sox bullpen, thought to be a liability, blew the first game of the year, and there was a short night of chaos before the world righted itself. Imagine what will happen if the scenario repeats itself now that the pen might actually be bad?
I don’t think it’s constructing too shabby a straw man to say it would stir some uncomfortable feelings, because as Chad Finn wrote in this year’s Baseball Prospectus annual, happiness is fleeting for Sox fans even in the absolute best of times, which these absolutely are. The Sox are one of eight to ten serious contenders in baseball, i.e. teams with resources trying to compete, and they’re also quasi-definitionally the best and have the rings to prove it, having torn through a slate of superteams to claim them. There’s every reason to think they’re about to do it again, or at least get into the dance, which I consider one and the same. You can’t ride the dragon if you’re not tall enough, and you don’t really know if you can ride the dragon until you get on it. The most important thing the Red Sox (or any team) can do is make the playoffs. So what could stop them?
Here’s my list:
1. The bullpen
Of all the pain points on this year’s team, the bullpen is the most pronounced. Without Craig Kimbrel, the team is anchored by Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier, among other similar arms. It’s not great. Perhaps the team has high hopes for Tyler Thornburg? More likely they’re planning to use whatever surplus of long arms they have to bounce between the bullpen and fifth/sixth starter status with Barnes as the de facto closer up to and until he’s named the real one. It might work. It seems dangerous. It’s certainly the most obvious flaw in the team’s current design, but to Dave Dombrowski’s credit it’s also the easiest to change at a moment’s notice. If even I’m sorta panicking over the state of things, I’m overlooking that last part. I’d rather not even approach that bridge, but Dombo feels differently.
2. The Yankees
I was going to just list the bullpen over and over as a gag, but the Yankees are another one of those 8-10 teams and the most obvious threat to Boston. At least they traded offseason roles with the Padres, saving us (for now) from Manny Machado in pinstripes and the inevitable brawls. I’m much prefer to face Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton in the game than go toe to toe on the pitchers mound.
3. Acts of God (Injuries/Vladimir Guerrero Jr.)
I don’t know which scares me more, but at least we only have to deal with one of them for the first few weeks of the season thanks to Vlad Jr.’s oblique injury — they’re even pairing up, you see! Along with the half of the baseball-loving planet I can’t wait to see what Vladito’s about to do, and inevitably a goodly amount of that will come at our expense, especially against this bullpen. But who am I to argue with divinity?
Provided the Sox survive all these well enough, I foresee another showdown with the same group of teams in September and October, with the Red Sox, Yankees, Astros and Indians left to fight it for the pennant, and then who the hell knows what’s gonna happen? Besides God, I mean. He gets enough love. Today’s about one of his better efforts. Enjoy the games.