If you ask the Las Vegas casinos, the Boston Red Sox hold the second-highest odds to win the 2017 World Series, trailing only the Chicago Cubs. On paper, the Red Sox have a strong roster and are coming off a division title last year. The elephant in the room, however, is the absence of David Ortiz, who was a serious MVP candidate in his final season before retirement. The question is, can the Red Sox, with the addition of ace Chris Sale and the return of 2016 American League Cy Young winner Rick Porcello overcome the missing offense provided by David Ortiz? The thing is, I believe the Red Sox can and will overcome the loss of David Ortiz, provided that one key player from last year can maintain his success.
Offense Hanley Ramirez had a comeback season for the ages last year. He hit the second most home runs of his career in 2016 with thirty and broke his career record for RBIs with 111. David Ortiz likely benefited from Ramirez’ strong season, receiving more pitches to hit after pitchers began realizing that Ramirez was actually trying. If Ramirez can approach the production he had last year, the Red Sox will be in a good place, but that is a big question because teammates and media members have questioned Ramirez’s motivation for years. If Hanley becomes the guy no one wants to pitch to, the Red Sox young and already successful bats will benefit as well. Mookie Betts, last year’s AL MVP runner-up, along with Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi all have the potential to hit for average and power. They all had success last year with Ortiz in the lineup, but they will need to adjust to seeing fewer good pitches now that the protection of Ortiz’ bat doesn’t exist anymore. If Ramirez can continue to be a feared bat, the three Bs, Betts, Bogaerts and Benintendi will benefit. One factor, which never garners much attention heading into each new season, deals with the health of Dustin Pedroia. Pedroia has long provided the spark for the Red Sox offense at the top of the lineup sporting a high WAR value throughout his career. He has also sustained injuries season after season, like at the end of last season or two seasons ago. Although he’s toughed out many of those seasons, opting for surgery during the winter (he’s played more than 130 games in nine of his eleven seasons as a full time Major Leaguer), Pedroia plays a high-impact rough and tumble style game and it’s clearly taken a toll on his body. In addition to fouling balls of his body, he plays defense really hard.
Yet, In spite of these injuries, “Petey” still grinds out successful campaigns as regularly as the seasons change, but how long can this last? With his high WAR numbers, the Red Sox rely on Pedroia to get on base early and put pressure on pitchers through the heart of the Red Sox lineup. Additionally, his defense is superb. Without Pedroia, the Red Sox would be missing one of their molars and will struggle harder to grind down opponents. Don’t forget about Pablo Sandoval. Actually, you probably should. Many would argue that the “new look” Pablo Sandoval will provide the additional offense . Unfortunately, with Sandoval’s history, I’m going to assume he is nothing but a bust until he proves otherwise. Sandoval has lost weight, but even if he can achieve some career bests, he was never really that impressive. His highest average in a season .330 seems to be an outlier, considering his career average is nearly 40 points lower. A .287 average is not one to take lightly, but even that seems optimistic considering Sandoval’s previous two seasons with the Red Sox. Sandoval’s never hit more than 90 RBIs in a season, (he only hit 90 once). The Red Sox can benefit from a career-best season from Sandoval; it would be a major plus, but the odds that Ramirez and Sandoval play well in the same season is about as likely as finding two unicorns. Pitching As strong as the Red Sox offense appears, their pitching has the potential for even more success. The obvious addition to the Red Sox pitching staff, Chris Sale, comes in with a stellar track record, extensive MLB experience (though he is still young) and a vigor to win. All you have to do is look at the White Sox “throwback” uniforms from last year to see how badly he wants to win. He’s only played one season on a team with a winning percentage over .500 (they still didn’t make the playoffs) so the opportunity to play in the postseason for the first time should motivate him. Finally, Sale has begun his career wearing different colored Sox, with strong spring training, which looks promising for the Red Sox. Coming off of his 2016 AL Cy Young victory, Rick Porcello also has the potential for dominance again. He found success last year with a heavy diet of sinkers, typically a recipe for pitchers who rely on ground ball outs. Porcello did utilize ground balls, but he also led the league in strikeout to walk ratio and trailed only Justin Verlander in WHIP at 1.01. The major question coming into this season is David Price. Though he finished 17-9 with an ERA just under 4 in 2016, he continued to struggle in the playoffs and many, including himself, would even call his regular season disappointing. This season hasn’t even started and Price has already encountered a bump in the road. After reporting elbow fatigue early in Spring Training, many feared Price would be facing Tommy John Surgery. While doctors elected to have him rest rather than cut him open, experts predict Price might not start until May. When he does return, he may benefit from pitching third in the rotation and not holding the title of “The Ace,” instead, falling behind Sale and Porcello on the Red Sox depth chart. Even without Price, the Red Sox have a strong front of the rotation, if the back of their rotation reaches their potential the Red Sox will be dangerous. Unfortunately, Steven Wright, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Drew Pomeranz have all faced recent injury problems. This is a huge question mark. Considering all of the off season’s developments and what transpired in spring training, the Red Sox do have the potential to win the division. I believe their offense will struggle initially, experimenting with ways to replace David Ortiz, while their pitching carries them. Come the warmer months, the Red Sox will take off and win the division by a handful of games, likely in front of the Blue Jays.