|Despite facing numerous obstacles, Boston made it look easy (The Atlantic)|
Obviously, a lot has to go right for a baseball team to win that many games, and a lot did go right for this year’s Red Sox. Mookie Betts turned in one of the greatest individual seasons ever, amassing 10.4 fWAR en route to AL MVP honors. J.D. Martinez had a strong case for the award as well after threatening the Triple Crown with 43 homers, 130 RBIs and a .330 batting average. Andrew Benintendi avoided the dreaded sophomore slump after finishing second to Aaron Judge in the 2017 Rookie of the Year race. Xander Bogaerts and Eduardo Rodriguez overcame injuries and finally started living up to their potential. Chris Sale was arguably the best pitcher in baseball on a per-inning basis, and Rick Porcello bounced back from leading the Majors in losses in 2017 to leading the team in wins. David Price recovered from an injury-marred 2017 to go 16-7 with a 3.56 ERA before exorcising his playoff demons. Craig Kimbrel continued being one of baseball’s best closers, and the rest of the bullpen was surprisingly solid. Midseason trades for Nathan Eovaldi and World Series MVP Steve Pearce paid huge dividends, especially during the postseason. Rookie manager Alex Cora made his job look easy, navigating a full season in Boston’s fishbowl without a hint of controversy and pushing all the right buttons in October.
And yet, the Red Sox were a great team in spite of everything that went wrong for them. They endured 26 separate DL stints – only seven teams had more. Hanley Ramirez slashed .254/.313/.395 through 44 games before being released in late May. Dustin Pedroia was limited to just three games due to knee injuries, and his replacements (Eduardo Nunez, Ian Kinsler, Brock Holt, the ghost of Brandon Phillips) struggled to pick up the slack. Boston’s catching corps was the worst in baseball, ranking dead last in wRC+ (44) and fWAR (-2.1). Jackie Bradley Jr. didn’t hit during the first half, and Mitch Moreland didn’t hit during the second. Benintendi eluded the sophomore slump, but Rafael Devers didn’t. Sale hardly pitched during the final two months of the season and was noticeably diminished during the playoffs. Price scuffled in the first half and continued to flounder against the Yankees. Drew Pomeranz turned into a pumpkin. Steven Wright, Tyler Thornburg, and Carson Smith missed most of the season for the second year in a row. Joe Kelly was plagued by inconsistency. Blake Swihart wasted away on the bench as his development continued to stall. Kimbrel saw his walk rate balloon during the regular season before nearly blowing multiple games during October. The farm system is still utterly barren, and Boston will have to pay luxury tax penalties after outspending every team in baseball this year – partially because they paid Pablo Sandoval and Rusney Castillo a combined $30 million to play in San Francisco and Pawtucket.
So no, the Red Sox were not a lucky team by any stretch of the imagination – but it’s scary to think how good they could have been if they were.