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What’s Changed with the 2018 Red Sox Season?


The Red Sox 8-1 record to start off the 2018 season is one of their best start in decades.  Granted, the competition they’ve faced to start the season, Tampa Bay and Miami, have traded away most of their top talent and are in full rebuilding modes.  The schedule makers could not have been more kind to the Sox, and the Sox took (nearly) full advantage of the Florida 4-A’s.  

Now that they are done with their virtual bye week to start the season, what do we really know about the 2018 Red Sox?  Given the competition so far – not much.  But there have been some positive signs in the early going.

What’s changed

Team Spirit:  After finishing in first place in the American League East for the second straight season, and after likewise making a quick exit in the playoffs, President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski chose to make only minimal changes to the on-field personnel during the off-season.  Improvement was expected to come from the change of managers from old-school John Farrell to the inexperienced but youthful approach of Alex Cora.  Dombrowski gambled the younger Cora would be able to connect with the younger players on the team, a gamble which so far seems to be working. 

One major noticeable difference in this year’s team is its ability to come from behind in the late innings.  Last year’s team showed little life when trailing late in games.  This year’s team has already come from behind in three out of their nine games, with the biggest rally coming in the final game of the home opener series against the Rays.  The Sox rallied from down 7-2 in the eighth and scored six runs, most with two out, to steal an 8-7 win.  That spirit was lacking from the 2017 Sox, and could be a sign this team wants to play for Cora.

Xander Bogaerts and Hanley Ramirez have so far bounced from sub-par 2017 seasons.  The pair have not just been hitting, they have both been driving the ball and hitting in the clutch.  Health (Bogaerts’ hand and Ramirez’s shoulder) has been a major contributor to their offensive turnaround, but Cora and the new coaching staff should receive some credit.  Hopefully the ankle injury suffered by Bogaerts on Sunday does not keep him off the field for an extended period.

David Price also appears to have turned back the clock to his days of dominant pitching.  He is attacking hitters with his fast ball and has not allowed an earned run in his first two starts, going seven innings in each start.  Whether its motivation to prove to Red Sox fans that he wants to be in Boston, a healthy elbow, or the guidance of first time Pitching Coach Dana LeVangie, Price has bounced back from his 2017 troubles on and off the field.

What hasn’t changed

The Bullpen:  Last season the Red Sox were never able to find a consistent eighth inning reliever to hand the ball off to lights-out closer Craig Kimbrel.  With the subtraction of Addison Reed, the only significant change from last year’s bullpen, the 2018 team may have taken a step backward.  Despite eight wins, the eighth inning has ranged from nail-biting at best to a dumpster fire at worst.  Neither Joe Kelly, Carson Smith nor Matt Barnes have performed adequately for fans to feel secure with any of them pitching in the eighth with a lead.  Heath Hembree has not yet been called on in high leverage situations, but he has pitched well in the early going (5.0 IP, 0 ER).  

With games coming up against much stronger lineups than the Rays and Marlins, Cora and LeVangie need to find the right formula to bridge the gap to Kimbrel.  It will be interesting to see in the Yankees series who will be used in a hypothetical eighth inning if Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez or due to hit.

Base running blunders:  The change in coaching has so far not changed the Red Sox penchant for running into outs on the bases.  The Sox are currently on pace to eclipse last year’s total, which is not something this team can afford to do.  Aggressive base running is one thing, but teams that do not hit home runs cannot afford to squander potential runs.

Jackie Bradley, Jr. batted .204 in the second half of 2017, and only .172 in September and October.  Unfortunately, Bradley’s struggles have continued into 2018 with a .115 average in seven starts.  Bradley has benefitted from slow starts by Andrew Benintendi and J.D. Martinez.  If Bradley continues to struggle, and Benintendi and Martinez begin to hit as expected, look for Bradley to be relegated to fourth outfield/defensive replacement.

Look Ahead

Now that the Red Sox are done with the State of Florida, the 2018 season can finally begin.  The Yankees come into Fenway for three games, and the Orioles follow then visit for the next four games, finishing with the traditional Patriots Day Game.  Will the starting pitching continue to turn in quality starts?  Will the late inning comebacks continue?  We will find out much more about the 2018 Red Sox in the next week when they start facing legitimate major league teams.

Follow Bill on Twitter @BTravers_BSoT. 

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