February 26, 2019

Athlon's 2019 Preview: Red Sox Will Win AL East, Lose ALCS

Athlon Sports 2019 Baseball Preview

AL East
Red Sox
Blue Jays

Other Division Winners: Cleveland, Astros, Nationals, Cardinals, Dodgers
AL Wild Cards: Yankees, Rays
NL Wild Cards: Cubs, Brewers
ALCS: Astros over Red Sox
NLCS: Dodgers over Cardinals
World Series: Dodgers over Astros

AL MVP (Top 5): Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Jose Altuve, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton (with Chris Sale #9, J.D. Martinez #10)
NL MVP (Top 5): Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant, Christian Yelich, Anthony Rendon, Corey Seager (with pitchers Max Scherzer #7 and Jacob deGrom #8)
AL Cy Young: Chris Sale, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Corey Kluber, Blake Snell
NL Cy Young: Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, Clayton Kerhsaw, Noah Syndergaard, Walker Buehler
AL Rookie: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
NL Rookie: Victor Robles

Red Sox:
They return basically the entire roster, but change is coming. In the next two years alone, free agency looms for standouts such as Chris Sale, J.D. Martinez [opt-out clause], Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Rick Porcello and Jackie Bradley Jr. They'll be motivated to go for broke, because this isn't the start of a budding dynasty. It's already the last waltz.

Rotation: Sale's shoulder was such a mess that the Red Sox didn't even feel comfortable pitching him in the [World Series] clincher until they had built a four-run lead. This continues a troubling trend of Sale wearing down in second halves of seasons ... The rest of the rotation appears pretty set. ...

Bullpen: With or without [Craig] Kimbrel – whose stuff and performance deteriorated precipitously in 2018 – the Red Sox return some experienced arms. Setup man Matt Barnes could step into the closing role with his hammer curveball and 96 mph fastball. Or the job could go to Ryan Brasier ... A boost could come in the form of righthander Tyler Thornburg, who was shut down over the final weeks to rest his shoulder and prepare for 2019.

Middle Infield: [T]he Red Sox took calls on [Bogaerts] at the Winter Meetings. Nothing materialized, but perhaps they're not as committed to the well-rounded shortstop ... as we thought. His double-play partner would ideally be Dustin Pedroia, but good luck counting on the 35-year-old after a season lost to cartilage restoration surgery in his left knee. ... Neither [Brock Holt nor Eduardo Nunez] is a full-time option at second, however, so perhaps another signing is in order.

Corners: Rafael Devers regressed as a sophomore, his contact rate and on base percentage dropping, and his 24 errors far and away leading the team. But he posted an OPS of .807 after Sept. 1 and delivered his second straight clutch postseason, suggesting that better days loom at age 22. Across the diamond, [Mitch Moreland and Steve Pearce are] a solidly selfless duo, though if either struggles, this would be an obvious area to upgrade at the trade deadline.

Outfield: No unit in baseball played with more dynamism than the trio of Andrew Benintendi, Bradley and Betts. ... All three remain under team control through at least 2020, so the nightmare they represent for opposing offenses and defenses won't be going anywhere anytime soon.

Catching: Can we get a "Meh?" The Red Sox catching situation represents one of the club's few weaknesses, with Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon combining to rank dead last among MLB backstops in every meaningful slash-line, including a woeful .525 OPS. ...

Management: [M]anager Alex Cora deserves to see his name adorn a bridge, tunnel, or maybe even an airport. He's here because of the way he relates to young players, and man, oh man, do they love playing for him. Cora still carries himself with the quiet cockiness of a jock, and his team followed his confident, unflappable lead. ...

Final Analysis: Outside of Sale's health and whatever splashes the Yankees make, the Red Sox appear as well positioned as any recent champion to repeat. Their core remains in its prime, their pitching is battle-tested, and their leadership has proved it can pull the right levers. Under normal circumstances, a hangover would be understandable and maybe even acceptable – after all, those starters threw a lot of postseason innings. But the dark clouds gathering ominously on the horizon make it clear that there can be no letup, because this is it. The group that arrived last year in a blaze of glory hopes to go out with similar pyrotechnics before 2020 arrives like a sucker punch.

Opposing Scouts Size Up The Red Sox: "You can't say the best team didn't win. ... [Alex Cora] understands how to utilize data while still respecting the players as people. It's going to start to break up after this season, because Chris Sale, Xander Bogaerts and maybe J.D. Martinez (opt-out clause) can be free agents and the farm system has thinned out, but for now they're the team to beat again. ... I worry a little about Sale's durability, but I trust this group to know how to get the most out of him. ... They're well-armed for another run even with some questions in the pen."

Beyond The Box Score: "Manager Alex Cora announced in early December that leadoff hitter and AL MVP Mookie Betts would flip-flop with No. 2 hitter Andrew Benintendi ... Want hope that Jackie Bradley Jr.'s strong second half and clutch postseason are sustainable? He's now under the tutelage of the same guy who turned J.D. Martinez into an All-Star. ... Bradley believes he [Craig Wallenbrock] holds the keys to avoiding the roller coaster that has defined his career. ... The nastiest, funniest guy in the 2018 Red Sox bullpen [was] Brandon Workman, who plays the strong, silent Texan in public, but is a relentless bleep-talker and ball buster behind closed doors. "You guys would be shocked," [Joe] Kelly says. 'It's like seeing your high school librarian in a death-metal band.'"
Last year's 100-win campaign, which ended when the Yanks gave the eventual champion Red Sox their toughest October series, is generally considered a flop in New York. Too harsh? Maybe. But the loaded Yankees are a World-Series-or-bust team again ...

[Seattle lefty James] Paxton could be the October ace the Yankees crave, and he and Luis Severino should lead a rotation that just might be the key to toppling Boston in the brawny American League East.

The Yankees, with all their young talent, are set up to contend for years, but they might have to go through Boston to get back to the World Series ...

Rotation: Paxton brings high-end stuff, but there are durability questions. Assuming he's healthy, though, he's dangerous, the kind of pitcher who could blow through even the toughest lineups. He struck out 11.7 per nine innings last year while walking just 2.4. ... The Yanks won 24 of Severino's 32 starts ... [but] there was talk during the year that he was tipping his pitches. ... [J.A. Happ's] lone postseason start was a dud, however, which means he's got to prove a few things this October.

Bullpen: Few clubs can match the Yanks' imposing relief troika of closer Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances and Chad Green ... [I]t's easy to predict another strikeout bonanza in the Bronx. The Yankees set an MLB record for bullpens with 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings last year, which broke the mark of 10.92 set by the Yanks the previous season. ... [Chapman] missed nearly a month with a left knee issue. ... Green wasn't quite as unhittable as he was in '17 ... Tommy Kahnle struggled with ineffectiveness (6.56 ERA) and injury, but he still might provide a power relief arm.

Middle Infield: Depending on where he plays, the Yanks have one infield spot set for years because [Gleyber] Torres arrived in a big way in 2018. The 22-year-old already looks like he's been in the majors a long time and notched an .820 OPS ... He's a natural shortstop who played second base and could handle any position. ... [B]ecause of Didi Gregorius' October Tommy John surgery ... the Yanks took a flyer on former superstar Troy Tulowitzki, who has a glossy resume but did not play at all in 2018 and appeared in only 66 games the year before.

Corners: Miguel Andujar ... beat Joe DiMaggio's club rookie record for doubles by two, hitting 47 two-baggers ... but his defense at the hot corner needs to improve ... [T]he Yanks were so unsure of his glove that he did not play in Game 4 of the AL Division Series against Boston. At first, the Yanks are still waiting on Greg Bird and wondering what they have in second-half star Luke Voit. Bird has looked spectacular at times ... But he's been abysmal, too – he batted .199 in 272 at-bats in 2018.

Outfield: [Giancarlo] Stanton led the Yanks in homers (38), RBIs (100) and runs (102) ... yet there's a narrative of disappointment. He's a metaphor of sorts for the 2018 Yankees – very good overall but not good enough. Stanton, 29, struck out 211 times, showing a penchant for chasing pitches. ... [Aaron Judge] missed 50 games in 2018 with a chip fracture in his right wrist but sparkled while in the lineup (.919 OPS, 27 homers) and should be just as lethal, now that his wrist is fully healed. Switch-hitter Aaron Hicks ... could be a monster in 2019, if he stays healthy.

Catching: The Yankees need a bounce-back from the squatting enigma that is Gary Sanchez. The thunder in his bat makes him a potential game-wrecker every night, but he was a liability behind the plate in 2018, leading MLB with 18 passed balls despite catching only 76 games.

Management: A year of experience should smooth the strategy bumps Aaron Boone experienced in his rookie season. Boone, trumpeted for his ability to communicate, already knows the roster ... Now it's time to win it all with them.

Final Analysis: There's too much talent here for anything less than a deep playoff run and perhaps more than that. Winning the AL East might be key, because advancing past a one-and-done Wild Card game – although the Yanks have won the previous two – remains risky.

Opposing Scouts Size Up The Yankees: "This team is set up even better than Boston for the long term ... Yes, [Paxton has] always been somewhat fragile, but this team is so good, they won't need to run him out there for 200 innings. ... The offense lived and died by the homer, but when you set the all-time record for homers – and you've got Aaron Judge – you're living pretty good. ... [I]f only they could get Gary Sanchez to concentrate more behind the plate."

Beyond The Box Score: "No team hit the ball harder than the Yankees in 2018. Yankee batters had 124 hits with an exit velocity of 110 miles per hour or more. ... They also had the 12 hardest-hit balls in the game – 10 by Giancarlo Stanton ..."


allan said...

"could be the October ace"
"might be the key to toppling Boston"
"might have to go through Boston"
"could blow through even the toughest lineups"
"might provide a power relief arm"
"should be just as lethal"
"could be a monster"
"should smooth the strategy bumps"

Jere said...

"But the dark clouds gathering ominously on the horizon make it clear that there can be no letup, because this is it. The group that arrived last year in a blaze of glory hopes to go out with similar pyrotechnics before 2020 arrives like a sucker punch."

You're killing me, Cafardo's Ghost!!!!

(Also, if you think something's coming a year from now, it'd be pretty hard to get sucker punched by it.)