The Red Sox burned through the MLB regular season in 2018 to the tune of 108 wins and then continued their dominance during the playoffs, losing three games despite playing two 100-win teams en route to a World Series. Franchises don’t get much better than Boston’s, as they won their fourth Fall Classic in fifteen years, and have a new crop of stars led by AL MVP Mookie Betts.

The biggest news out of New England this winter came just last week, as the Sox extended ace Chris Sale for five more years, from 2020-2024. The deal is worth $145 million with incentives should Sale ever win that elusive Cy Young.

World Series heroes Nathan Eovaldi and Steve Pearce were also resigned for 2019, rewarded for their breakout showings. From other teams, relievers Zach Putnam, Erasmo Ramirez, and Jenrry Mejia to bolster their bullpen, which lost Joe Kelly and the still-unsigned Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel, an All-Star in all three years he spent in Boston, is one of the few casualties of the free agent freeze unsigned just days before the season begins.

The offseason will not affect the Red Sox on the offensive end or in the rotation, but their bullpen could falter this season without the solid back end that was Kimbrel.

In the outfield, the three B’s, Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, and Jackie Bradley, Jr., will continue to rake and make up one of the league’s best defensive outfields. Betts broke through last season to the tune of the best bWAR since Barry Bonds in 2002. He won the batting title with an average of .346 and an OPS of 1.078 while winning his third Gold Glove in a row. Betts and Mike Trout will continue an interesting battle for the best player in baseball.

Dustin Pedroia will be back this season early in the season to give the Red Sox another steady presence in the lineup. His experience will continue to be valuable to the up-and-comers on the team. Benintendi grew in his second year in 2018, while J.D. Martinez made a valuable addition at Fenway. Martinez finally gained some recognition after being one of the most underrated players in the league before, making a run for the Triple Crown and ending up with 43 home runs and 130 RBIs.

The rotation, led by Sale, can continue to be a top American League unit. David Price adds to the star power already present, while fellow Cy Young winner Rick Porcello continues to be solid. Eovaldi was the unsung hero in Game 3 of the World Series, pitching six large innings but taking the loss in the end.

The bullpen retains Matt Barnes and Hector Velazquez but has a lot of question marks after that, which will be a big task for second-year manager Alex Cora, who couldn’t have had a better year. Cora became the fifth first-year manager to win the World Series and helped the Red Sox do it convincingly. His managing helped star players like Betts and Martinez reach new heights while also winning 108 games in a division with the rival Yankees.

In the AL East, the Sox will compete with the Yankees again for the valuable division crown, which determines the difference between playing a one-game playoff and most likely getting home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Last season, Boston won the division by eight games over the 100-win Bronx Bombers, leading to a vital home field start in the divisional series.

I predict Betts will continue to hit well and win the Gold Glove in the cavernous right field at Fenway once again. He is backed up well in the lineup, so teams are not able to just key in on him but will be challenged by all hitters in the top-scoring unit in the league last season. Martinez will make another run at the Triple Crown, while the addition of Pedroia will add some old Red Sox feel to this team.

Benintendi figures to keep improving, while Rafael Devers and Jackie Bradley, Jr. mature at the bottom of the lineup. The catcher position will be filled by Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez, both of whom struggled at the plate last season but will only be expected to play good defense, as the offense will be picked up.

I think this is finally the season Sale breaks through and wins the Cy Young. Coming off of a contract extension, he will likely be in Boston for much of his career, and he is definitely in his prime. He has struggled in September the past few years to fall short, finishing in the top five each of the last six years. Price will regress a little after a solid season, but Eovaldi and Porcello will make up an underrated back end of the rotation.

The bullpen might struggle and blow some leads, but with an offense so good, the Red Sox will steal a few games themselves. Betts and Martinez will again challenge for MVP, but with the cutthroat battle at the top of the AL, Trout, Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, and Matt Chapman, among others, will be tough to beat.

I see the win total decreasing a little, no surprise there, but this team should be about as good as last season. I think they can win the East and outpace the improved Yankees. The rivalry games will be a treat, and I can imagine another Boston-New York postseason series.

I’m tempted to pick Boston to win the World Series again, but repeating is extremely difficult in today’s league. Kimbrel won’t be there to lock down some games, and the American League is stacked with the Yanks, Indians, Astros, and Athletics. The Sox will make the playoffs, but can they become the first to repeat since the 1998-2000 Yankees? Probably not.

Team Record: 98-64

Team MVP: Chris Sale

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