For the fourth time since 2000, the Boston Red Sox are heading to the World Series as the American League Champions. This will be the 21st time a major Boston-area sports team (New England Patriots, Boston Bruins, Boston Celtics, New England Revolution, or the Red Sox) contest a national championship since the turn of the century. Their track record points to success: In each of their three previous trips to the Fall Classic, the Red Sox have walked away with the Commissioner’s Trophy in hand. The bar is set very high for Boston this year. But how did they get to this point?
The easy answer is that they won 108 games in the regular season, which secured them a home field advantage throughout the postseason. Another easy answer is the free agent signing of slugger J.D. Martinez, who set the record for home runs by a player in his first year with the Boston Red Sox and led the MLB in total bases and RBI. The team, which was last in the Majors in home runs hit last season, finished with 208 longballs, putting them in the Top Ten in the Majors.
However, the path to the 2018 World Series really began in the offseason between 2015 and 2016. After finishing in last place in the American League in back-to-back years, the Red Sox went after free agent pitcher David Price. As a rookie in 2008, Price had led the Tampa Bay Rays to the World Series, including defeating the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series.
Price had had a productive career during the regular season, regularly pitching 200+ innings, but had prolonged problems in the postseason, never winning a game as a starter. Even though some have questioned if Price was worth the cost, it cannot be denied that the Red Sox were greatly in need of a bolstered pitching rotation, as they had posted an ERA over 4.00 in 2015.
The next year saw improvement for the Red Sox. Price, their big acquisition, had a record of 17-9 and posted an ERA of 3.99. Rick Porcello led the American League in wins with a 22-4 record and a 3.15 ERA en route to winning the American League Cy Young Award. The team finished first in the AL East with a record of 93-69.
Maybe the regular season run was fuelled by passion over Ortiz’s looming retirement, as he had broken the Curse of the Bambino in 2004 and led the Red Sox to three World Series victories, but there wasn’t enough left in the tank when October came around. The team was swept in three games by the Cleveland Indians en route to the World Series. Ortiz drew a walk in his final at-bat of the American League Division series and the Red Sox comeback season ended in disappointment.
The Red Sox faced a major turning point during the offseason between 2016 and 2017. For the first time since 2001, David Ortiz was not there to anchor the lineup. How did the Red Sox respond? They traded third baseman Travis Shaw to the Milwaukee Brewers for relief pitcher Tyler Thornburg (who promptly blew out his shoulder and missed more than a full year with thoracic outlet syndrome) as well as trading star prospects Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech for Chicago White Sox’s ace Chris Sale.
Neither of those moves would address the hole left by Ortiz and, unsurprisingly, the Red Sox offense suffered.
Red Sox skipper John Farrell was fired and replaced by Astros Bench Coach Alex Cora, who went on to clean house and hire a new bench coach, new base coaches, and a new pitching coach. On the player personnel front, the Red Sox were linked to several high profile free agents or trade targets but only one ended up donning a Red Sox uniform: Julio Daniel Martinez.
After a hiccup in Game One where Joe Kelly and Carson Smith blew a 4-0 lead to the Rays, the 2018 Boston Red Sox started rolling and never really stopped. They went 21-7 in March and April despite being no-hit by Sean Manaea of the Oakland Athletics, who proved to be the Red Sox’s kryptonite this season, only beating the A’s twice out of their eight meetings.
On May 25, the Red Sox went all in on a team led by Martinez and Betts. The Red Sox had designated Hanley Ramirez for assignment, who was second in home runs on the team in 2017 and had hit 6 home runs to that point in 2018. With Ramirez gone, Martinez settled into the Designed Hitter slot and played most games there, allowing Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley, Jr., and Betts to patrol the outfield.
The plan worked out, as the Red Sox led all of baseball in wins for nearly the entire season. Their starting rotation was stifling and their offense was dominating. The bullpen was shaky at times but, actually, had the highest WAR.
The team posted a 108-54 record. In the ALDS they faced the 100-win, all-time most home runs ever hit in a single season by a team Yankees, who they defeated 3-1. Brock Holt, who missed large chunks of the previous two seasons to concussions and vertigo, became the first player to ever hit for the cycle (a single, a double, a triple, and a home run in the same game) in the postseason.
In the ALCS, they faced the 103-win, defending World Series Champion Astros, who they defeated 4-1 in a best of seven series. David Price secured his first win in the postseason as a starter after pitching on three days rest in Game 5 in Houston after throwing 6 beautiful innings, only allowing three hits with no runs or walks.
The Red Sox absolutely dominated in every aspect of the 2018 season. They pitched well. They hit well. They played well.
Now they’ll face the Los Angeles Dodgers (who had a regular season record of 92-71) who had to play a tie-breaking Game 163 to even make it into the postseason and then battle back and forth in to a full Seven Game series against the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Championship Series, which ended on Saturday night.
The Red Sox have faced the Dodgers once before in the World Series, in 1916, when the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn and known as the Robins. The Red Sox won that series, four games to one, thanks to great performances from pitcher Babe Ruth and outfielder Harry Hooper.
The World Series begins on Tuesday, October 23 on FOX (on-campus channel 12). First pitch from Fenway Park is at 8:09 PM.