What happened in 2019?
After what was a record-breaking season for Alex Cora’s Red Sox, expectations were still high, with their only big loss in the offseason being closer Craig Kimbrel. The Sox didn’t live up to expectations, however, with a record of 84 wins and 78 losses, finishing third in their division, the first time they didn’t win it since 2015.
Their year was defined by pitching woes and superb offensive production, which could only carry them so far.
Superstar pitcher Chris Sale started the year with six losses in a row, with an ERA of 10.00 over those games. Sale was not the only pitcher with a shocking start to the season, as Nathan Eovaldi started off with a 6.00 ERA over four starts after recently signing a four-year, $68 million deal, before being placed on the injured list, only coming back in mid-August.
Offensively there were many highlights for the 2019 Red Sox, one of them being the rookie Michael Chavis and the incredible start to his Red Sox career, with 18 home runs, 58 RBI and a .766 OPS, making him a strong contender for Rookie of the Year. In the meantime J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts and 23-year-old Rafael Devers combined for 101 home runs and 337 RBI, solidifying themselves as one of the strongest offensive teams in 2019.
In September Cora’s men won only two of their last eight series, including losses to the Texas Rangers, Baltimore Orioles, San Francisco Giants, Minnesota twins, and two of their division rivals in the Rays and Yankees, setting the tone for what was a disappointing season for Red Sox fans.
With the departure of so many big names from Fenway Park, now lies an opportunity for some players to establish themselves and try to get into that team. One of those players will surely be Bobby Dalbec, the first baseman from the University of Arizona. Although Dalbec spent 2019 playing Double-A and Triple-A baseball, he looks set to break into the big leagues for the first time since 2017, where he made 32 plate appearances.
Dalbec’s 59 home runs over the past two seasons rank sixth in the minors, with Baseball America recently ranking him No.75 in the Top 100 prospects list, claiming he has the best infield arm alongside the most power in the Red Sox system.
Reasons for optimism in 2020
(1) Chris Sale is back! After the injury scare last season where it was rumoured the pitcher might have to undergo major surgery, he will be back in the lineup for Opening Day. Although the 2019 season didn’t start that well for Sale, his numbers slowly improved with an ERA of 4.02 over his last 13 starts, and an average of 13.67 K/9 over those.
(2) Nathan Eovaldi is back! And he’s feeling better than ever, mentioning he might have rushed his return last season. He also claimed he has had “a really good offseason”, where he “did some different workouts, different exercises”. In this same interview earlier this month, Eovaldi said: “It’s going to take a lot of pressure off the bullpen, and the bullpen’s going to be good again. I think it all revolves around the starting pitching. If all the starters stay healthy, everything will fall in line. You see how great our offence is.”
(3) Still one of the best offences in the whole league, with ridiculous numbers last season from Xander Bogaerts, J.D Martinez and Rafael Devers. Although the loss of Mookie Betts will hurt, it won’t ruin anything. If anything it gives a chance for these players to help fill those gaps left by the 2018 MVP. And although the Yankees look stronger than ever, and the Rays haven’t weakened, these Red Sox have a chip on their shoulder after all that is being said about them this offseason.
(4) Outfield talent will be one of the Sox’s most fun things to watch in 2020. With the addition of Kevin Pillar, who joins Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi. Defensively, the Sox’s outfield couldn’t be any better and will surely produce many highlight-plays over the year.
(5) Relishing the underdog role is one of the reasons the Red Sox might surprise this season. Yes, it sounds a bit rich coming from one of the highest payrolls in MLB, but the Sox haven’t improved over the offseason, and have lost their manager after his involvement in the Astros cheating scandal. With all these losses, expectations are pretty low for fans this year, many believing they won’t be contenders until the 2021 free agency. With all this being said, it is apparent that no one expects the Red Sox to even make the playoffs this season, and that is why they will be more motivated than ever to prove the world wrong.
Jay Cohen is part of the team covering the Boston Red Sox for Bat Flips and Nerds in 2020. Follow him on Twitter @M_S_Jay