The Red Sox couldn’t possibly have drawn it up any better, clinching the division for the third year in a row at Yankee Stadium. The only way this season could get any better is if it ends with an even bigger celebration in late October. Judging by the way this season has shaped up so far for Boston, it’s a prospect that’s looking more and more promising every day.
The AL East champions boast the best record in baseball heading into the postseason and look to be stiff competition for anyone who stands in their way. Their path to the World Series, however, is not an easy one.
The stacked American League consists of the defending champions, the Houston Astros, the imposing Cleveland Indians, the surprising Oakland Athletics and the scrappy New York Yankees. The Red Sox will have to get through at least two of these teams to make it to the Fall Classic.
With a lineup as potent as theirs, pitching staffs should be wary. Leadoff man Mookie Betts is almost a lock to win MVP and is in the conversation for best player in all of baseball. Following him are powerful bats like Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, Mitch Moreland, Rafael Devers and fellow MVP candidate J.D. Martinez. The Red Sox lead the MLB in nearly every offensive statistic, so facing this team is enough to give any starting pitcher nightmares.
While Boston is primarily known for its offense, its pitching staff is nothing to be scoffed at. Cy Young candidate Chris Sale is one of the best pitchers in baseball and, coming off quite a bit of rest, is looking to finally make an impact in the playoffs. After him is Cy Young winner David Price, who is no stranger to the playoff atmosphere. Price initially got off to a rough start for the Sox but has rebounded quite nicely since then and is really proving to be worth his big contract. Nothing would silence his critics more than being at the forefront of a deep playoff run.
Boston’s third starter is Rick Porcello, another Cy Young winner, followed by Nathan Eovaldi. Eovaldi has enjoyed success with the Red Sox since being acquired at deadline from Tampa Bay. Most notably, his numbers against the Yankees since coming over are astounding. If New York manages to win the wild-card game, Eovaldi could be a thorn in their side either out of the bullpen or in an elimination game.
The only thing the Red Sox really need to worry about is their bullpen. Relief pitching hasn’t been a strong suit for Boston this season. Bridging the gap from the starter to All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel has proven to be a bit of a challenge. The Sox are hoping to address that by adding established starters like Eduardo Rodríguez, Steven Wright and Brian Johnson to the bullpen. Each has enjoyed varied levels of success on the mound this season, so utilizing their arms in relief could do wonders for this team.
The road to the World Series is paved with obstacles. The A’s have given the Red Sox fits this year, though neither team has played the other since before the All-Star break.
Oakland has only gotten better since then, so a potential matchup might be problematic for the Sox. Alternatively, Red Sox vs. Yankees is the series everyone outside of Oakland wants to see. Both teams have beat up on the other at different points during the season. The Yankees’ threatening lineup cannot be undersold, especially now that Aaron Judge is back. This bitter rivalry, which has become even more contentious since the teams brawled back in April, could tip either way depending on which offense comes out on top.
Still, the Red Sox should be able to handle either of these opponents. Their worthier foe will emerge in the subsequent ALCS. The seven-game series will either be played against the Indians or the Astros, each of whom have eliminated Boston from the playoffs in the past two years. Similar to the Red Sox, both teams possess formidable lineups anchored by all-stars and MVP candidates. What sets the teams apart from Boston is their deep pitching staffs and top-notch bullpens. While the Red Sox might have bigger bats and stronger aces at the front of their rotation, depth might give Houston or Cleveland the slight advantage.
If all goes according to plan, the Sox will handle all of these opponents and earn themselves a trip to the World Series. Once there, it’s anyone’s guess whom they will be facing. The National League is very much up for grabs right now. After getting through the tough American League, the NL opponent may actually be a relief for the Sox, who have dominated interleague play for years now.
Nevertheless, Boston fans are trying not to get ahead of themselves. After getting knocked out in the first round the past two years, they know that lofty expectations can end up coming back to haunt them.
That being said, the Red Sox have a great chance of winning their ninth title this year. With Betts and Sale headlining the team with the MLB’s best record, Boston fans have a reason to be hopeful this October.
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