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MLB Preview: Chris Sale Adds to Red Sox Pitching Depth as They Play for Another AL East Title

David Goldman/Associated Press

Winning 93 games and the division last season apparently wasn’t enough to appease the Red Sox — maybe they didn’t like getting swept in the ALDS — so they went out and traded four minor leaguers, including 3B Yoan Moncada, to the White Sox for one of the best starting pitchers in the game, five-time all-star Chris Sale. They also traded for RP Tyler Thornburg to help shore up the bullpen and signed 2016 Gold Glove-winning 1B Mitch Moreland to take over at the position, replacing Hanley Ramirez, who slides over to take on the DH role after the retirement of long-time Red Sox DH David Ortiz. With Sale joining the team, SP Clay Buchholz became expendable so the team traded him to the Phillies this winter in exchange for a minor-league infielder.

The Red Sox led MLB with a .282 batting average and .810 OPS last season while their 208 home runs ranked ninth in the majors. Much of that offense came from Ortiz, who hit .315 with 38 home runs, so his absence will be felt by the team. Outside of Ortiz, OF Mookie Betts put up the team’s best offensive numbers; his .318 batting average was the second-highest in the American League and his .897 OPS was eighth in the league. He also hit 31 home runs and ranked second in the league with 214 hits. HIs 9.6 WAR was second-best in the majors. After a disappointing 2015, Ramirez bounced back with a .286 average and .866 OPS to go along with 30 home runs, the second-highest homer total of his career. 2B Dustin Pedroia also improved upon his injury-shortened 2015 campaign with a .318 average, .825 OPS and 15 home runs to go along with a 5.6 WAR. And OF Jackie Bradley Jr. had a career year, hitting .267 with a .835 OPS, 26 home runs and a 5.3 WAR. He ranked third in the AL with 7 triples. OF Andrew Benintendi showed some promising signs in 34 games, hitting .295 with 2 home runs.

The pitching staff also did well for the Red Sox last season, finishing with a 4.00 ERA, eighth-best in the majors. The staff also ranked in the top 10 with 1,362 strikeouts, but the bullpen was closer to the middle of the pack with 43 saves on the season. The team signed SP David Price in the 2015 offseason, expecting him to be the ace of the staff and while he pitched well, he was outperformed by SP Rick Porcello, who took home 2016 AL Cy Young honors in what was by far the best season of his career. He posted a 3.15 ERA with 189 strikeouts in 223 innings on the way to a MLB-best 22-4 record. He had 3 complete games, which was tied for the fifth most in the majors, and finished the year with a 5.0 WAR. Price went 17-9 with a 3.99 ERA, but his other stats suggest that he had a better performance than that. His 230 innings led the majors and his 228 strikeouts placed him seventh in baseball. Knuckleballing SP Steven Wright also put up good numbers in his first full season in the big leagues; he went 13-3 in 24 games with a 3.33 ERA and 127 strikeouts over 156.2 innings. He threw 4 complete games, which was tied for third most in the majors. RP Craig Kimbrel saved 31 games out of the bullpen, posting a 3.40 ERA with 83 strikeouts in 53 innings over 57 appearances.

Adding Sale to a rotation that already includes Price and Porcello makes for a formidable combination. Add in Wright, who can throw a lot of innings as a knuckleballer, and the Red Sox probably have one of the best starting rotations in the game. Price could be a concern, though, as he had to take time off during spring training for a potential elbow issue. After getting a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews, it was determined not to be require surgery at the time, but it could cause him to miss time during the season.

The offense has a lot of home runs to make up for with the loss of Ortiz, but Moreland should be able to hit 20-25 and some of the team’s young hitters could increase their power output as they gain more experience at the major-league level. 3B Pablo Sandoval has been playing well this spring and looks to possibly have a resurgence at the plate this season after playing just three games in 2016. With strong starting pitching and an offense that can hit for contact and power, the team should have many leads to hand over to the bullpen. Although he had a bit of a down year in 2016, Kimbrel was one of the game’s top closers for several years and should be able to finish out many of those games when he inherits a lead.

The Red Sox won 93 games and improved their team with the moves they made in the offseason so — even without Ortiz — they are likely the best team in the AL East. But every team, save for the Rays, should be good so even a slight regression for the Red Sox could lead them to slip in the standings. I still think they’ll win the division, with around 90 wins or so, but they could fall back to second place. They should make the playoffs, even if it’s as a wild card, but the AL East won’t be an easy division to win.

Source: http://www.redsox.comhttp://www.baseball-reference.com

Scott Jenkins
I am a writer who enjoys writing about sports, with a focus on baseball. You can read more of my writing on my blog at http://thoughtsfromscottj.wordpress.com
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