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Tom O'Leary

Tom O'Leary

GUNTER KLEIST

GUNTER KLEIST

Tom O'Leary

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It’s official, the Boston Red Sox are returning to the World Series where they will face the Los Angeles Dodgers for a seven-game series beginning on Tues., Oct. 23. A franchise once known for epic collapses and ultimate choke-jobs during their 86-year title drought is now vying for their fourth championship in the last 14 years, as they have become the predominant team of Major League Baseball (MLB) in the new millennium.

Coming into the postseason, the Sox were hardly an underdog. They have the highest team salary in the league and led in the majority of offensive statistics en route to a 108-54 win/loss record, the best in the organizations history. That record was also tops in the MLB, granting them home-field-advantage throughout the playoffs.

Their regular season success can largely be attributed to right fielder Mookie Betts and designated hitter J.D. Martinez, who in all likelihood will finish first and second in voting for American League (AL) Most Valuable Player. But they were far from the only significant contributors for this squad. Starting Pitcher Chris Sale was a contender for the AL Cy Young award until a shoulder strain held him out most of Aug. and part of Sept., and shortstop Xander Bogaerts had a career year, just to name a few.

Despite all of the Red Sox’s aforementioned dominance, fans (including myself) were apprehensive heading into their opening-round playoff series with the rival New York Yankees. The Yankees finished right behind them in the divisional standings and racked up 100 wins of their own. As tremendous as the Sox had been all year, their roster was riddled with postseason concerns. Their starting rotation collectively had yet to register a playoff win in their careers and their offense has had its own struggles during the last two seasons when they were soundly defeated during the first round. In addition, the bullpen, which had been a major weakness all year, floundered during Sept.

However, the Yankees proved to be merely a bump on the road for the greatest Red Sox team of all time. Sale conquered his playoff demons in game one, leading his squad to victory. Unfortunately, Price’s demons continued in game 2, as he fell to a record of 0-10 in his postseason career. But that would be the only loss of the series for Boston, as they went into Yankee Stadium and outscored them 20-4 over two games to advance to the AL Championship Series.

With the Yankees firmly in their rearview mirror, the Sox moved on to face the defending World Series champion Houston Astros, who mercilessly overpowered them in the 2017 playoffs. The series got off to an inauspicious start, with Sale lasting only four innings and looked like a shell of himself on the mound as the Astros won 7-2. Shockingly, that would be the only defeat Boston would experience at the hand of Houston. Price’s performance improved enough for them to win game two and the offense powered them to victories in games three and four before Price closed out the series in game 5 with his best playoff start to date.

So, the Red Sox, the best regular season team in the MLB, have maintained that rank thus far in the playoffs. What could possibly slow this juggernaut down? The bullpen, that’s what. Specifically, closer Craig Kimbrel. Initially, I expected the issue to be bridging the innings gap between the starting pitcher and Kimbrel. But during the postseason, the middle relievers have greatly exceeded expectations, and it’s been Kimbrel who has been giving fans heart attacks on the nightly. He didn’t lose any games for them, but every appearance he came as close as possible before being bailed out by exceptional defense and/or pure luck.

If Kimbrel can return to form and the rest of the team keeps playing at such a high level, the Dodgers don’t stand a chance against this Red Sox team. But, baseball is the most unpredictable of all professional sports, which is why organizations pay analytics companies millions of dollars to gain even the most minute edge. That being said, Boston has been so overwhelming all season that my prediction is they win the Commissioner’s Trophy in five games and the City of Champions will be throwing yet another parade in Nov.

 

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