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Tom O'Leary

Tom O'Leary

GUNTER KLEIST

GUNTER KLEIST

Tom O'Leary

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Heading into the 2018 Major League Baseball (MLB) season, the Boston Red Sox were largely overlooked as a legitimate World Series contender. Even the most devoted fans had tempered their expectations after the team’s disappointing playoff performances each of the past two seasons. However, it has taken less than a month for the Red Sox to erase those negative memories, putting the rest of the MLB on notice with their dominating play.

Opening on the road, they won eight of their first nine games, but it was admittedly difficult to gauge how legitimate their success was. During that stretch they faced the Tampa Bay Rays and Miami Marlins, two rebuilding organizations who unloaded such a large percentage of their talent in the offseason they are now essentially glorified minor league squads. In addition, the Red Sox won five of those games by only one run, leading many to wonder how well they would fare when facing a “real” opponent.

After opening up their first home stand with a three-game sweep of the Rays, the Red Sox proceeded to officially silence the critics. First, they won two of three games versus the division-favorite Yankees, including a 14-1 drubbing against their top starting pitcher Luis Severino. Next up came the Baltimore Orioles, who they easily dispatched for another three-game sweep.

Arguably the highlight of the young season came with the first game of their current West coast trip against the Los Angeles Angels, who have been the second-best team thus far. They went up against Japanese rookie sensation Shohei Ohtani, who has been dominating the league as both a starting pitcher and designated hitter. Ohtani lasted only two innings as the Red Sox hit six home runs in the game, three alone by right fielder Mookie Betts, and cruised to a 10-1 victory.

Currently, the Sox stand with a record of 14 wins and 2 losses, the best start to a season in franchise history, and the first team to do so since the 2003 San Francisco Giants. Aside from a few questionable bullpen moves, every decision new Manager Alex Cora has been brilliant. His aggressive approach, coupled with the guidance of new Hitting Coach Tim Hyers has paid immediate dividends, as the team’s previously anemic offense has ascended to an elite level. The Red Sox rank first in the MLB in runs per game, doubles, extra base hits, total bases, on base percentage, slugging percentage, and batting average. Compared to last season, the team had a mere seven homeruns at this juncture, while they have already accrued 19 thus far in 2018.

For as powerful as their offense has been, this squad has been equally adept at run prevention. Their pitching has maintained a miniscule 2.83 earned run average which is good for second in the MLB and has racked up a league-leading 13 quality starts. In addition, the defense has had their pitchers’ backs throughout, committing just four errors, which also happens to be tops in baseball.

As great as this team has been as a whole, they still aren’t perfect. The most glaring weakness has been middle relief pitching, a unit which is responsible for both losses. Cora has yet to find a consistent combination to bridge the gap between the starting pitchers and closer Craig Kimbrel in the ninth inning. Far too often baseball games are won and lost during the seventh and eighth innings, and unless someone unexpectedly emerges to fill this void, it will need to be addressed via trade.

Amazingly, the 2018 Red Sox still have the potential to improve once they are fully healthy. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts was the team’s hottest hitter before being sidelined with an ankle injury. They have also had to go without second baseman Dustin Pedroia and starting pitcher Drew Pomeranz, both of whom have spent the opening weeks on the disabled list. Fortunately, all three are expected to return within the next few weeks.

Although we aren’t even a tenth of the way through the regular season and more injuries will inevitably occur, the 2018 Boston Red Sox have already firmly entrenched themselves as a contender showing their fans that this year is truly World Series or bust.

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