ALBRIGHT: Can the Red Sox repeat as World Series champions?

American League champion Boston Red Sox dipped in 24 karat gold a dominant Major League Baseball season Sunday night with a World Series championship. National League winner Los Angeles became the final victim of a group responsible for a franchise-record 108 regular-season wins.

Manager Dave Roberts’ Dodger club and their fan base proved unable to learn from previous playoff opponents’ mistakes of trolling the Red Sox after their lone win in the best-of-seven series in a 4 games to 1 beatdown. Boston stomped the second- and third-best teams in the majors and 100-plus game winners, Houston and New York, then went on to #dodamage against the NL champions on the way to a fourth world title in 15 years.

Not many believed in a team unable to win more than one game the previous two postseasons combined outside of a wildly loyal fan base along with everyone in the clubhouse. Boston entered the Fall Classic barely favored following two series they dominated, but weren’t given great odds to move on at all.

This team thrived on being the doubted underdog. Just ask the Yankees’ Aaron Judge or the Astros’ Alex Bregman.

There weren’t a lot of reasons for confidence as the postseason got underway.

Successful postseason experience among starting pitching was negligble with staff aces Chris Sale and David Price haunted by past performances. The bullpen, now a crucial part of any deep trip in the playoffs, could be best described as a leaky faucet in key moments during the regular season. Plus, how was first-year manager Alex Cora going to handle the pressure of making big decisions in the postseason?

Pressures are different when you are a bench coach not making most of the important decisions.

Turns out everything was just fine.

The bullpen found its mojo. Price and Sale vanquished all post-season demons. Price picking up the W in the title-clinching game after 7 innings of three-hit, 1-run ball, while Sale struck out the side in the ninth. Cora mostly pushed all the right buttons.

To top it off, the league’s top offense in the regular season continued the narrative in the postseason, especially on the road. Red Sox’ bats outscored opponents 67-21 as the team went 7-1 away from Fenway Park.

The champions won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. A young core remains intact with majority owner John Henry’s pocket book open for major additions in an offseason where big names (Clayton Kershaw, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper to name a few) could be available on the hot stove.

Much of the batting line-up returns in 2019. Presumptive AL MVP Mookie Betts and ML-RBI leader J.D. Martinez anchor an order versatile in scoring runs from small ball to the long ball. Betts also leads the best defensive outfield in the majors alongside Andrew Benintendi and ALCS MVP Jackie Bradley Jr.

Price and Sale top a seasoned rotation. Price can opt out of his contract but hinted heavily in interviews with the Boston Globe and Herald he plans to stay in Beantown.

Big questions do exist in the bullpen. Closer Craig Kimbrel can become a free agent likely able to command $15 million or more per year on the open market. Red Sox brass isn’t likely to go for such a number as the all-star allowed a run or more in all but one postsesason appearance, following up a shaky regular season. The fact he wasn’t Cora’s choice to close out Game 5 should be a telling sign.

Postseason hero Nathan Eovaldi could be his replacement if willing to take less money to stay with a competitor. Eovaldi started twice before being converted to a bullpen arm. Both stints were successful and he proved the pressure of the ninth wasn’t likely to phase him with a special effort in Game 3 of the World Series. He may have given up the game-winning home run to Max Muncy in the bottom of the 18th, but before the hit came 6 innings and 96 pitches of zero-run, high-tension ball.

Starting pitcher Rick Porcello described the effort to a T after the contest.

“That was the most incredible pitching performance I’ve ever seen,” Rick Porcello told reporters. “After the game was over, I started crying because that was — I mean, he’s grinding, every pitch. He literally gave everything he had on every single pitch, and it was special.”

Set-up men Joe Kelly or Matt Barnes may be answers at the back of the bullpen as well. General Manager Dave Dombrowski would first have to get free-agent-to-be Kelly back to Boston.

Yet, the most important part remains the return of Cora, whose contributions can’t be understated from Day 1. His player-first approach, family-style locker room and confidence in those he managed went a long way toward instilling the trust a team needs in order to accomplish 119 wins out of 176 contests.

Puerto Rico’s first WS winning manager built a foundation to last into the future.

Fans shouldn’t expect a cake walk. Houston and New York still have their young cores intact, and the Yankees are expected to add Manny Machado among others in free agency. Cleveland brings back their dominant rotation too.

The American League remains the better half of MLB, with the Red Sox reigning supreme.

Contact Joe Albright at jalbright@newsandsentinel.com.


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