Boston Could Follow Same Unlikely Route To Championship As Washington Did Last Year
E-Rod Should Build On His Impressive 19 Wins
One team opened Spring Training last year in a bit of limbo, having lost a former Most Valuable Player to another club. All the Washington Nationals ended up doing was winning the World Series Championship, even without outfield star Bryce Harper.
As unlikely as that scenario appears, there have been several cases in this past decade when teams have actually advanced deeper into the postseason after having lost its star player. The St. Louis Cardinals had seen MVP Albert Pujols sign a free agent contract with the Los Angeles Angels in 2012, yet the Cards went on to win the pennant without him.
It could very well happen again this season, which has gotten underway now that every team has seen their equipment tricks embark to its Spring Training site. What the Nationals accomplished last year should give hope to the fans at Jet Blue Park this spring, as they watch their team play exhibitions in Ft. Myers.
In much the same way that Washington has to prepare without Harper, Boston this year will prepare without star outfielder Mookie Betts. The former MVP was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers last week, which has led to some dissatisfaction in Bean Town.
Optimism should be pervading there instead, when one considers the similarities between last year's Nationals and the current status of the Red Sox. Like Washington's eventual champs, Boston still has a perennial MVP candidate heading into Spring Training.
Third baseman Antony Rendon proved able to pick up his club when Harper departed, as in all likelihood will outfielder J.D. Martinez now that his former teammate is in Los Angeles. In fact, the Red Sox are in an even better position right now than were the Nationals last year, for Boston has been able to replace almost all of Betts's numbers.
Alex Verdugo, who came over in exchange for Betts, had the exact same batting average as Mookie. The latter did hit twice as many home runs but, since Verdugo only had half of the at bats, he projects as ending up with just as many as Betts.
Compare that almost equal replacement to what Washington received for Harper last winter, which was just a draft pick who would provide no immediate help. That factor seems to bode well for the Bosox, who also align favorably in terms of pitching.
Cy Young contenders Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg proved one of the biggest reasons Washington winning all after the departure of its star player, thereby giving Boston another reason for optimism. Its rotation returns two Cy Young contenders as well, Chris Sale and fellow left hander Eduardo Rodriguez.
Sale has been a stalwart for the past half decade, and Rodriguez was a runner up for the Cy Young award last season. His numbers (especially his nineteen wins) were as good, and in some cases even trumped, those of either Scherzer or Strasburg.
Another reason for Sox fans to feel hopeful regards the schedule, even though once again Boston will open the regular season on the road. Unlike last year, however, it will be a much less taxing trip.
Part of the club's poor start in 2019 can be attributed to a three city road trip to start the season, which took them from a four game series in Seattle to another in Oakland to a three game set in Arizona. By the time it has ended it was nearly the middle of April, when the Red Sox hosted its Opener in Fenway Park sitting at the bottom of the American League East.
On reflection, it seems like a miracle that Boston was able to overcome such a horrific start and still win 84 games. It will be far less of a miracle of they, as the Nationals did last year, capture the World Series Championship in 2020.