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They’ll always have last year: Phillies vs. Red Sox preview

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Barring a strong finish, the Red Sox aren’t going to successfully defend their title

World Series - Boston Red Sox v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Four
Mookie Betts will likely not repeat as MVP
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The 2018 Red Sox won the World Series. What has that meant for 2019? Absolutely nothing. The 2019 edition of the Sox are in third place, and chances of a repeat title have dwindled.

Boston Red Sox

Record: 67-59, Third place in American League East

The last time they met

In 2018, the teams played two-game sets at each other’s stadium, splitting both series. Since the Phillies had the greater margin of victory in their wins, I’ll declare them the moral victors.

Heavy is the head

The defending champs haven’t found the going quite as easy in 2019. At this point last year, they were 88-38 with a nine game lead in the AL East. This year, they’re 16 games out of first place, and six games out of a Wild Card spot.

Keeping the faith

I’m sure all of the die-hard Sox fans are still 100% confident in their team, and definitely haven’t turned their attention to the Patriots instead.

Not a sure Betts

Personifying the drop off from last year’s dominance is Mookie Betts. In 2018, he deservedly won the American League’s MVP award. (Apologies to Mike Trout who has a legitimate case for the award every year.) In 2019, his batting average is down 60 points, and his slugging percentage has dropped by over .130. Combined with the Red Sox’s also-ran status, that drop in production means Betts probably won’t be taking home similar honors in 2019.

Remember Dustin Pedroia?

In 2008, Pedroia won the AL MVP award and followed that up with multiple All-Star seasons. You might have thought that he retired years ago, but he’s still on the Red Sox roster. However, he’s not on the active roster.

After missing most of 2018 with a knee injury, he attempted to make a comeback this season. It didn’t go well. He appeared in six games, batting .100 and accumulating -0.5 WAR before the knee forced him to go back on the Injured List, and undergo surgery. After two lost seasons, it isn’t clear if Pedroia’s playing days are over.

Even though he will likely never play again, he’s still going to remain in the Red Sox organization because his contract runs two more seasons. I’m sure the team has floated the suggestion of retirement to him, but I’m not sure why he’d turn down $25 million and the chance the rehab at the club’s expense.

He’s got good company on the Injured List

A few years ago, David Price and Chris Sale would have been an impressive front of a major league rotation. Right now, both are on the Injured List, and neither man looked like an ace when they were healthy, sporting ERAs over 4.00.

The Sox had better hope that both the injuries and downturn in production are temporary, because they still have to pay the duo a lot of money over the next few years. Price is under contract through 2022 while Sale is locked down through 2024. Those high salaries has caused some fans to worry that the team won’t be able to retain Betts when he becomes a free agent after next season.

So who’s left in the rotation?

Considering the fates of Price and Sale, it shouldn’t be a shock that Boston’s team ERA has gone from third best in the AL in 2018, to eighth best this season. The rotation is far from dominant, and neither pitcher scheduled to start this series looks especially intimidating.

Brian Johnson has bounced between the rotation, bullpen, and minor leagues. Even if the lefty pitches better than his 6.45 ERA would indicate, he likely won’t pitch deep into the game. His longest outing this season is five innings.

The other pitcher in the series is Rick Porcello, and to his credit, unlike Johnson, he’s been able to remain in the rotation for the entire season. The bad news is, he hasn’t been very effective. He’s given up five or more runs in two of his last four starts (and the other two were against the Orioles and Royals, and they barely count as major league teams).

Would you like to see Porcello break a couple of TV monitors in frustration? Of course you would!

Miller time?

One guy who should be happy to see Porcello is reserve Brad (not Sean) Miller. It might not be the worst idea to give him a start on Wednesday, since he’s got a career OPS of 1.023 against Porcello, and has taken him deep five times.

Phlashback of ineptitude: Ryan Lavarnway

Most backup catchers aren’t known for their offensive prowess. It’s tough to find one catcher who can hold his own with the bat, let alone two. If a team’s backup catcher can manage to catch the ball cleanly and not alienate the pitching staff, that’s usually adequate.

Even by those standards, Ryan Lavarnway wasn’t especially good. A former top 100 prospect, he spent time with the Sox from 2011 to 2014, but he didn’t seize the starting job like many had hoped.

His most extensive playing time came in 2012, when he appeared in 46 games. The extra at bats didn’t do much to boost his offensive performance, with a .157/.211/.248 slash line. He didn’t even grade out well defensively. The Sox eventually tired of his struggles and released him after the 2014 season.

Lavarnway has since floated around the majors and even played on Israel’s World Baseball Classic team in 2017. He joined the Reds earlier this season and made quite the first impression.

Friendly Fenway

Fenway Park hasn’t been especially hospitable for the Phillies over the years, but Aaron Nola didn’t seem to mind it much last season. When he started there, he went eight innings, and limited the powerful Red Sox lineup to just one run and four hits.

And as for the Phillies’ historical failings at Fenway, that may be mitigated by some newcomers who have had success there. Jean Segura’s career OPS in Boston is .904, while J.T. Relamuto has been even better at 1.000. And the other starting pitcher for the series, Drew Smyly, has a 2.87 ERA over five starts at Fenway.

Prediction

The Phillies are capable of sweeping these games. But the Padres series curbed my optimism a bit, so I’ll say the teams split once again.