By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Two years ago, the Boston Red Sox were world champions, winners of 108 regular-season games before going 11-3 in the postseason to secure the ninth World Series title in franchise history. They were the best team in MLB, and they were arguably the best team in the 118-year history of the franchise.
One year ago, though, the Boston Red Sox were not world champions. They were not AL East champions. They were not champions of anything, really.
They were bad.
As a result, the expectations for the Red Sox in 2020 are quite low. Even though it’s a 60-game season with a limited schedule where “anything can happen,” the Red Sox have some significant holes on the roster — more specifically, their pitching staff — that are keeping most pundits from giving the team much of a chance of anything this year.
Here’s a look at power rankings from around the web to see precisely how folks are viewing the Red Sox right now.
A group of MLB.com writers — consisting of Alyson Footer, Richard Justice, Anthony Castrovince, Jesse Sanchez, Mark Feinsand, Nathalie Alonso, Mike Petriello, Sarah Langs, Andrew Simon, David Venn — has the Red Sox ranked as the 18th-best team in MLB and the eighth-best team in the American League.
Notably, MLB.com has the Yankees ranked second and the Rays ranked fifth, so the Sox will have some stiff competition within the division.
Bleacher Report: 18th
“Nathan Eovaldi will need to live up to his contract, Martin Perez will need to pitch like he did during the first half last season, and Ryan Weber will need to deliver on his breakout potential. Otherwise, this season could devolve into a complete disaster,” Bleacher Report’s write-up said. “And while the offensive core of J.D. Martinez, Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi and newcomer Alex Verdugo are capable of overcoming the loss of Mookie Betts, it won’t matter if their pitching can’t keep them in games.”
B-R had the Yankees ranked second and the Rays ranked third, continuing the theme of a top-heavy AL East.
USA Today: 16th
The seven-person panel for USA Today had the Red Sox at 16th in MLB. The only explanation for this placement was a statistic for the team’s closer: “Closer Brandon Workman had 104 strikeouts in 71.2 IP last season.”
USA Today has the Yankees ranked as the most potent team in MLB, with the Rays at third.
The Ringer: 20th
Michael Baumann had the Sox on the edge of the bottom-third of the entire league.
“The offense should be playoff-caliber even without Betts, but after Eduardo Rodríguez, the team doesn’t have a starting pitcher I’m confident in,” he wrote. “Pity that Cam Newton signed with the Pats already, because he could’ve broken into this rotation.”
Baumann had the Yankees ranked second and the Rays ranked fifth. He did still have the Blue Jays (22nd) and Orioles (30th, dead last) below the Red Sox.
CBS Sports: 18th
Matt Snyder had the Sox settled nicely in the most popular spot among these rankings: 18th.
“The team that just two seasons ago was one of the best in MLB history now has a rotation that will leave casual fans saying ‘who?'” he wrote.
Snyder had the Yankees in the No. 1 spot and the Rays at No. 4.
Fox Sports: 18th
Nick Swisher (ugh) has the Sox ranked 18th. Yanks are No. 1. Rays are seventh. That’s enough Nick Swisher for today.
ESPN’s Bradford Doolittle did give the Red Sox some hope, saying that if the Yankees run away with the division, the offensive power of J.D. Martinez and Rafael Devers could keep the Red Sox alive as a wild-card contender. The worst-case scenario was a little bit more bleak:
“An MLB-worst pitching staff can’t put up quality innings, as the Yankees, Rays and Blue Jays run away from Boston in the AL East and Red Sox fans are forced to look over their shoulders at the closely trailing Orioles during the longest two-month season in BoSox history.”
Clearly, there’s a bit of a common theme here, in that most of the experts are expecting the Red Sox to more or less play like they did last year, when they were just a tick better than a .500 baseball team. That is perfectly logical, considering Chris Sale is out and Mookie Betts is gone.
At the same time, it stands out that there’s a certain uniformity in rankings of AL East teams. All of the power rankings have the Yankees, Rays, Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Orioles in that order. It’s worth noting that sports are never predictable (that is why we watch sports, ya know?). Now throw in the added unpredictability of playing sports in a pandemic, and the reality is only intensified.
That is, as they say, why they play the games.