The 2019 Red Sox will enter the season competing against history.
No team has repeated as World Series champion since the dynasty Yankees of Joe Torre won three in a row from 1998-2000. The last team to win 108 or more games over consecutive seasons were the 1969-70 Baltimore Orioles under Earl Weaver.
Torre and Weaver are in the Hall of Fame because they had the uncommon ability to inspire great teams to be even greater.
That’s now the job for Alex Cora, to replace the satisfaction of winning with the determination to do it again. Further, he has to do it with essentially the same group of players, coaches, and staff members.
That there will be some regression seems inevitable. The Red Sox enjoyed a largely drama- and injury-free season in 2018. They started 17-2 and the longest losing streak all season was three games, which hardly constitutes much of a streak.
The Sox built a 9½-game lead on the Yankees by early August and coasted to the division title from there. Then came an 11-3 postseason as the Yankees, Astros, and Dodgers were knocked aside.
This team will have more challenges.
President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski elected not to replace free-agent relievers Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly, who combined for 128 innings a year ago. The Sox are counting on Cora and pitching coach Dana LeVangie to turn assorted bullpen frogs into princes.
This team also will have schedule obstacles, including an 11-game West Coast road trip to start the season and an 11-day trip in June and July that starts with two games in London.
They’ve already had potentially useful righthander Steven Wright suspended for 80 games after a positive PED test.
But talent wins and this team runs deep with it. Mookie Betts, Chris Sale, J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, David Price, Andrew Benintendi, Dustin Pedroia, Rick Porcello, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Rafael Devers are All-Star caliber players. The Sox have the highest payroll in the game and have wielded that cudgel wisely.
The manager may be the biggest star. Cora is a long way from Cooperstown, but like Torre and Weaver he is the right person at the right time. Cora makes difficult decisions, defuses controversies, and fills out a lineup with a level of confidence that never wavers.
Maybe the job will someday grind him down like it did others, but Cora walks into meetings with the same bounce he did a year ago.
So while 108 wins and another October joyride are too much to expect again, the Sox may just be getting their dynasty started.
LF Andrew Benintendi: He’s a superstar waiting to happen and hitting leadoff could bring that out.
RF Mookie Betts: No Red Sox player has won back-to-back MVPs, not even Ted Williams. That’s what he can do for an encore.
3B Rafael Devers: At some point over the offseason, Devers decided being good was not good enough for him.
DH J.D. Martinez: That he can opt out of his contract after the season should provide plenty of motivation.
SS Xander Bogaerts: He’s still only 26 and seeking a third ring. It’s time to acknowledge just how good Bogaerts is.
1B Mitch Moreland: A full season platooning with Steve Pearce will cut down on his at-bats but should improve his OPS.
2B Dustin Pedroia: He wasn’t supposed to start right away at Arizona State or get to the majors or win an MVP. Doubt him at your own peril.
CF Jackie Bradley Jr.: The swing changes he made at the 2018 All-Star break may have changed the trajectory of his career.
C Christian Vazquez : He has a lot to prove coming off a poor season. Catchers have to take ownership of their team and Vazquez has been renting so far.
UTIL Brock Holt: With Pedroia’s playing time sure to be tightly controlled, Holt’s already considerable value will increase.
C Sandy Leon : Chris Sale has a 2.42 ERA over 49 games with Leon. That’s his lowest with any catcher in his career. So who cares if Leon hits?
INF Eduardo Nunez: His cranky right knee has healed up, so the explosive 2017 Nunez could be back. Less is more with him.
1B/DH Steve Pearce: The World Series MVP, who turns 36 on April 13, is leading his best life at this point.
LHP Chris Sale: He finally has his ring. Now can he stay healthy and effective into the second half?
RHP Rick Porcello: Since coming off the injured list in 2015, Porcello is 54-32 with a 3.92 ERA. He’s made every start and averaged 6⅓ innings.
LHP David Price: He proved he could handle Boston, pitch well in the postseason, and win a ring. Whatever will the talk shows pretend to be angry about now?
RHP Nate Eovaldi: His four-year deal brings with it considerable risk given his injury history. But Eovaldi’s work ethic makes it a good bet.
LHP Eduardo Rodriguez: Will Rodriguez be discussed with the same respect as his rotation mates or forever be the guy who doesn’t quite get there? It’s his call.
RHP Matt Barnes: His greatest value is getting important outs, not being knighted as the closer. Barnes accepting that is the key to the bullpen working.
RHP Ryan Brasier: Last season was a career outlier for Brasier. Proving he can do it again will be difficult.
RHP Heath Hembree: Hembree has appeared in 189 games since 2015, second only to Matt Barnes (226) in that time. There’s a lot to be said for showing up.
LHP Brian Johnson: Spot starter, long reliever, and occasionally a lefty specialist. Johnson found a role last season.
RHP Hector Velazquez: Velazquez is a righthanded version of Brian Johnson. But his competitiveness suggests there could be more there.
RHP Brandon Workman: Workman persevered last season and ended up on the playoff roster. But it’s a constant fight for him.
RHP Tyler Thornburg: The Sox can’t quite admit that trading for Thornburg in 2016 was a bust. That’s why he’s still getting a chance.