Ready to Repeat?

Will the Red Sox repeat in 2019?

That’s the question on everyone’s minds today on Opening Day.

It’s a near-impossible feat to achieve; the Red Sox managed it in 1915 and 1916, due in large part to a certain young phenom by the name of George Herman Ruth. But including Boston, only seven franchises have ever gone back-to-back, a combined fourteen times. It used to be easier, back in the pre-division days when the postseason was just the first-place team from each league meeting for the World Series. Since the implementation of the championship series (ALCS and NLCS) in 1969, back-to-back championships has only happened five times. Since the leagues were divided into three divisions each and the ALDS and NLDS were created in 1994, only the Yankees have gone repeated, winning the World Series in 1998, 1999, and 2000.

Between Spring Training, the regular 162-game season, and the postseason, if you’re lucky, baseball is nearly nine months of the year. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. If you win the World Series, your offseason a month shorter than almost every other team’s. The champs typically arrive at Spring Training rushed, tired, and less rested than the rest of the league.

So it’s not entirely surprising that ESPN didn’t put the Red Sox first in their “Way Too Soon Power Rankings.” Except that they published them the day after the Red Sox won the World Series. And it’s even more surprising that they picked them fourth, below the Yankees, Astros, and Dodgers. Yes, the same three teams the Red Sox demolished on the way to their victory last October.

To me, the most surprising part of that is the Dodgers being ranked above the Sox. After all, they had to play as deep into October as the Red Sox – and for the second straight year, at that – but without the happy ending.

But despite what the ESPN way-too-soon Power Rankings say, not everyone at ESPN thinks the Red Sox will finish fourth below all three teams they had to defeat last October to win the World Series. When I spoke with Sunday Night Baseball hosts Jessica Mendoza and Alex ‘ARod’ Rodriguez last week, they both disagreed with the ESPN rankings. Mendoza, in particular, maintains that the Red Sox are “the team to beat.”

While ARod said “the Red Sox are a powerhouse,” he was more focused on the ‘World Series hangover’ that tends to plague most championship teams the following season, pointing to the Astros and Giants as prime examples of teams who’ve recently struggled after championship seasons. To this, Mendoza responded, “I get that hangovers happen… But with Cora at the head, I just feel like this is a team that he’s not going to let have a hangover. That’s not the way he works… he brings that fire and that hunger.”

They also both noted that the bullpen is an area of concern for the team. Joe Kelly signed a multi-year deal with the Dodgers, and Craig Kimbrel remains an unsigned free agent. I’m also concerned about the bullpen, but I was very concerned about it last season, too, and by now, I’ve learned to trust that Alex Cora has a plan.

The SNB cohosts paid a visit to Fort Myers earlier this month, and Mendoza provided a confidence-inspiring inside look at the Red Sox spring training:

“Alex and I were both in and around the team, the clubhouse this spring, is there’s just this energy, and we do this every year, we go to the spring training camp of the team that won before, and to be honest, you see exhaustion, you see a short offseason… this slow progression to get back out there. A delay, almost, of spring. And what I saw in the Red Sox was just this hunger of like ‘we’re not done.”

Aside from Craig Kimbrel, Joe Kelly, Drew Pomeranz, and Sandy Leon, this Red Sox team is virtually identical to the championship team we saw in October. And one of the good things about having any number of players, let alone an entire team, who knows what it feels like to win, is that it’s the kind of feeling you want to feel over and over again. They know it’s hard, but they’ve experienced the ultimate reward, and it’s addictive.

We won’t know today. We won’t know tomorrow. Only time and a marathon of games will tell if the Red Sox can do it again this year. But one thing is for certain: they might be hungover, but they’re hungry, too.

Photo: Paper City Mag

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