Red Sox: Examining Vegas’ win-loss predictions

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 28: The Boston Red Sox celebrate with the World Series trophy after their 5-1 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game Five to win the 2018 World Series at Dodger Stadium on October 28, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 28: The Boston Red Sox celebrate with the World Series trophy after their 5-1 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game Five to win the 2018 World Series at Dodger Stadium on October 28, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) /

Vegas predicts both the Astros and Yankees will finish ahead of the Red Sox next season. However, there’s little reason to think that will come true.

The Boston Red Sox may be the reigning World Series champions, but apparently that isn’t enough to convince the oddsmakers that they’re the 2019 favorites.

Caesars Palace recently released their projected win totals for the upcoming season, and the Red Sox find themselves falling behind the New York Yankees and the Houston Astros, two teams they handled with relative ease in the 2018 postseason.

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Past success certainly can’t guarantee more of the same in the future; those same Astros trounced the Red Sox just one year prior. However, the Red Sox were clearly the best team more or less for the entirety of the 2018 campaign.

When judging if the Astros and Yankees can seriously be expected to overtake them this year, we should look at the moves they’ve made to address the weak spots that held them down. After 2017, the Red Sox brought in J.D. Martinez, and eventually added Nathan Eovaldi to the mix. Those moves, and other less notorious ones, put them over the Astros and kept them ahead of the Yankees. So far, neither New York nor Houston has made any comparable improvements.

The 2018 Yankees hit more home runs than any other team by a significant margin, and featured a solid bullpen. Yet, when the ball stayed in the yard, they had trouble scoring runs, and their starting pitchers weren’t good enough to keep them in those kinds of games. In the postseason, that one-dimensional offense couldn’t keep up with a Red Sox team that kept finding new ways to score runs, and Boston’s starters outclassed the patchwork Yankee rotation.

The offseason is young; the biggest transactions have yet to be made and the Yankees are, of course, far from a finished product. Yet, the Vegas odds must be based on what the Yankees are right now, and so that is what we must judge as well. Thus far, New York has made two noteworthy additions: shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, and second baseman DJ LeMahieu. At this point in his career, Tulo is little more than a talented but injury prone bench option. He’ll take over at short while Didi Gregorious recovers from injury, but does little to improve the Yankees over the long run.

LeMahieu is the more interesting addition, but only marginally. Though he hit just .276 last season, he hit over .300 in each of the previous three seasons. He’s also not the kind of power-only option which already pervades the Yankees lineup, and could inject a decent amount of doubles and walks into that offense. Yet, once again, he most likely won’t end up as much more than a bench option. Gleyber Torres currently sits atop the Yankees depth chart at second base, and LeMahieu is no threat to unseat the young star. As a designated hitter, he could add a more regular boost, but the seven-year veteran won’t change the offense by himself. New York needs its incumbents to find other ways to score if they really want to improve.

Finally, the Yankees most glaring need was to address a rotation that finished with a 4.05 ERA, good for 14th in baseball. With that clearly in mind they traded for James Paxton from the Seattle Mariners. Paxton is an excellent pitcher who, if healthy, should make a significant difference in that rotation. However, that’s a pretty big “if”. Paxton, 30, has never made more than 28 starts in a season, and reached that number just once. More significantly, he has never thrown more than 160.1 innings in a season. That career-high came last year, and his previous high was just 136 innings. Health has always held Paxton back in the past; if it does again, the Yankees will be in trouble. The Red Sox are still clearly ahead of New York when comparing rotations, and pitching wins playoff series. Though the Red Sox may, and probably will, regress from their 108-win season, there’s little reason to think the Yankees are ready to overtake them.

The Astros, on the other hand, and probably a more serious threat to out-win Boston in 2019. While they, like the Yankees, haven’t done much to improve their team, they have less work to do. Houston could use a bullpen arm or two, but what really held them back last season was injuries. A healthy campaign from Jose Altuve and company could easily earn them baseball’s best record. Altuve was clearly hobbled in the ALCS, and that held Houston back somewhat. Yet, he still played, and Boston still won the series 3-1. Though the Red Sox lost four of seven games against the Astros in the regular season, Boston was also an unfinished product for some of those games.

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The Red Sox have also done little to improve themselves thus far, but they finished the season ahead of the pack. Work must be done to stay ahead, but the squad that got them there remains more or less intact. Joe Kelly is a significant loss, but Ryan Brasier looks ready to step up into a more prominent role and Eovaldi is returning. Another bullpen piece or two should be enough to keep Boston in front of the competition. While both the Yankees and Astros should give them a run next season, predicting either to finish ahead of the Red Sox seems, at this point, to be a bit of a stretch.