Red Sox roster shares similar blueprint to World Series bound Nationals
By Sean Penney
The Washington Nationals team heading to the World Series has much in common with the roster of the 2018 champion Boston Red Sox.
A year ago, the Boston Red Sox were on their way to the World Series. After sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS, the Washington Nationals have earned a spot in the Fall Classic and they’ve done so with a roster eerily similar to the 2018 champions.
These clubs took very different paths to postseason glory. Last year’s Red Sox were a 108-win juggernaut that stormed their way to a title. Washington settled for a Wild Card spot and had to rally late to squeeze by the Milwaukee Brewers in their one-game playoff.
How they got there hardly matters as much as who brought them to this stage. The way this Nationals roster was built draws several comparisons to the team the Red Sox hoped would defend their title.
It starts with the left side of the infield. Breakout years from Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts launched them to superstar status. The duo finished first and second in the American League in extra-base hits while becoming the first pair of teammates with 30+ homers and 50+ doubles in the same season.
Washington has Anthony Rendon at the hot corner. He led all major league third basemen with a .319 batting average, .598 slugging percentage, 1.010 OPS and 126 RBI this season. Devers ranked fourth at the position with a .311 AVG, .555 SLG, .916 OPS, and 115 RBI.
Bogaerts found his power stroke in his age 26 season, swatting a career-high 33 home runs. Trea Turner is still looking to break the 20+ barrier at the same age, matching last season’s career-high with 19 homers. He tallied that total in 40 fewer games this year, suggesting an uptick in that department could be on the horizon if he can stay on the field. Turner also makes up for the power differential with his speed, ranking fifth in the majors with 35 stolen bases. These are two of the brightest young stars in the majors at what has become a loaded shortstop position.
Both teams also have a young star in their outfield. Mookie Betts put together another strong campaign, hitting .295/.391/.524 with 29 home runs and 16 steals. Nationals outfielder Juan Soto put up a similar stat line of .282/.401/.548 with 34 home runs and 12 steals.
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We can take the comparisons a step further while ignoring positions. Betts is the reigning AL MVP while Rendon is firmly in the conversation to take home the hardware in the NL this season.
Devers accomplished milestones rarely seen by a player under the age of 23. He’s the youngest player in franchise history with a 200-hit season and he had more extra-base hits than any Red Sox player has recorded in a single season at this age. Soto piled up his fair share of records for teenage hitters last year. He mashed his 56th career home run this season, tying former Red Sox hitter Tony Conigliaro for the second most in MLB history before the age of 21. His 180 career RBI gives Soto the third most by that age. Soto won’t hit the legal drinking age until later this month.
Washington’s rotation is a three-headed monster composing of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin. That’s a three-time Cy Young winner and a pair of multi-time All-Stars who have each finished top-five on the ballot in their careers.
That’s the type of loaded rotation the Red Sox expected to be their strength with two former Cy Young winners plus an ace with seven consecutive top-six finishes on the ballot. Unfortunately, Rick Porcello had the worst year of his career while David Price and Chris Sale both struggled before landing on the injured list.
Obviously, the top of Boston’s rotation didn’t pan out nearly as well as Washington’s did this year but they had the same idea and we’ve seen this trio thrive for the Red Sox in the past.
While these teams share many of the same strengths, they also have a weakness in common. Boston’s bullpen was below average with a collective 4.40 ERA while Washington ranked dead last with a 5.66 ERA from their relievers. The Red Sox took a lot of heat for leading the majors with 31 blown saves but the Nats were right behind them with 29.
We saw the Red Sox cover for their lack of bullpen depth by using their horses from the rotation as relievers between starts during their playoff run last year. We’ve seen the Nationals use that strategy to some extent this postseason and they may lean on it more during the World Series.
We’re still waiting to find out who Washington will face on baseball’s biggest stage so it’s a bit early to be making predictions. Considering the Red Sox went through both the New York Yankees and Houston Astros on their way to the World Series last year, a similarly constructed Nationals team should be in great shape either way.