What Major League Baseball Was Like When: The Red Sox Last Won the World Series

Welcome to part 1 of a series on what the MLB was like the last time each team won the World Series. Three of the five teams that have been to a World Series but haven’t won one will get an article for the last year they went, but the Rangers, along with the Mariners and Nationals that have never been to a World Series, will get an article focusing on the year they were founded, because the last time the Rangers were in the World Series (2011) was also the last time the Cardinals won it. For the Rays, the last (and only) time they went to the World Series was also the last time the Phillies won it, and the year they were founded was the last time the Padres appeared in a World Series. Sorry, Rays, we’ll mention you, promise.

For teams that will be in a period by themselves (like the Padres, who will have the only article focusing on a time between 1995 and 2001) we’ll take a bit of a wider look at the league, but with no teams having won multiple championships in the last 5 years, the Red Sox get to have their edition of this series focused entirely on 2018. We’ll look at the things history will remember, like the league’s MVP’s, Rookies of The Year, Managers of the Year, and playoff teams, but also some things history will be less likely to remember, like unusual All-Stars, weird stat lines, and things like that. So, for 2018 and the Red Sox, let’s get into it.

Award Winners

MVP

American League: Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox

Other finalists: Mide Trout, Los Angeles Angels; José Ramírez, Cleveland Indians

National League: Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers

Other finalists: Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs: Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies

Betts won the AL MVP award by being consistently the best player for the American League’s best team, posting an OPS of at least .950 in every month except June (.883) en route to a 1.078 OPS on the year, second just behind Trout for the AL lead and tying Francisco Lindor for the AL lead in runs with 129 while winning one of three gold gloves for the World Series champs (along with Jackie Bradley Jr. in center field and Ian Kinsler at second base). Trout continued his incredible start to his career, as he’s finished no lower than 4th for MVP, and only one year outside the top two in voting. Ramírez, meanwhile, finished third in voting for the second consecutive year while posting career highs in runs, RBI, home runs, walks, and on-base percentage for the division-winning Indians.

Christian Yelich, on the other hand, had a late-season surge to push him to the NL MVP award after never being an All-Star in his 4 seasons in Miami. He went into the All-Star break with a .292/.364/.459 slash line with 11 home runs, good enough to earn a spot on the All-Star team but not the type of line you would expect to win MVP without incredible defense for a corner outfielder. But he announced his presence starting with the 12 games after the All-Star game through the end of July, with a hit in all 12 games, including 10 multi-hit games, where he hit .500 with 4 home runs, 6 doubles, 2 triples and 14 RBIs in a 12 game span. In total, his post-All-Star slash line was .367/.449/.770 with 25 home runs and 67 RBIs in just 65 games, pushing him to the lead in the NL in batting average, slugging, OPS, and WAR for positional players. Baez was also making his first All-Star appearance in 2018 and led the NL in RBIs with 111 while hitting 34 home runs and 83 total extra-base hits for the Cubs, who earned a Wild Card berth after losing a tiebreaker game with Yelich’s Brewers. Arenado was a more established star, being a three-time reigning Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winner at 3B before winning both awards again while leading the NL in home runs.

Cy Young Award

American League: Blake Snell, Tampa Bay Rays

Other Finalists: Justin Verlander, Houston Astros; Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians

National League: Jacob deGrom, New York Mets

Other Finalists: Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals; Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies

A first-time All-Star in 2018, Snell won the Cy Young Award by leading the AL in wins and ERA. Snell was having a very good year, with a 2.27 ERA after his July 12 start in a loss to the Twins, when he went on the DL with shoulder fatigue in his throwing arm. He returned on August 4th on another level, giving up just 9 runs, 8 earned, in his 11 starts in which he earned a 9-0 record (with the Rays going 10-1 in his starts) and striking out 87 batters in his 61 2/3 innings the rest of the way, lowering his ERA to just 1.89, the first time a qualifying AL pitcher had an ERA below 2 since Pedro Martinez in 2000. His 180 2/3 innings were the lowest of a starting pitcher to win a Cy Young award year in a regular length season, which is what allowed Verlander to be so close in the voting. Verlander led the AL in strikeouts with a career-high 290, and Houston making the playoffs while Tampa Bay didn’t and Verlander being a more established star than Snell couldn’t have hurt JV’s chances. Kluber was the reigning Cy Young winner whose 20 wins and league-leading 215 innings looked good to more traditional voters.

DeGrom was consistently dominant, with a consecutive quality start streak unseen since Bob Gibson’s legendary 1968 season, when he won Cy Young and MVP honors. His 1.70 ERA in the full season is crazy enough, but when you consider that after 4 just decent starts to start the year he didn’t allow more than 3 runs in any of his 28 remaining starts, putting up a 1.50 ERA in nearly the full season is flat out insane. That he collected an 8-9 record, and the Mets went 11-17 overall in those games, is even wilder. Between deGrom, Zach Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard the Mets had a great rotation with no offense to support them. The voters correctly didn’t care about wins and losses and awarded the best pitcher the award. Scherzer was the two-time reigning Cy Young winner for the NL, after having won one in the AL in 2013 with the Tigers, and once again led the league in strikeouts, along with wins and innings pitched. It was enough to put him ahead of Nola, who advanced metrics say was better, but he still fell way behind deGrom. Nola was the breakout player here, putting up an ERA more than a full run lower than his previous best while also pitching over 40 more innings than ever before in his career. Baseball-Reference’s WAR calculation loved him, putting him ahead of deGrom, while the other common supplier of a WAR statistic with a different calculation, FanGraphs, was less high on him (giving him 5.4 WAR compared to deGrom’s 9.0).

Rookie of the Year

American League: Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels

Other finalists: Miguel Andújar, New York Yankees; Gleyber Torres, New York Yankees

National League: Ronald Acuña Jr., Atlanta Braves

Other finalists: Juan Soto, Washingon Nationals; Walker Buehler, Los Angeles Dodgers

Ohtani became the first player since Babe Ruth to be a regular two-way player. He was a sensation, and he was sensational. An injury in his throwing elbow that required Tommy John surgery this offseason limited his pitching, which was believed to be better than his hitting when he came over from Japan, but that allowed him to hit in more games than previously planned, getting over 350 plate appearances and hitting 22 home runs with a .925 OPS, while he had posted a 3.31 ERA in 10 starts on the mound before his injury. Torres and Andújar were the first rookie teammates to both hit at least 20 home runs in a decade, as the last time it happened was 2008 when Jay Bruce hit 21 and Joey Votto hit 24 for the Reds. Andújar had a .855 OPS but very poor defense at third base, while Torres had a .820 OPS with decent defense in the middle infield, primarily second base.

Acuña and Soto engaged in one of the most intense Rookie of the Year races in recent memory. In a normal year, Soto’s great hitting line (.292/.406/.517) with 22 home runs and 79 walks in just 116 games would be enough to win the award, but Acuña’s somewhat similar .293/.366/.552 line with 26 home runs and 16 stolen bases (along with a bit better defensive metrics in left field) in 111 games was so spectacular that he captured 27 of the 30 first-place votes. Buehler was very good as well, but was overshadowed by the younger outfielders in the East until the playoffs when his Dodgers made the World Series and he became more of a household name when he pitched 7 shutout innings in game 3 against the Red Sox, which ended up going 18 innings before Max Muncy walked it off for the Dodgers with a home run in the bottom of the 18th. That occurred after award voting was already over, so his 2.62 ERA over 23 starts was overlooked for the more heralded prospects.

Manager of the Year

American League: Bob Melvin, Oakland Athletics

Other finalists: Alex Cora, Boston Red Sox; Kevin Cash, Tampa Bay Rays

National League: Brian Snitker, Atlanta Braves

Other finalists: Craig Counsell, Milwaukee Brewers; Bud Black, Colorado Rockies

Melvin and Snitker beat out their younger contemporaries who led teams that more people expected to be good. Melvin’s A’s went 97-65 which only earned them the second Wild Card spot in the loaded top of the AL, and despite losing to the Yankees in the Wild Card game the BBWAA still recognized Melvin as the league’s top manager as most people thought that the A’s wouldn’t be competing for the playoffs, thinking the Mariners had a better shot in their division. Snitker’s “Baby Braves” were far ahead of schedule in their rebuilding effort, while people still thought they were a year or two away and that the NL East was the Nationals’ to lose until the Braves and Phillies both charged ahead as the Braves led the Phillies by 2 games and the Nationals by 7.5 heading into September. The Phillies fell off, but the Braves stayed steady in September to win the division by 8 games en route to their first postseason appearance since 2013, when they also lost in the divisional series to the Dodgers.

Gold Gloves (Career GG)

American League:

Pitcher: Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros (4). Catcher: Salvador Pérez, Kansas City Royals (5). First Base: Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics (1). Second Base: Ian Kinsler, Los Angeles Angels/Boston Red Sox (2). Third Base: Matt Chapman, Oakland Athletics (1). Shortstop: Andrelton Simmons, Los Angeles Angels (4). Outfield: Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals (6); Jackie Bradley Jr., Boston Red Sox (1); Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox (3).

National League:

Pitcher: Zack Greinke, Arizona Diamondbacks (5). Catcher: Yadier Molina, St Louis Cardinals (9). First Base (tie): Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves (1); Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs (2). Second Base: DJ LeMahieu, Colorado Rockies (3). Third Base: Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies (6). Shortstop: Nick Ahmed, Arizona Diamondbacks (1). Outfield: Nick Markakis, Atlanta Braves (3); Corey Dickerson, Pittsburgh Pirates (1); Ender Inciarte, Atlanta Braves (3).

There were more repeat winners (7: Simmons, Gordon, Betts, Greinke, LeMahieu, Arenado, Inciarte) than first-time winners (6) with 5 others returning to the top of their position in fielding after not being recognized at least in 2017. Molina and Perez returned to the Gold Glove award as two of three players active in 2018 with multiple Gold Gloves at catcher (along with Joe Mauer, who was no longer catching). Arenado won his 6th Gold Glove in the 6th season of his career, while Greinke won his 5th consecutive Gold Glove after not winning any in the first 10 seasons of his career.

Silver Sluggers (Career SS)

American League:

Catcher: Salvador Pérez, Kansas City Royals (2). First Base: José Abreu, Chicago White Sox (2). Second Base: José Altuve, Houston Astros (5). Third Base: José Ramírez, Cleveland Indians (2). Shortstop: Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians (2). Outfield: JD Martinez, Boston Red Sox (2); Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels (6); Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox (2). Designated Hitter: JD Martinez, Boston Red Sox (3).

National League:

Catcher: JT Realmuto, Miami Marlins (1). First Base: Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks (4). Second Base: Javier Báez, Chicago Cubs (1). Third Base: Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies (4). Shortstop: Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies (1). Outfield: Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers (2); Nick Markakis, Atlanta Braves (1); David Peralta, Arizona Diamondbacks (1). Pitcher: German Márquez, Colorado Rockies (1).

JD Martinez was the first player to ever win 2 Silver Sluggers in one year, something that it’s not clear why it’s allowed. Paul Goldschmidt tied Todd Helton and Albert Pujols for the most career Silver Sluggers at first base with 4 (Silver Sluggers have only been given out since 1980), and then found himself traded that offseason to the Cardinals, where Pujols started his career and won all 6 of his Silver Sluggers so far (he won one each at third base and outfield early in his career before moving to first base). Arenado had yet to hit his 28th birthday and was already tied for 4th all-time in Gold Gloves at third base and tied for 3rd all-time in Silver Sluggers at the position. We obviously don’t yet know how he’ll end his career, but it’s one of the most prolific starts to a career at the hot corner the league has ever seen. Hopefully Coors Field hate doesn’t hurt his Hall of Fame chances like it has for so many other Rockies players.

Playoffs

Wild Card games

AL: New York Yankees over Oakland Athletics, 7-2

NL: Colorado Rockies over Chicago Cubs, 2-1

The game at Wrigley going into extra innings was the first Wild Card game to do so since 2016 when the Blue Jays beat the Orioles on Edwin Encarnación’s walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th in the Rogers Center. This game would see no such walk-off, as Trevor Story would score off of Tony Wolters’ single in the top of the 13th, and Scott Oberg struck out all 4 batters he faced, starting with Kris Bryant in the 12th, and the Rockies got the job done. The Yankees had a bit of an easier time with the A’s, as an Aaron Judge 2-run home run in the bottom of the 1st gave them an early advantage, and while Luis Severino was near unhittable on the mound, the Yankees tacked on 4 more in the bottom of the 6th before the A’s had scored, and they moved on to the divisional round.

Divisional Round

AL: Boston Red Sox over New York Yankees, 3-1; Houston Astros over Cleveland Indians, 3-0

NL: Los Angeles Dodgers over Atlanta Braves, 3-1; Milwaukee Brewers over Colorado Rockies, 3-0

No winning team had too much trouble in the divisional round, with the Dodgers and Brewers having two shutout wins apiece, and the Astros and Red Sox both scoring more than 10 runs in their game 3 wins. The Red Sox had the toughest time, which makes sense when you consider they were facing a Yankees team that had just won 100 games, from Aaron Judge leading off the ninth inning of game 1 with a home run shrinking the Sox’s lead to 1, to game 4 when the Red Sox took a 3-run lead into the bottom of the ninth only to watch Craig Kimbrel load the bases and then hit Neil Walker to bring in a run followed by a sac fly by Gary Sanchez to bring it to within 1 with the tying and winning runs on the bases before Gleyber Torres grounded to third to end the series.

Championship Series

AL: Boston Red Sox over Houston Astros, 4-1

NL: Los Angeles Dodgers over Milwaukee Brewers, 4-3

The Astros took game one while the Red Sox had just three hits, then the Sox’s bats woke up and they made quick work of Houston from there. Jackie Bradley Jr. earned ALCS MVP honors with a bases-clearing double in game 2 that gave the Sox the lead, a grand slam in game 3 that provided Boston insurance runs, and a two-run home run in game 4, which the Red Sox won by 2. On the NL side, though, there was plenty of drama. 3 1-run games, including a 13th inning walk-off by the Dodgers in game 4, and the two greatest words in sports: game 7. The Brewers struck when NL MVP Christian Yelich hit a solo homer in the bottom of the first, but Jhoulys Chacin allowed a 2-run shot by Cody Bellinger, on his way to NLCS MVP honors, in the top of the second, and later Yasiel Puig would add insurance with a three-run blast in the sixth, and the Dodgers were on to their second World Series appearance in as many years.

World Series: Boston Red Sox over Los Angeles Dodgers, 4-1

MVP: Steve Pearce

The Red Sox tagged Clayton Kershaw for 5 runs in an 8-4 win in game one at Fenway Park, with Eduardo Nuñez smacking a pinch-hit 3-run home run in the bottom of the seventh to all but put the game away. In game two, the Red Sox put together a string of singles and walks to push across 3 runs in the bottom of the fifth to take a 4-2 lead, then the bullpen combined to throw 3 perfect innings to close it out. Game three was the pitching duel for the ages, going 18 innings and lasting over 7 hours, not ending until after 3 a.m. local time, 6 a.m. Eastern Time. It started with Dodgers rookie Walker Buehler pitching an absolute gem, throwing 7 scoreless innings while allowing just 2 hits and striking out 7 without a walk. Both teams pushed across a run in the 13th, and Nathan Eovaldi battled the Dodgers’ bullpen through the 17th, at which point Eovaldi had gone 6 innings allowing just the unearned run in the 13th. Then Max Muncy mercifully ended the game with a walk-off homer to lead off the 18th. Less than 17 hours later, they started game 4 with 5 scoreless innings for both sides. The Dodgers got 4 runs in the bottom of the 6th, and the Sox had tied it heading into the ninth when they scored 5 runs off of Dylan Floro, Alex Wood, and Kenta Maeda. Craig Kimbrel allowed 2 runs in the bottom half, but Boston held on for the win. Clayton Kershaw once again struggled in game 5, allowing home runs to Steve Pearce, Mookie Betts, and JD Martinez, while David Price shook off his long-documented struggle in the playoffs to go 7 innings allowing just one run. Pearce would hit another home run as insurance in the eighth inning en route to World Series MVP honors, one of the strangest stories for a player to win that award, as he has never had more than 400 plate appearances in a season, and in 2018 he started with Toronto and only totaled 251 PA’s and was barely talked about, as it’s easy to be overlooked on a lineup featuring Betts, Martinez, and Xander Bogaerts, among others.

Unusual notes

This is where we get away from the actual historical importance of a season and get to the fun of sports fandom. The wacky plays, the unusual players, the unexpected happenings of a long season. One year wonders and unheralded debuts for players that ended up as superstars (that might happen when we get further in the past, not so much in 2018).

Old first-time All-Stars

Shin-Soo Choo (35) parlayed a Rangers franchise record 52-game on-base streak to his first ever All-Star nod. He then struggled down the stretch, hitting .217 with 30 walks and 3 home runs after the break compared to .293 with 62 walks and 18 home runs in the first “half” of the season (he played 90 of 145 games before the All-Star break). JA Happ (35) represented Toronto in the All-Star game more because he was very good in 2016-17 than what he was doing in 2018 for the Jays, then he was traded to the Yankees and took off down the stretch. He got smacked around for 5 runs in 2 innings against Boston in the ALDS and doesn’t look great so far in 2019. Jed Lowrie (34) hit a career-high 23 home runs and drove in a career-high 99 runs for the surprise A’s who earned a Wild Card spot in the AL playoffs and was rewarded with his first All-Star berth. He has been injured and hasn’t played yet in 2019, and at 35 we may have seen the best of Lowrie in the past. Nick Markakis (34) has long been good, not great in right field for first the Orioles and then the Braves, winning 2 Gold Gloves but never receiving an invite to the mid-Summer classic. In 2018, he worked a .905 OPS through the end of May (that was still .883 by the end of June) with a surprisingly good start for the Braves to an NL All-Star team roster spot. Charlie Morton (34) owned a 4.54 career ERA and was often injured, logging 25 or more starts just twice in his first nine seasons when Houston signed him before the 2017 season. He pitched well in 2017, had a good showing in the World Series win, and then posted the lowest ERA in his career in his first 30-start season and earned his first All-Star appearance as a result. These four, along with other players who made their first All-Star appearance at 30 or older such as Yan Gomes and Jeremy Jeffress was an odd occurrence.

Jeremy Jeffress and the Brewers

We’ve all seen on again-off again couples. Some of those are a product of high school, but some are carried out by adults. Jeremy Jeffress was drafted by the Brewers 16th overall back in 2006, and he made his way up Milwaukee’s minor league to debut with the Brew Crew in September 2010. That offseason, he was traded (along with another 2018 Brewer in Lorenzo Cain) to Kansas City as part of a deal centered on Zack Greinke going to Milwaukee. When Toronto gave up on him, releasing him in April 2014, he was picked up by Milwaukee and he pitched the rest of that season with a sub-2 ERA. After one and a half more seasons of very good relief work, the Brewers shipped him to Texas with Jonathon Lucroy for prospects Lewis Brinson (later used in the Yelich trade), Luis Ortiz (sent to Baltimore as part of the deal for Jonathan Schoop at the trade deadline in 2018), and Ryan Cordell (traded for Anthony Swarzak in 2017). After struggling in the early part of 2017, the Rangers traded him back to Milwaukee for just Tayler Scott, a pitcher who turns 27 in 2019 and has yet to appear in the majors. Upon his return, for now his third stint in Milwaukee, Jeffress continued his career trend of being good for Milwaukee and bad for anyone else, posting a 1.29 ERA in 73 relief appearances and earning his first All-Star nod in 2018. He has a team option in 2020 and he probably hopes to stick around long-term in Milwaukee based on how his career has gone thus far.

The year of the strikeout

Entering 2018, there had never been a calendar month in which the MLB as a whole had recorded more strikeouts than hits. That changed in April, when the league’s 6,656 strikeouts outpaced the 6360 hits in the majors. In June, it happened again when the league saw 136 more strikeouts than hits. The hitters had pulled slightly ahead overall on the season, however, until the pitchers piled up 436 more strikeouts than hits. The season totals ended up at 41,207 K’s to 41,020 hits, or 187 more strikeouts than hits for an entire season, when nothing like that had happened in even a month before. The league has set a new record for most strikeouts in a season every year from 2008-2018, and it’s a trend that looks like it may very well continue.

Repeat World Series loser

There are plenty of times that teams go to back-to-back World Series. But usually, that’s a sign of a great team and they win at least one of them. Counting runs (like the Yankees’ 4 in a row from ’98-’01) as just one, there have been 14 back-to-back World Series appearances in the last 50 years. 4 of them have been back-to-back losses, and the Dodgers are 2 of those 4, doing so in ’77 and ’78 (both to the Yankees), and then again 40 years later in repeat losses to the Astros and Red Sox. To be fair, the World Series winning streak isn’t common either, other than in the ’70s when the A’s won 3 in a row from ’72-’74, the Reds won in ’75 and ’76, and the Yankees captured the ’77 and ’78 titles. Since then, only the Blue Jays (’92 and ’93) and Yankees (1998-2000) have won back-to-back titles. Many repeat teams have won and lost in their runs, like the Royals losing in 2014 before winning the next year, or the Phillies making it to the World Series in their title-defending 2009 season before falling to the Yankees. The Orioles and A’s have both had loss-win-loss stretches, the O’s from ’69-’71 and the A’s from ’88-’90. The only repeat World Series losers in the last 50 years other than the Dodgers are the Rangers in 2010 and 2011, and the Braves in 1991 and 1992.

Repeat All-Star starting pitchers

Not only has Chris Sale been the AL starting pitcher in the All-Star game 3 years in a row, but now twice in a row he’s gone against Max Scherzer of the Nationals. The former division rivals (Sale with the White Sox, Scherzer with the Tigers) are the first pitchers to start back-to-back All-Star games individually since Randy Johnson was the NL starter in 2000 and ’01, and the first two to face each other consecutively since Red Ruffing and Paul Derringer back in 1939 and ’40, the only other combo to ever do it. Robin Roberts and Billy Pierce facing off in ’53 and ’55 was the closest we had come to it happening again until 2018.

 

There will surely be more things from 2018 that the future will look back on as odd. Someone who played really well in 2018 will come crashing down, or someone who hasn’t been good will turn a corner and people will wonder how they were that bad at some point in their career. But only months removed from that season, we don’t have the benefit of time to tell us all the answers for what breakouts were real and what was just a random blip on a stat sheet. But now, we think of the great players from 2018 as current great players, not people we expect to have their careers go haywire. So, to the 2018 MLB champion Boston Red Sox, congratulations. To the MLB in 2018, thanks for being weird.

Up next: Houston Astros, 2017 World Series Champions

Stats and info courtesy of Baseball Reference and Baseball Almanac.

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