Wednesday night had been set aside for a prospective Game 7 at Fenway Park against the Dodgers — but instead the Red Sox spent the early part of that day dodging beer cans from their perches atop duck boats as they rolled slowly through Boston.
October’s tour de force made its final stop at City Hall Plaza before baseball’s most hallowed month had even finished, a fitting conclusion for a team that appeared to be on a mission from the moment it reported to Fort Myers late last winter. They were the big leagues’ best from start to finish, and at basically every benchmark in between, and along the journey the contributions from up and down all over a motivated roster.
To that point, below are the final power rankings for the 2018 season — and the stars of a no-prisoners postseason primarily appear in the neighborhood of Nos. 9-14. That’s at once a testament to the emergence of an unexpected cast of heroes that ascended during the playoffs, and at the same time a credit to the undeniable, enduring greatness turned in by the club’s core over the course of a 108-win regular campaign that belongs among the best of all time.
Taking into account all 176 games, here are the rankings:
T30. Carson Smith, Tyler Thornburg, Dustin Pedroia, Hanley Ramirez: When the season began, there were expectations that all four of these veterans would at some point play a role of some prominence. They’ll all presumably receive championship rings because they did all play at some point, but that jewelry will be only a testament to the teammates who stepped into their spots and thrived.
29. Drew Pomeranz: A year after winning 17 games with the AL’s seventh-best ERA, he finished with a 6.08 ERA, lost his spot in the rotation after 11 starts, and couldn’t be trusted to pitch in the playoffs unless a game went 19 innings. A disappointing year for the now-free agent.
28. Ian Kinsler: Acquired on July 30, he was on his way to a great start in Boston until it was beset by a hamstring injury. He never made much of an impact from there, looked lost at the plate throughout the playoffs, and made an error when the Sox had a chance to win Game 4 of the World Series. He’s been a good player for a long time, but he wasn’t very good in Boston.
27. Hector Velazquez: Eight spot starts, 47 appearances, a 7-2 record with a 3.18 ERA. Those are good numbers for a pitcher at the bottom of the roster who simply needs to be ready and reliable.
26. Blake Swihart: Although he was out of options, the Sox were unwilling to give him away for nothing (or even less than their perceived value), so he stuck with the big club all year and wound up in 82 games at six defensive positions plus DH. The only time he had a defined role was when he became the backup catcher, and he was passable during that time. Still, his biggest contribution was probably his presence in the playoffs, which allowed Boston to pinch hit more liberally for its starting backstop.
25. Brian Johnson: He was essentially the left-handed version of Velazquez, except with more opportunities to start and slightly more exposed numbers. Still, he earned his ring even without making the postseason roster.
24. Steven Wright: He looked like a potential weapon out of the bullpen as late as the morning of the ALDS opener, but Wright’s postseason hopes, like most of his season, was spoiled by a bad knee. When he pitches, he continues to prove himself productive. The question now, at 33, is how much longer he’ll be able to pitch.
23. Brandon Workman: Five years later, he’s wearing another ring, but Workman never seized his opportunities enough to reprise the prominent role he played en route to Boston’s 2013 title. He was helpful in stretches during the regular season, but seemed to always come a little short of fully earning Alex Cora’s trust.
22. Heath Hembree: From May through July, the righty inherited 19 baserunners and stranded them all by holding opponents to a .217 average over 32 innings. He’d seemed to carve out a nice niche for himself in the middle innings, but then his ERA ballooned to 6.46, and he led nine of 17 inherited runners score over the rest of the season. With that, his role decreased steadily.
21. Eduardo Nunez: Per Baseball-Reference’s WAR stat, Nunez was the Red Sox’ least valuable player this season, costing Boston 1.1 wins in the regular season. He wasn’t. From the start of the year, he looked hampered by a leg injury, yet still made his way into 127 games, played at least 45 games at two positions, and had a few timely hits.
20. Christian Vazquez: At 27 and contractually anointed the future at catcher for the Sox, he took a step backward. His bat wasn’t what it was in 2017, and his defense looked lazy at times. Still, he won back the starting role in the postseason (after a pinky injury threatened him even having a roster spot), and he made an impact in the playoffs both offensively and defensively. Everything just needs to be more consistent moving forward.
19. Sandy Leon: Between July 2 and August 14, the Red Sox went from tied atop the American League East to a 10-game lead. Over that decisive stretch, Leon played in 30 of 36 games, and the Sox went 28-2 in those contests. WAR calculations suggest he was a detraction for Boston this season. Good luck convincing the pitching staff of that.
18. Mitch Moreland: On his way to the All-Star game, Moreland had a 1.000 OPS as late as June 5. Then he hit a game-turning, series-tilting three-run homer in Game 4 at Dodger Stadium. In between, he hit five homers in more than 300 plate appearances, and his OPS finished lower than it was in 2017, but the beginning and end of the year might not have turned out how they did without Moreland’s contributions.
17. Eduardo Rodriguez: The southpaw hadn’t allowed a run in 17 July innings when he injured his ankle covering first base on July 14, and the Rodriguez who was shaping up to be Boston’s No. 2 starter in the postseason didn’t really reemerge until Game 4 of the World Series. The hope between then was that even if he couldn’t earn a start, he had the stuff to be a weapon in relief, but that never consistently materialized, either. He is tantalizing and frustrating, but he’s 25 and under team control for three more seasons, so he remains a significant asset.
16. Brock Holt: Holt’s value is so often associated with his ability to play multiple positions, it can sometimes be understated how tough he is on opposing pitchers. He finished a fifth straight season averaging more than four pitches per plate appearance, and this year he did so with a .362 on-base percentage and seven home runs. Even against lefties, he can give the Sox a good at-bat, and do so with a flair for the dramatic, too.
15. Rafael Devers: The season exposed the flaws in his game and in his swing, those being inconsistent defense and a propensity to chase the high pitch. But given that Devers turned 22 on the opening night of the World Series, those are an acceptable tradeoff for 21 homers and a knack for rising to the moment in October when it matters. Next year — if he learns the lessons of this year — could be when he makes his true star turn.
14. Jackie Bradley Jr.: He saved more runs than any outfielder in the majors, he posted an .827 OPS in the second half, and he had the three biggest hits in the ALCS. He’s not the complete player that some of his teammates are, and the slumps can be brutal, but by and large, he’s part of the core.
13. Joe Kelly: The righty had three months this season — June, July, and September — when he made at least a dozen appearances and finished with an ERA of 8.31 or worse. No matter. All that’ll be remembered is that in October his ERA was 0.79, and that he pitched in all five World Series games, totaling six innings, with no runs, no walks, four hits, and 10 strikeouts.
12. Steve Pearce: Brought in to mash lefties, he hit .304 with a .959 against southpaws to fill a need for the post-Ramirez Red Sox. Oh, and he won the World Series MVP, too. Eight RBIs in a five-game set is remarkable. So is drawing nine walks in 47 playoff plate appearances.
11. Ryan Brasier: The deficiencies of Smith and Thornburg, as well as the struggles of Kelly, could’ve all been killers had it not been for Brasier. Not only did the Sox sign him off the Japanese scrap heap, but in a credit to him, he thrust himself onto the radar by dominating in the closer’s role at Triple-A. He became a critical piece in Boston by posting 29 strikeouts compared to 26 baserunners in his 33.2 innings.
10. Matt Barnes: Limited by injury, the righty faced only 68 batters in August and September, and it didn’t go well. His ERA was 6.41 post-All-Star break, after it was 2.36 before it. But perhaps that was a blessing. Maybe fresher because of the time off, Barnes allowed just a run in 10 postseason appearances, and that was the result of a solo homer. He inherited nine runners, but allowed just two to score, and pitched everywhere between the fifth and eighth innings. After bringing consistency to the seventh- and eighth-inning roles when the Sox needed it in the middle of the year, in October his readiness proved a weapon, too.
9. Nathan Eovaldi: He was arguably the most valuable contributor to the Red Sox postseason run even before he threw 97 pitches over six-plus innings of relief in Game 3 of the World Series. Eovaldi was excellent in two starts with the AL series tied at 1-1, and surrendered just a lone single while making three eighth-inning relief appearances that required him to record 10 outs against the Astros and Dodgers. Without him, there could easily have been two enormous holes in Boston’s playoff roster. And in terms of getting paid, his timing couldn’t be better.
8. Rick Porcello: As he gets set to turn 30, the 10-year big-league veteran seems to have become a guy whose value to a team exceeds the raw numbers. Those are fine — he went 17-7 with a 1.18 WHIP — though he appears to have embraced the pressures of playing in Boston and to have become an accountable, willing leader.
7. Craig Kimbrel: The righty saved 42 of Boston’s 108 wins, and the Sox won anyway in two of the five save opportunities he blew. Of his 63 appearances, he made 25 without allowing a baserunner, and in 62.1 innings he yielded just 31 hits. But he also issued 31 walks, which was a harbinger of a postseason in which he walked eight and hit two more over 10.2 innings of work. Without him, the Sox bullpen would’ve been an absolute mess for most of 2018. But that’s not to say it can’t survive without him in 2019.
6. Andrew Benintendi: From June 22 through the end of the season, Benintendi hit .288 with a .354 OBP, but over those final 338 regular-season plate appearances, he slugged just three home runs. He went homerless in 61 more trips during the postseason. An .830 OPS is good, his 41 doubles ranked 15th in baseball, and his 103 runs scored ranked sixth in the AL. He had a good year; if his power comes back, the next could be a great one.
5. Xander Bogaerts: Cleveland’s Franciso Lindor spent the summer asserting himself as the best shortstop in baseball, but by the end of the campaign, Bogaerts and his .883 had edged ahead of Lindor’s .871. The Indians’ anchor still gets the overall edge because his defense, but Bogaerts is pretty good there, too, having become extremely dependable while also mastering the Jeter-esque jump throw. Suffice it to say, .288 with 23 homers, 45 doubles, and 103 RBIs is right where Sox fans expected he’d be when they long ago envisioned him as their star franchise shortstop.
4. Chris Sale: It was said in this space at times throughout the summer that Sale was the single most important piece of the Red Sox’ puzzle because it was difficult to envision Boston being able to hang in October without him. Well, they did just that. Yes, he pitched. Three starts and two relief appearances — but Sale wasn’t the Sale of the summer, or the indomitable ace that some thought they’d need, and he was essentially a non-factor for the final third of the record-setting regular season. That considered, before that he was the best pitcher in the game, a tone-setter each time through, and worth 6.9 WAR even without pitching enough to qualify for the ERA crown.
3. David Price: Sale pitched a total of six innings between July 28 and Sept. 15. With a sudden void in the ace’s role, Price made eight starts, with a 1.75 ERA, a .189 opponents’ batting average, a 0.84 WHIP, and the team went 7-1. In the ALCS and World Series, Sale was unavailable again, and Price made two starts on three days of rest, totaling 13 innings with one run, eight baserunners, and 14 strikeouts. If it hadn’t been for Price, Sale’s absence might have been the subject of much lament last month — and there very well might not have been a parade on Wednesday.
2. J.D. Martinez: September was his worst month of the regular season: he hit .312 with a .391 OBP, .898 OPS, four homers, and 16 RBIs. He then had what was described as a relatively quiet October: he hit .300 with a .403 OBP, .923 OPS, and three homers with 14 RBIs in 14 games. From start to finish, it was a ridiculously consistent season for what is quickly claiming space on the short list of best free-agent signings in Red Sox history.
1. Mookie Betts: It will be a blatant injustice if there isn’t an MVP award on Betts’ resume by the evening of Nov. 15, considering he was worth nearly 11 wins above replacement — and that calculation places as the second-most valuable hitter and sixth-most valuable defender in the American League. He did everything, whether in right field or the leadoff spot, flexing all five of his tools as the best player in the best season in Red Sox history.