Sale: 'It's hard not to be optimistic about this team for a long time'
By Ian Browne
BOSTON -- The end of 2017 was abrupt and a bit painful for the Red Sox, with Monday's 5-4 loss to the Astros in Game 4 of the American League Division Series presented by Doosan coming after the club couldn't protect a one-run lead with six outs to go.
But the one thing that cushioned the blow is that Boston's roster is stacked with cornerstone pitchers and position players who are in their prime or younger.
Unlike last season, when the iconic David Ortiz retired, the Red Sox aren't in danger of losing any marquee players.
"I mean, if you look around here and look at the names, we have a lot of guys coming back," said ace Chris Sale. "A lot of the guys that carried this team are young guys that are going to be here for awhile. It's hard not to be optimistic about this team for a long time."
Sale and closer Craig Kimbrel will be back to lead the pitching staff, and both will be motivated to erase the sour taste of their roles in Monday's tough defeat. No. 2 starter David Price, who was limited to 11 starts this season due to multiple left elbow injuries, should be back in the rotation to start 2018.
Right fielder Mookie Betts, at 25 years old, is one of the finest all-around players in the game. He was far more poised in this postseason (.313 average, several brilliant plays in right field) then in his first one a year ago.
Rafael Devers, who filled the Red Sox with enthusiasm and big hits his first couple of months in the Major Leagues, will be 21 when next season starts.
"I would do this again with these guys in here," said Bogaerts. "Same exact group of guys, I would do it 100 percent."
As in any year, there will be some changes. First baseman Mitch Moreland, valuable utility infielder Eduardo Nunez, reserve outfielder Chris Young and setup man Addison Reed are all likely to head to free agency. But there should be many returning players from a team that won 93 games in each of the past two seasons while falling short in the Division Series both years.
"You win the division, that's -- I think -- a major accomplishment," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "We didn't meet all of our goals, that's obvious by the ending here today. But we have seen some really good young players continue to develop. We had a number of challenges thrown our way, from individual injuries to performance, but as a team, they stuck together.
"I know that we have got opportunity to assess where we are as a team. I can't begin to talk about what the offseason plans are and what the changes may be realized, but still there's a lot of good things that are going on here."
Farrell has another year left on his contract, and several players praised his leadership after Monday's loss.
"He's done a great job, and I know no manager has won back-to-back [division] titles [for the Red Sox], so it shows he's done a great job in managing personalities and put us in a position to win," said Betts. "He listens to us, and he talks with us."
If the Red Sox have an obvious need for 2018, it would probably be to add another slugger to the lineup. Predictably, Ortiz's shoes proved too big to be filled, and Boston's offense didn't produce at the same level as in '16.
"That's not on me," said Betts. "I only can control what I can control, and and I think everybody in the front office knows what it takes to win and I'll leave that in their hands."
After the sting of Monday's defeat wears off, the excitement will start to build for 2018.
"I mean, this is the second time in a row we won the AL East, so our goal will always be to win it again next year," said Bogaerts. "I know we will have a good team. The Red Sox will always have a good team, so it's nothing to doubt. Just looking forward to next year, I guess."
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.