Wait Till Last Year? A Strong Red Sox Team Toils in 2018’s Shadow

When the rotation struggled early, it exposed Boston’s bullpen, which lost Joe Kelly and Craig Kimbrel to free agency. Eovaldi needed elbow surgery in April, but now he is back in a bullpen role, with Cashner — acquired from Baltimore this month for two low-level minor leaguers — in the rotation.

The Red Sox’ relievers had a 4.56 earned run average through Thursday, the worst among A.L. contenders. But with Matt Barnes and Brandon Workman, Cora has reliable veteran options to go with Eovaldi. Cora has been careful not to designate a closer, but Eovaldi should get his chances.

“More winning is going to bring more Nate for us,” Cora said.

Re-signing Eovaldi (four years, $68 million) seemed like an emotional decision, a reward for his extraordinary effort in Game 3 of the World Series: With only one day’s rest, he fired 97 pitches at the end of an 18-inning loss at Dodger Stadium. The Red Sox have been leery of adding much more to their major-league-high payroll (roughly $240 million), and with the Cashner deal, they might have already made their biggest move before Wednesday’s trading deadline.

As this series began, at least, the Red Sox were still considering all options — even trading veterans to build a stronger long-term foundation. Since John Henry bought the team in 2002, the Red Sox have not been afraid of selling at the deadline. Doing so in 2012 and 2014 helped set them up for their last two championships.

Yet those teams were below .500 when they started to deal. These Red Sox are well over that mark, their offense is still thunderous, and their pitching may be finding a groove. That is reason enough to be hopeful. Perhaps even enough to become the first repeat World Series champions since the 2000 Yankees.

“We know we have a winning baseball team,” Price said. “We haven’t had that really successful 15- or 20-game stretch like we all expect to have. For us to be where we are in the standings, our best days are still ahead of us, and that’s good. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, and the teams that are playing the best heading into October are generally the ones that last longest.”

The Red Sox traveled a path of rose petals to the last World Series, and this year’s trail has been thorny. But they might as well see where it leads.

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