The other day, I heard a caller on "Felger and Mazz," the show otherwise known in some media board rooms as the "Oh, [bleep] what are we going to do?" program, propose the notion that the 2011 Red Sox were going to challenge the 2001 Seattle Mariners' Major League Baseball regular season record of 116 wins. And, not to get all valley girl on you here, but I was like, "for real?"
Never mind the fact that that Mariners team won exactly 112 games fewer in the postseason that it did in the regular season, let's not forget that 2001 was the first year of Bud Selig's
quest to squeeze as much money out of the Red Sox and Yankees unbalanced schedule, and the Mariners were the immediate beneficiaries of playing the Angels and Rangers 19 and 20 times, respectively, that year. Seattle went 30-9 against those two clubs, just 10-9 against fellow 100-game winner Oakland.
The last year the Red Sox made the playoffs, in 2009, they went 29-25 against AL East teams not hailing from the Clipper City. Last year, including the Orioles, who some zany folks think enter 2011 as a vastly improved team, the Sox went 37-35 against divisional opponents.
In the AL East, winning 100 games, the number being bandied about with confidence by Red Sox fans and media, isn't exactly like doing it in the 2001 AL West. The 2009 Yankees were the last team to do so in large part thanks to their 25-9 combined mark against the Blue Jays and Orioles, not to mention the 7-0 mark against the Twins. So, it can be done. But the question lingers, just how much better are these Red Sox?
I mean, I know we all want to fast-forward to the parade in October, but in no particular order, here are the players I have questions about: Jarod Saltalamacchia, Jaboby Ellsbury, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, and Daisuke Matsuzaka, not mention the aging David Ortiz and JD Drew. The entire infield, sans the starting catcher (starting catcher) is coming off a season with some sort of injury or boo-boo, and are we clear that the guy behind the plate has miraculously cured his yips?
Despite Lackey's apparent belief that he should have won the Cy Young Award last season (it's always an confidence-booster when a guy comes into spring training boasting that he's only won 19 games once in his career. That's $18.7 million well spent) the one-two punch of him and the injured Beckett never materialized. Thankfully, the one-two punch of Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz did emerge which is where the starting rotation begins nicely. But how it will end is a question nobody can answer except with the definitive that they will be five-hour, maddening performances by the No. 5 guy.
The closer doesn't scare me, because this is the moment free agent-to-be Jonathan Papelbon has waited for; not of course, the chance to play on a team of this caliber, but the opportunity to break the bank and set the market, his career-long dream. Love the bullpen behind him, and can't wait for the first BBWAA member to insist Daniel Bard isn't ready to close. I think the outfield can be among the best defensively we've ever seen, as long as Ellsbury's ribs or feelings - whichever comes first -don't get hurt too repeatedly.
For what it's worth, PECOTA has the Sox winning the division. With 92 wins. Computers, right? First they kick our minds to the curb in games shows, now they're killing the buzz of the century club boosters. On that note, Theo Epstein is totally right in trying to cool the jets with his annual "95 wins is our goal" mantra. I mean, the way you hear people talk, anything less than a 100-win season is a disappointment. I know ownership won't have a "First 100-win season since 1946" T-shirt to hang in the souvenir shop next to the Liverpool garb, but sorry.
Only in Boston could a team potentially win 95-97 games, maybe win the World Series, and I guarantee you some will look at the end result and say, "Yeah, but they didn't win 100, bro." Because Terry Francona shouldn't start resting players for the playoffs if they've clinched with only 94 wins. Right, bro.
The goal is at the end of October. Whatever number comes before that is inconsequential as soon as the playoffs roll around. Ninety-five, 100, 117, who really cares? If they win 100 in the process, great. If they don't and make the playoffs, oh well. The only number that really matters comes the fall: 11. So, newspaper and web editors already preparing the "X wins until 100" graphics, stop it now.