Well, it's official.
We may still be 30 hours from CJ Wilson's first pitch of the season tomorrow in Texas, but it's no matter. According to the Boston Herald, the Red Sox are the Best. Team. Ever.
Anything less than a 102-win season from these revamped Nielsen boys should mean Terry Francona's job. After all, Red Sox ownership went "all in" this offseason with the expressed intent to bring the World Series trophy back to Boston for a third time since 2004. Every preseason prediction roundup has them as the darling pick to win it all. And why not? The Red Sox are loaded at every position - except, perhaps, catcher, shortstop, and right field -and have the best rotation in all of baseball - except for, perhaps, Tampa, San Francisco, and Philadelphia.
Best team eva.
The hubris surrounding this Red Sox season is unlike anything I've ever witnessed. An offseason that began with Sox owners buying a soccer team quickly spiraled into an angst-ridden fan base concerned over the jettison of popular catcher Victor Martinez. Of course, the team then went and did its business, landing Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Dan Wheeler, and Bobby Jenks. Splash that, son.
Now, on the doorstep to Opening Day, we are finally past the "Can the Red Sox win 100 games?" conversation-starters. We'll finally get to watch Gonzalez pepper that wall. Soon enough, we'll see if Jarrod Saltalamacchia can handle the catching duties, and if Jonathan Papelbon was simply saving himself all spring so to be in tip-top shape for his free agent season. Can the Sox stay healthy? Will they sign Pedro Martinez for a mid-season run?
That's the fun about baseball, the day-to-day story lines that fill up the summer months. In no other sport do we analyze the standings as early in the season and fret about loss column deficits in May than we do with baseball. The campaign is an open novel ready to be written. And as with any good story, a cast of new characters always make their way into the party. The Rangers and Giants emerged last season, and assuredly one or two will surprise in 2011. (Toronto? Chicago (both)? Cleveland?) If baseball seasons played to presumptions, well, it would be the NBA.
As it pertains to the Red Sox, there has been such a preseason hype that the season will be viewed as an epic failure if they don't win the whole thing. What was once the unattainable dream is now a birthright. The team has been sold to everyone as world-beaters. And it very well may be. But with expectations at such a lofty measure, every little failure that makes up every baseball game of every season is going to be even more under the microscope. If the Sox lose in Texas tomorrow, it will make the 2007 opener seem like a Spinners loss in July. Forbid the team gets off to a slow start (Hello, 2010), what it will mean for ratings.
Because isn't that really what this is about? The Red Sox were losing their TV audience because these days it's greatly made up of fair-weathers who only watch when the team is "splashing." How on earth would the owners force-feed their shiny, new toy overseas when ratings were down? The Red Sox were in a pennant race most of last year, yet you couldn't tell via Nielsen. And let's face it, Boston sports fans should hope that the numbers in April and May continue to decline, because that means we're busy watching the Celtics and Bruins make postseason runs. Is that patience going to work with advertisers?
The Sox are re-loaded, but how much different are they really from last year? Instead of Adrian Beltre and Martinez, they have Gonzalez and Crawford. While Gonzalez is a perfect fit for this team and this ballpark, is Crawford? Or is he here mainly for flash and ratings?
The bullpen is vastly improved, but what are the Sox going to get out of John Lackey, Josh Beckett, and Daisuke Matsuzaka? Can the best team ever have a trio of erratic starters in its rotation?
The team won 89 games last season, so popular thought is that with the returning players and the additions, 100 is an easy goal. Then again, you could argue that Terry Francona's team over-achieved last year; that they were more an 80-win team based on the Triple-A roster that spent much of the summer at Fenway Park.
But that's not what we've been sold. And in the end, World Series win or not, that's really all that matters. Just remember that hype can be an evil component.
Favorites? Sure. Best team ever? Just...stop.