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How similar are this year's Red Sox to franchise's past postseason teams?

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  September 18, 2013 11:10 AM

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It's happening, if not tonight then a night very soon. They're not going to find new ways to fall apart.

The 2013 Red Sox are headed to the postseason, and they'll arrive there as the American League East champions.

Don't worry about hanging the pennant before the Korbel has been sprayed. If you require a reminder that this is not September 2011 in any way, shape, or bearded form, then you haven't been paying attention.

Their story is yet to be told in full, of course. The chapters we will remember the most will be written in October. But they've already accomplished so much, including the rejuvenation of a fan-base that saw its majority check out last summer before the London Olympics were over.

It's a remarkable team, deep, proud, and accomplished, but devoid of marquee names that weren't already long familiar at Fenway. That's pretty atypical of a great Red Sox team.

Dan Shaughnessy's column a few days ago drew a direct line between the Impossible Dream of 1967 and ... well, I don't know, the Unexpectedly Dominant Mostly-Bearded Goofs of '13. (I know, not quite as catchy. I'll work on it.)

And it made me wonder: How does this Red Sox playoff team (all right, say "in waiting" if you wish) stack up to franchise's other playoff teams post-'67?

What follows is Part 1 of what I came up with -- a look at the Red Sox' seven playoff teams from 1975 to 1995.

Part 2, which includes the seven teams from 1998 and beyond, will run, well, sometime soon, depending upon when the Red Sox lock up the playoff berth formally.

* * *

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1975

Record: 95-65
Run differential Plus-87: 796 scored, 709 allowed.
Fate: Lost World Series to Reds, 4-3.

Similarities: Beat up on the Yankees, winning 11 of 16 ... Featured a deep rotation of Luis Tiant, Bill Lee, Rick Wise, Reggie Cleveland, with occasional starts from Rogelio Moret ... Got great production from several of unsung hitters. Cecil Cooper had an .899 OPS, Juan Beniquez hit .291, and Bernie Carbo had a 143 adjusted OPS.

Differences: Started slowly, going 7-9 in April ... Pulled away earlier than the current Sox, building their lead from 1 game to 9 from July 8-28. ... Used just 12 pitchers all season. This year's Sox have used 26 ... A crucial player, Carlton Fisk, was limited to just 71 games after breaking his arm. Good thing he returned in time for this.

Last word: It was, of course, the summer of the Gold Dust Twins, Jim Rice and MVP/Rookie of the Year Fred Lynn, who had a .967 OPS. What's forgotten is that there was also a sad farewell -- Tony Conigliaro, the cleanup hitter on Opening Day, abandoned his final comeback attempt after 21 games.

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1978

Record: 99-64
Run differential Plus-139: 796 scored, 657 allowed.
Fate: Lost one-game playoff to Yankees.

Similarities: A deep, balanced rotation. Dennis Eckersley, 23 and throwing pure cheese, won 20 games with a 2.98 ERA, a season Clay Buchholz might have had had he not missed three months ... Mike Torrez, Luis Tiant, Jim Wright, and Bill Lee all had an ERA below 3.60 ... In his MVP season, Jim Rice hit .315 with 46 homers, 139 RBIs, a .600 slugging percentage, 15 triples, and a 157 OPS. David Ortiz's OPS+ this season? It's 158.

Differences: There was no bench to speak of, which was part of their ultimate downfall (see: Goose Gossage vs. Bob Bailey). This year's Sox have 11 position players who have played at least 77 games. in '78, the only regular who didn't play at least 144 games was George Scott, who played 120. ... Bob Stanley was the type of bullpen workhorse that just doesn't exist nowadays, throwing 141.2 innings in 52 appearances (49 in relief) while compiling a 15-2 record ... John Farrell was an exceptional pitching coach before becoming a manager. Don Zimmer, at least according to Bill Lee, hated pitchers as a species because he was beaned and nearly killed during his playing days ... These Red Sox make pitchers work -- they've seen more than 1,000 pitches more than any other team in baseball. The '78 Red Sox had Rick Burleson (.295 OBP) and Jerry Remy (.321 OBP) hitting 1-2 ... 25 players, 25 cabs.

Last word: Yeah, yeah, I know they're not technically a playoff team. But they did win 99 games, a standard this Sox team has a shot at reaching.

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1986

Record: 95-66
Run differential Plus-98: 794 scored, 696 allowed.
Fate: Lost World Series to Mets, 4-3.

Similarities: The '86 Sox, like the current model, rocketed out of the gate, winning 32 of 47 games before June 1 ... After 15 starts, the Rocket himself, Roger Clemens, began his rapid ascent to greatness, going 14-0 with a 2.18 ERA. ... Amazingly, in 14 starts this season, Clay Buchholz is 11-0, 1.51 ... Bruce Hurst, age 28, 1986: 13-8, 2.99 ERA ... Jon Lester, age 29, 2013: 14-8, 3.81 ERA ... Rich Gedman, '86: .258 average, 13 homers, 63 RBIs, .739 OPS ... Jarrod Saltalamacchia, '13: .263/13/59/.785 ... Picking up former Cy Young winner is kinda like adding Tom Seaver, right? They did both come over from the White Sox ... You can go ahead and compare late-season Calvin Schiraldi (1.41 ERA, 51 innings, 36 hits, 55 Ks) to Koji Uehara if you want. Me, I'll stay right over here with my common sense.

Differences: The current Red Sox excel at working counts. But they had nothing like Wade Boggs at the height of his powers. In '86, he put up a .357/.453/.486 slash line with 207 hits, 105 walks, 47 doubles, and 44 strikeouts. The farther away we get from his prime, the more we have to appreciate how he was so far ahead of his time ... Current Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli has whiffed 178 times in 546 plate appearances. Bill Buckner, who manned the position in '86, struck out 25 times in 686 plate appearances ... John McNamara actually managed John Farrell with the 1990 Cleveland Indians. That and a first name are about the only things they have in common.

Last word: The '86 Sox actually pulled away in September, building their lead from 3.5 games on September 1 to 10 games on September 17. But I remember the turning point that season, the moment you realized, "Yep, this is real," as arriving much sooner. Specifically, it was when Joe Sambito, who was basically the same pitcher then as Matt Thornton is now, retired Don Mattingly and Dave Winfield with the bases loaded for the final two outs of a 7-6 win on June 17, improving the Sox' record to 42-21.


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1988

Record: 89-73
Run differential Plus-124: 813 scored, 689 allowed.
Fate: Lost American League Championship Series to A's, 4-0.

Similarities: If you didn't go for the Peavy/Seaver comparison, how about a Peavy/Mike Boddicker comp? The crafty righthander came over from Baltimore July 29 for prospects Brady Anderson and Curt Schilling, neither of whom ever went on to accomplish much in the sport. (Hey, it was how a trade is supposed to work). ... Class of '88 second baseman Jody Reed put up a .293/.380/.376 slash-line, not terribly different from Dustin Pedroia's .297/.372/.409 this year.

Differences: This year's Sox, save for a hiccup in early May, have been steadily excellent from the first pitch of the season. The '88 Sox? They're one of the great hot streak teams of all-time. The Red Sox won 12 in a row from July 15 to July 25 after Joe Morgan took over for surly John McNamara, and an incredible 24 in a row at Fenway from June 25 through August 13. ... The '88 Sox lacked the offensive depth of the '13 Sox, but they did receive exceptional offensive performances from AL MVP-runner-up Mike Greenwell (.325, .946 OPS, 192 hits, 22 homers, 119 RBIs and even 16 steals) and batting champ Wade Boggs (.366/.476/.490), 128 runs, 214 hits, 125 walks). Ellis Burks and Dwight Evans also had fine years, but three regulars had an OPS-plus of 96 or below.

Last word: Eck saved all four of the A's victories in the ALCS sweep and was named MVP of the series. That concurs with my memories of him flashing repeated finger-guns at Boggs and Evans in particular in that series.

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1990

Record: 88-74
Run differential Plus-35: 699 scored, 664 allowed.
Fate: Lost ALCS to A's, 4-0.

Similarities: Not many. There was decent offensive balance, with seven regulars at league-average or better. Burks led the way with 21 homers and 89 RBIs. No other player had more than 15 homers.

Differences: The '90 Sox were inconsistent, plodding through July (12-17), bouncing back in August (19-9), then holding off the Jays for the AL East title in a subpar September (12-16, and thank goodness Jeff Stone came to the rescue) ... The '90 Sox were actually below .500 on the road 37-44 ... Roger Clemens had one of his most brilliant seasons, leading the majors in bWar (10.6) with a 1.93 ERA and 21 wins, and yet he finished second in the Cy Young balloting to Oakland's Bob Welch and his shiny 27 wins. Behind Clemens, Boddicker had a fine season (17 wins, 3.36 ERA), and Tom Bolton, Dana Kiecker, and Greg Harris all had an ERA of 4.00 or lower while combining for 31 wins ... The bullpen had some real firestarters, most notably Rob Murphy, who pitched in 68 games and finished with a 6.32 ERA. Looking back at this mess, the Larry Andersen/Jeff Bagwell deal makes sense, at least at the specific moment it occurred.

Last word: How did these guys beat out a loaded Blue Jays team again?

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1995

Record: 86-58
Run differential Plus-93: 791 scored, 698 allowed.
Fate: Lost ALDS to Indians, 3-0.

Similarities: The Red Sox used 26 pitchers in '95, when the won the AL East in the first year of the wild card. They've used 26 this year. Of course, maybe that's not that much of a coincidence -- they also used 26 last year, and in 2003, '04 and '05 ... His tale of making the most of an opportunity wasn't quite as dramatic as Daniel Nava's, but Troy O'Leary was a similar bargain find for the '95 Red Sox. Released by the Brewers, O'Leary became a regular for the Sox when Mark Whiten wasn't hittin' and hit 10 homers with an .846 OPS. Nava has 11 homers and an .844 OPS this year.

Differences: The current Red Sox have no real MVP candidate. The 1995 Red Sox had the winner, Mo Vaughn, who hit 39 homers and was rewarded mostly for not being Albert Belle. But Mo wasn't even the most valuable player on the Red Sox, at least according to bWAR -- that would be shortstop John Valentin, who provided 9.3 wins above replacement while hitting 27 homers and 37 doubles, driving in 102 runs, and putting up a .931 OPS ... The current Red Sox have much more lineup stability -- the '95 Sox used 53 different batters, among them Willie McGee, Dwayne Hosey, Wes Chamberlain, Matt Stairs and Tuffy Rhodes ... This year's Sox were good in August (16-12). The '95 Sox were sensational, winning 23 of 30 games ... Kevin Kennedy would applaud himself more after one win than John Farrell would if the Sox went 162-0 on his watch.

Last word: Of all of the amazing developments for the '13 Sox, the only one that approaches Tim Wakefield's 14-1 start in '95 after being dismissed by the Pirates is Uehara's performance from July 1 on. And I'm not sure even that matches the sheer improbability of what Wakefield did.

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1998

Record: 92-70
Run differential Plus-147: 876 scored, 729 allowed.
Fate: Lost ALDS to indians, 3-1.

Similarities: Man, did this team ever mash. Led by a contract-driving Mo Vaughn (40 homers, .993 OPS) and second-year Jeter-superior Nomar Garciaparra (35 homers, .946 OPS), the Red Sox finished with an .810 team OPS. And that includes 1,057 plate appearances from Mike Benjamin and Darren Lewis ... Scott Hatteberg, who started behind the plate ahead of Jason Varitek for much of the season, hit 13 homers, drove in 59 runs, and put up a .785 OPS, almost an exact duplicate of Jarrod Saltalamacchia's current production ... Tom Gordon was brilliant in his first full season as a closer, setting a club record with 46 saves. Brilliant, but a notch below Kojiesque.

Differences: The '98 Sox had Pedro. Major advantage, '98 Red Sox.

Last word: This is one of my favorite Red Sox teams. You had Mo's final Boston season, Nomar confirming his superstardom, Eck in his 24th and final year, Saberhagen getting it done with his shoulder hanging by a piece of dental floss, Flash as a lights-out closer, Rich Garces as a useful, plump set-up man, Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe emerging as future cornerstones, likable grump John Valentin and all kinds of quintessential Duquette Guys -- Midre Cummings, Robinson Checo, Steve Avery, Billy Ashley. Fun team. Maybe as fun as the one we get to watch right now.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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