There are roughly 2,004 ways to acknowledge that the Red Sox have jumped out to a prolonged spectacular start, the kind that makes you believe that even high expectations might have been set too low.
Here’s one: The Red Sox have more losses in their last two games (two) than they had in their first 19. And yet after their two losses, which included a no-hitter by Oakland’s young lefty Sean Manaea – baseball, man – they’re still 17-4.
If they remain on that pace, they will go 131-31. From what I gather – baseball-reference.com was a huge help here – finishing 100 games over .500 is a decent achievement. Still a long way from going undefeated, though.
All right, I’ll cease with the facetiousness now. Of course they will not play at their current pace all season. Perhaps the two losses to the A’s suggest that they’ve already begun the descent back to earth.
Somewhat amazingly given how many star-studded teams they have had through the generations, the Red Sox have not even won 100 games in a season since 1946.
That year, with 27-year-old Ted Williams hitting .342 with 38 homers, 156 walks against 44 strikeouts, and an 1.164 OPS after missing the previous three seasons to military service, the Red Sox went 104-50 before losing the World Series to the Cardinals in 7 games.
The closest the Red Sox have come to 100-wins since was 1978, when they went 99-64. If you don’t know why they played 163 games that year, I’m wondering how you stumbled your way to the sports section today.
The recent Red Sox championship teams (2004, 2007, 2013) won 98, 96, and 97 games, in that order. If this year’s Red Sox win at the pace of the championship team of five years ago (.599) for the remainder of the season, they’ll end up with 101 wins.
If they just play .500 ball the rest of the way, they’ll win 88 games (rounding up from 87.5.) It’s been a small sample size so far, just one-eighth of the schedule. But at the least it’s put them in an enviable position heading into May.
Let’s not call this a 21-game salute, though. For all of their success, they’re just four games up on the Blue Jays as they begin their first series of the season Tuesday night, and just five on the Yankees, whose lumber is coming out of its April slumber.
Even if Mookie Betts, who has a Teddy Ballgame-like 1.191 OPS so far, continues to prove he’s the next-best thing to Mike Trout, the Red Sox are not going to continue to score twice as many runs (124 so far) as they allow (60). That they’ve done it this long is remarkable.
But I do believe what we have seen so far confirms that this is a genuinely outstanding team, portending many enjoyable days and nights at Fenway to come, perhaps deep into October.
I’m not sure which is the cause and which is the effect, but they seem to have much better chemistry than they did a year ago, whether that’s a product of the winning or a reason for it. A sizable chunk of the roster was at the Bruins-Leafs game in Toronto Monday night, a sign that this isn’t going to be one of those periodic 25-players, 25-Ubers ballclubs.
Some of that unity is probably due to the upbeat presence of new manager Alex Cora, who unlike predecessor John Farrell does not conduct himself like a stunt double for one of the Moai at Easter Island.
Cora does some things that don’t jibe with baseball’s conventional wisdom. I’m cool with resting players even in April, because the payoff is having still-energetic players in September and beyond. But the line should be drawn at sitting Betts and Hanley Ramirez on the same day.
If there are any gripes so far, they’re all Rich Franchise Problems. They could use another decent set-up reliever, and they’ll probably get one before the trade deadline if it doesn’t happen from within.
Blake Swihart could use more plate appearances – he has just 18 so far – but darned if I know how he supposed to get them.
I was among the caterwaulers when they kept Brock Holt as the 25th man over defensively superior Deven Marrero, but that has worked out. Holt has been adequate (.726 OPS) filling in for Xander Bogaerts. But the discovery has been Tze-Wei Lin, who is pretty close to Marrero’s equal as a defender and appears to have much more ability has a hitter.
Turns out Dave Dombrowski knew what he was doing there, and with the much more impactful moves as well. (Anyone still skeptical of J.D. Martinez? Didn’t think so).
The long summer can play a lot tricks, twist fate when you’re just getting comfortable. But this is an undeniably excellent team, two-game losing streaks be damned.
I’ll say it, because I believe it. With reasonably good health the rest of the way, this group will become the first Red Sox team in 72 years to win 100 games.
Just don’t lose three in a row, fellas. A 99-win season wouldn’t be the same.