Imagine how bad the pitching would have to be for a team with this kind of offense to only be 72-62.
“September 1, we’ll talk about it,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Wednesday in reference to the standings. “I’ve been saying that since April, I’m not going to deviate from that. I know where we are, how talented we are. We just have to do it on the field, and we’re playing good baseball.”
The combined 17 runs, 22 hits, and seven homers on back-to-back nights, including Jackie Bradley Jr.’s 478-foot space capsule to the third deck on Tuesday, can’t fairly be talked about without contextualizing it with the where. And not simply because of altitude: Colorado’s Coors Field is easily the most hitter-friendly park in the majors this season, but that’s got roots in both air pressure and armaments.
The Rockies have given nine guys their MLB debuts this season, including both starters they rolled out against the Red Sox. In fact, their entire current starting rotation began the season somewhere other than Major League Baseball.
“Peter’s still learning his big-league craft, so it’s a great learning experience for him,” manager Bud Black said of Wednesday’s starter Peter Lambert, after their Rockies — a 91-win playoff team a year ago — lost for the 41st time in 60 games, “and all the other young guys on the team tonight against the world champions.”
Boston certainly looked the champion part in winning 10-6 and 7-4 while Tampa dropped two in Houston and Oakland barely mustered a split in Kansas City. Five games back with 28 to play? Three to come in Los Anaheim against the 64-71 Angels while the reeling Rays play the Astros once more, then welcome the wild-card leading Indians to St. Petersburg? They just might linger to the end, these Red Sox. They might be too good not to.
Heck knows, they used to do this exact sort of thing all the time.
Boston likely won’t catch the Yankees for top offensive honors in the American League, but they’ve certainly done enough with the bats to contend in 2019. Tuesday jumped the Red Sox (774) back ahead of the Twins (772) for second in runs scored to New York’s 791. Boston is No. 1 in batting average, though, at .277, plus No. 1 in doubles (302), No. 2 in on-base (.347), and No. 4 in both OPS (.829) and wRC+ (112).
Xander Bogaerts’s two home runs on Wednesday secured just the 13th 30-homer, 40-double season in 119 years of Red Sox baseball, and Rafael Devers (28 and 48) figures soon to make it 14. J.D. Martinez’s monster road trip (9 for 21, 4 homers, 12 RBIs) has his OPS up to .963; there are just 10 major leaguers with OPSes that high, and three of them are on a team with a 1-in-10 shot at making the playoffs.
How? You know. You’ve watched. Seventh in the AL in ERA (4.66), eighth in starters ERA (5.02), seventh in innings pitched by starters, ninth in quality starts (47 from 134 games), 14th in blown saves (just ahead of Oakland) … imagine if the trio of Hector Velazquez, Brian Johnson, and Andrew Cashner having made the same number of starts collectively as David Price (21, prior to his scheduled Sunday return) even began to explain the depth of the problem.
Thing is? This sort of year has happened far more than you may think.
In their 118 prior seasons, the Red Sox led the American League in OPS 31 times. They were second another 22 times on top of that, meaning they had a top-two offense in nearly half the seasons they’ve ever contested. That has been the bread-and-butter of the franchise for as long as it has existed, and it’s hard to argue with. Boston was the AL’s top scoring team in five of its nine world championship seasons, plus three other pennant winners (1946, 1967, 1975), its 96-win seasons in 1948-49, and its 95-win seasons of 2003 and 2005.
Pitching? Boston’s led the AL in ERA just eight times, and been top two in just 19. If 2019 ends up the way I suspect most think it will, it’ll hardly be the first time when a potentially deep playoff run was squandered by the pitching staff not even managing mediocre.
The 2011 squad was baseball’s best team for four and a half months, but imploded in September despite scoring better than five runs per game when the pitching gave out. A 7.08 starters’ ERA in the season’s final month left the Sox ninth for the season, and finished before the playoffs.
The 1997 team had Rookie of the Year Nomar Garciaparra as one of five .300 hitters, with Mo Vaughn (35 homers), John Valentin (47 doubles), Troy O’Leary, and Reggie Jefferson. They were fourth in the AL in runs, but their .291 team average is third-best in franchise history and the highest since 1950. That was also the year Dan Duquette essentially sought to replace Roger Clemens with Steve Avery, Bret Saberhagen, and John Wasdin. They allowed 857 runs, fourth-worst in franchise history — but an improvement over the 921 of 1996! — and went 78-84.
Boston led the American League in batting average seven times from 1981–1990; go figure, given Wade Boggs hit .338 in 11 years here. That run included three division titles and the 1986 pennant, but just as many flops: 83-79 in 1989 (when Boston was dead last in quality starts and 10th in ERA), 78-84 in 1987 (when Clemens won the Cy Young with a 2.97 ERA and seven shutouts, but the staff still finished 12th of 14 because Bruce Hurst was the only other competent starter), fifth place in the strike-shortened 1981 season despite outscoring all but one other AL team by half a run per game.
The 1972 team that lost the AL East by a half-game to Detroit, on the final weekend of the season in Detroit, via playing one fewer game due to a strike. What Carl Yastrzemski at the time called “the greatest disappointment of my life.” Those Red Sox outscored the Tigers by a half-run per game that season … and finished 11th in ERA, allowing more than six runs in nearly a third of their games.
We could go on, but the point is made. Those were great teams, with genuinely great performances. With average pitching, we would remember them as we remember the playoff teams of more recent vintage. They could not manage that, and thus, their greatness fades.
These Red Sox, Devers and Bogaerts and Martinez and the rest, still have a sliver of time to avoid their seasons facing the same fate.