It feels better than 18-7, doesn’t it?
I mean, 18-7 is obviously nothing to sneeze at. The Red Sox, who open a three-game series Tuesday night against a much-hyped Blue Jays team that is already 9.5 games back in the American League East standings, own the best record in baseball, with at least two more wins and two fewer losses than every other team.
They did not collect their 18th victory last year until May 17, their 38th game. By starting so well and proving so likable – they collectively get it off the field and get after it on – the 2013 Red Sox have already put significant distance between the promise of this season and the misery of the past one.
For that we owe them a collective tip of the ball cap. It’s nice to have a team again that generates cheers and good cheer alike.
It really has been an exceptional start by almost any standard other than, oh, I suppose the 1984 Tigers, winners of 35 of their first 40. And yet compared to recent history – the Sox were 11-14 at the 25-game benchmark in each of the past two uniquely miserable seasons – it feels like, I don’t know, 21-4 or something.
Does that make sense? Maybe that doesn’t make sense. Let’s try it this way: Because of the circumstances of the past couple of seasons, the start actually feels better than it is. And it’s pretty great.
Their record is excellent, their effort in resuscitating this franchise has been beyond excellent, the way they’ve won has enhanced the fun.
Know what else? While a four-game series against the hapless Astros, who are a Choo Choo Coleman away from being the ’62 Mets, might exaggerate what a team is capable of, all of it seems entirely legitimate. Real. Sustainable.
I don’t mean this particular pace – the Red Sox have a .720 winning percentage, which over 162 games translates to 116.64 wins (and, thus, 45.36 losses, I suppose). Now I don’t think even the most optimistic among us expect them to come anywhere close to tying the 2001 Mariners and 1906 Cubs for the most wins in a single-season (116).
The Baseball Prospectus playoff odds this morning put the Sox’s chances of making the postseason at just 72.4 percent – worse than the Yankees (74.4), actually – with a simulated win total of 88.5.
That 88-89 win range was a fairly frequent projection by those of us who believed this team was the antithesis of the Jays, one that didn’t look great on paper but had sneaky depth and would mesh on the field. Now, I believe this is a 93-94 win team, and such an expectation is not unreasonable. Heck, it might be conservative. In other words, I like their odds of beating BP’s odds.
Of course we know some aspects of this are not sustainable. David Ortiz‘s instant return to form – he did have a higher OPS than Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera last season – has been a stunning, pleasant surprise. But, just a hunch, the .516 batting average and 1.400 OPS probably aren’t sustainable. (And Ted Williams thought .406 was a big deal.) Clay Buchholz (5-0, 1.19 ERA) won’t challenge Bob Gibson‘s 1.12 ERA or Denny McLain‘s 31 wins, both from 1968. Ryan Dempster won’t maintain a 12.9 strikeouts-per-nine innings ratio.
But there’s no reason those players won’t remain significant, even essential, contributors, particularly Buchholz, who now has the maturity to go with the stuff and should contend for the AL Cy Young award.
And many of the good things that have happened are sustainable. We all marvel at Mike Napoli‘s production, but his current .883 OPS is pretty much his norm – he was at .812 last year and 1.046 the year before. Dustin Pedroia has an .831 OPS this year. Career, he’s at .830. Jon Lester has found his 2008-11 repertoire and form, and the results (4-0, 2.27 ERA) are no surprise. Jacoby Ellsbury hasn’t hit for power yet, but he leads the league in steals and has played superb defense.
Andrew Bailey is what he was in Oakland, and suddenly, that trade doesn’t look so bad. The bullpen is deep and versatile, and the rotation has Allen Webster waiting in Pawtucket should injury or inconsistency strike. On and on it goes, with many Red Sox players achieving at an impressive yet reasonable level. And the few underachievers – gotta lay off those sliders away, Will Middlebrooks – are capable of getting hot when others falter. The Red Sox are built to last, with quality depth up and down the roster, extending even to Pawtucket.
This is precisely what Ben Cherington had in mind when he brought in so many established, respected upper-middle-class caliber players this offseason. It’s not a star-studded team, but it’s a deep team with valuable players in appropriate roles, David Ross being another prime example. There is no roster fodder, no Aaron Cook/Daisuke Matsuzaka types taking the mound every fifth day with little chance of giving the team a chance.
The remodeled Blue Jays, with their collection of stars, were the vogue pick to win the AL East this year. As they encounter the Red Sox for the first time since April 6, I’m already ready to set my own odds and say it, 25 games into the season:
The Jays are not close to the team the Red Sox are and will continue to be, straight through the summer, to September and beyond.