More than three dozen writers and broadcasters made preseason picks for ESPN.com’s Major League Baseball preview section earlier this spring. Not one of them picked the Red Sox to win the American League East.
Twenty picked the overhyped Blue Jays to win the division. Twenty more chose the Rays, with a few stragglers here and there tossing their weight behind either the Yankees or Orioles. None picked the Red Sox.
In fact, only four (AJ Mass, Joe McDonald, Karl Ravech, and David Schoenfield) had the Red Sox winning one of the AL’s two wild cards. The Nationals and Tigers were the overwhelming favorites to win the World Series. One still might, but the Nationals still have a lot of work to do in order to make the dance, 4 ½ games out of a National League wild-card spot.
Again, nobody picked the Red Sox.
The division is all but assured Boston, holding a 9 ½-game lead on the Rays heading into Tuesday’s game at Baltimore, a development that only a handful saw as a possibility back in March, when preseason prognosticators try their best to predict a future that very rarely ends up churning out.
It’s not like ESPN.com was alone when it came to doubting the Red Sox in the wake of the Bobby Valentine error. It said in this space on April 1 that the Red Sox would win a wild card, but lose to the Angels in the ALDS. Whoops. (I also predicted that Josh Beckett would win seven games for the Dodgers, and would visit the disabled list by the end of May. Overshot that by seven games, now didn’t I?)
Among Boston.com staffers, only myself, Zuri Berry, and Bobb Burgess had the Sox in the playoffs. I also had the Nationals beating the Angels in the World Series. Chris Gasper was the only Globe staff member to pick the Red Sox as one of the AL wild cards. Sports Illustrated picked them to finish last for a second-straight season with a mark of 77-85, a win total they exceeded on Aug. 27. Not one writer on SI’s seven-person panel picked Boston to take as much as a wild card, nor were they considered to be among this year’s “surprise teams.” Cliff Corcoran picked the 51-98 Astros for that honor, and also predicted that no AL East team would win 90 games. Way to go, Cliff.
Jonah Keri had the Sox in fourth place. None of CBS Sports.com’s six-person staff had Boston winning the wild card (three of them had the Royals in the playoffs). Three out of four on Yahoo! had the Sox back in last. Nobody at Hardball Talk had them sniffing the postseason. The Sporting News’ Stan McNeal had the Sox as a wild card, second to the Blue Jays in the division.
But nobody, absolutely nobody, picked the Red Sox to win the AL East crown.
They may finish the season with the best record in baseball. They may win 100 games. They may join the 1991 Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins as the most amazing worst-to-first stories in Major League Baseball history. The 2011 Red Sox won seven games in September. The 2012 edition managed only seven as well. This 2013 squad already has 11 with 11 more to play.
The most unexpected things are the most satisfying. This was definitely most unexpected.
And really, no matter what happens in October, it is indeed most satisfying.