As the real fun begins, it’s OK to appreciate the Red Sox’ regular season
The Red Sox are 85-35. Eighty-five wins. Thirty-five losses. Fifty games over .500.
That kind of success looks downright strange on the page. It seems unfathomable that a team could accumulate 85 wins by mid-August.
We’ve been fortunate to watch some extraordinary baseball teams here in Boston, especially since the turn of the new millennium — I believe the 2007 World Champs were the most complete of the lot — but we’ve seen nothing during the regular season quite like this. Few fan bases have.
The 2018 Red Sox are at the point now where you can start to play what-if games with their record. For instance, they could lose their final 42 games, and one could look at their final record of 85-77 and say, without context, that it was a pretty good year. Of course, they’re not losing 42 in a row. Not even Bobby Valentine’s quittin’ time 2012 Red Sox did that (thanks mostly to Pedro Ciriaco).
Now the real fun is beginning, because they’re getting to the point where they’re achieving things that it took some good Red Sox teams a full season to accomplish.
The 2000 Red Sox finished 2.5 games behind the Yankees in the American League East — with an 85-77 record. The 1991 Red Sox, who finished in second place, seven games back of the Blue Jays, went 84-78. This year’s Sox have already won more games than the ’72, ’74, ’76 and ’01 Red Sox, among others.
Soon, they’ll have more wins that an actual Red Sox playoff team compiled over a full season. The 1995 Red Sox of Mo Vaughn, John Valentin, Eric Hanson and Tim Wakefield were the surprise winners of the American League East, going 86-58. I suppose this deserves an asterisk since the season was limited to 144 games because the lingering players strike delayed the start of the season. But it is still rather remarkable that the current Red Sox in, oh, probably two more games, will have stacked up more victories this season than a past division champ did all year.
Besides, they’re not far away from catching a past division champ that played the full 162. In 1988, the Roger Clemens/Wade Boggs/Mike Greenwell-led Red Sox won a highly competitive AL East, edging the Tigers by 1 game and the Brewers and Blue Jays by 2 to claim the division crown. Their final record: 88-74. The 1990 Red Sox — I like to remember them as Jeff Stone’s team — weren’t that much better, going 89-73 to win the division. Both were wiped out by A’s in the American League Championship Series in four games.
It’s conceivable that by the end of August, the Red Sox could have 95 wins, which would match the number of games won by six of their past squads, including the unforgettable 1975, ’86 and ’03 teams. These guys would have to go 10-6 through the rest of the month to get to 95 wins by September first. Given that they’re 17-5 since the All-Star break, 10-6 might qualify as a slump.
What the Red Sox are achieving deserves more notice nationally, and I believe they will start getting it soon, especially if they’re still playing at this pace when they reach 100 wins for the first time since 1946. (If they go 15-1 the rest of the month … hey, you do the math.) Locally, they’ve caught on too, as evidenced by the 36 percent rise in ratings on NESN since the All-Star break. There’s a healthy optimism about this team, though the not-so-healthy cynicism also persists.
Look, I recognize that they have to do some damage in October for what they’re pulling off now to be ultimately fulfilling. Teams that don’t win championships can be remembered well — the 1967 Impossible Dream Red Sox are the greatest example of this. But the failure of a regular-season dominator to win it all does affect the long-term perception. It seems that only now, with Randy Moss recently going into the Hall of Fame, that the 2007 Patriots are being appreciated nationally for what they did do rather than what they did not.
Maybe these Red Sox will be like the 2001 Mariners, winners of 116 regular season games but just one in a five-game loss to the Yankees in the ALCS. Or maybe they’ll be like the 1998 Yankees, who won 114 games, then blew through the playoffs with an 11-2 record en route to a parade in the Canyon of Heroes.
The ’98 Yankees are the best team I’ve ever seen in a single season. The 2018 Red Sox are winning their way into the conversation. Sure, there’s a long way to go. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t marvel at where they already are.