The Red Sox are one of the best teams in the MLB. They have the most wins, currently riding a 10 game streak, and are on pace for one of the franchise’s best season ever. They have several all stars, including the league’s best starting pitcher in Chris Sale, one of its best hitters in JD Martinez, one of its best closed in Craig Kimbrel, and if not its best then its second best (currently) overall player in Mookie Betts. Their new coach Alex Cora has been substantially better than the previous skipper.
So why are Sox fans so pessimistic about the team? Every win is qualified: “the other guys are bums”, “the whole league is terrible”, “they’re overrated”. But one that Sox fans who watched before 2004 certainly feel vividly seems to be “they’re gonna choke in October”.
I’ll admit that I was young when the Sox won in 2004, but I remember vividly watching the few years before that, including game 7 in 2003’s ALCS. I hear firsthand stories of people watching in 1986, 75, 78, etc. Three championships in the last decade have softened up Sox fans a bit, which is both good and bad.
There are people who can’t enjoy the success during the season, for whatever reason, but I think it’s very commonly this: they don’t want to get their hopes up just to get disappointed. I do that with plenty of things too, so I don’t blame them for it.
There are others who will jump up and down and cheer regardless of how successful the team actually is (Example; giving the $30 million man David Price a standing ovation for only giving up three runs to a pathetic, 8-below-.500 Toronto). Ever since 2004 they’re been constantly positive, the “just be happy they won recently” types who get angry when you question the team’s capability at all. They’re a little annoying, but especially in the case of older fans I don’t blame them for enjoying the recent success after decades of heartbreaking near misses and failures.
The million dollar question: who’s right? The short answer is, probably unsurprisingly, neither.
The team has some great strengths. the players I mentioned above are all playing awesomely this year. Other guys, Bogaerts, Benintendi, Devers at times, Moreland, Porcello, etc. are also stepping up and improving from last year. Everyone is hitting for power better than last year, and their utility guys have improved too (especially Holt, who looks like he’s recovered from vertigo.)
The team also has weaknesses. Devers has been moderately inconsistent as expected from a second year, 20 year old player. Bradley Jr. had been terrible at the plate. Second base is a revolving door of mediocrity lately due to injury, and Pedroia is getting old. Their catchers have been iffy at times, though Sandy Leon has been good lately. But the bullpen is atrocious at times, which could hurt them in the postseason. They’ve been pounding the ball all year, with players already exceeding their home run totals from last year, but most of the roster had been inconsistent with power. They go cold a bit too often.
The MLB itself has a major issue as well: leaguewide competition. There are a small group of teams that are true world series contenders (Houston, Boston, New York); a slightly large group of playoff hopefuls who could potentially shake things up but probably won’t really (Cleveland, Seattle, Oakland, Chicago, Milwaukee, LA, Arizona, Philly, Atlanta); and teams that aren’t competitive enough to matter, ranging from fairly close to that second tier (LAA) to downright shit (Baltimore).
This isn’t just an issue for fans of those unfortunate teams, or who want to see more variety than a handful of very good teams clobber and sweep everyone. It becomes a problem for the teams themselves. The better teams don’t get a chance to play against the top competition, save for a handful of games. they’re not truly being tested unless a bad team has a great pitcher or a few great hitters. The overall level of competition weakens. It also impacts the smaller market teams that aren’t great and can’t afford the free agents needed to become so.
The Red Sox are lucky to be one of those contenders. They’ll be in the playoffs, whether by winning the division or managing to blow their lead to the Yankees. I worry about a few of their players performing at that level, Price chief among those. But even if they choke again, we shouldn’t let it get in the way of a fun season. They’re beating everybody they play, hitting extra base hits, showing excitement and emotion, everything that makes baseball fun to watch. I’m not saying everyone has to be Jared Carabbis with the #goldbottles celebrations every day, but you don’t have to be Jim Murray and refuse to enjoy any of it either. With a new manager, a new outlook, newfound aggression, and new faces, they might surprise everyone.