Wait Til October

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.


Postseason Again

The Sox clinched a spot in the postseason last night with a win and an Angels loss. At the very least, they’ll be a wild card team. They’re in the driver’s seat for the division though, so barring a pretty big collapse they’ll have (likely) Houston, or more likely they’ll be heading to Houston. 

I’m not as confident as I’d like to be in the Sox. Their offense is inconsistent. Just look at their last 3 games: two overtime Wins, one going 15 innings, and one blowout win on the back of Chris Sale’s absolutely dominating performance. If they had a consistent showing on offense even for the past month or so they could be contending for home field advantage. I’m still no 100% sold that they’ll be ready to compete in the playoffs with playoff pitching, whether it be Verlander, Keuchel, or even Kluber if things go south for Cleveland.

Pitching is another concern. Sale is Sale, but other than yesterday he kind of struggled (relatively, of course, for the Cu Young award hopeful). Big congratulations are in order on his 300 strikeouts this year, the first time since 1999 that it’s happened in the AL. Drew Pomeranz has actually been consistently very good this year, which is something I wouldn’t have expected to say last year. He has done a tremendous job and has been one of the few cconsistent pieces on this team. Beyond that, what do we have? Rick Porcello, who isn’t even close to what h was last year; Eduardo Rodriguez, who is what you’d expect him to be; Doug Fister, a solid fifth starter with an unfortunate last name who would be exposed as a third starter; and the billion-dollar man David Price, who will probably be a bullpen pitcher (which is good considering that’s the only way he’s ever won a playoff game).

The Sox will most likely play the Astros in the ALDS. I think they can win, but it’ll probably go to at least 4 games if not 5. Houston has been coasting a bit since starting the season like a rocket and burning out after the all star break. After Houston would be Cleveland, a juggernaut who won 22 games in a row and is poised to have home field to defend their pennant from last year. Cleveland looks to have Boston’s number this year, whatever the reason. If I were a gambler, I wouldn’t bet on the Sox in Cleveland. But stranger things have happened, so the Sox shouldn’t be counted out yet.

Preseason Predictions 8: The NFC West

The final round of my preseason predictions. Here it is:

1. Seahawks: 11-13 wins

Seattle will have another strong year, contending for a high playoff seed. How they fare in the playoffs is a mystery.

2. Cardinals: 6-9 wins

I think Arizona will finish stronger than last year, but their potential isn’t particularly great. They could contend for a wild card slot, but they’ll be a dark horse if anything.

3. Rams: 5-8 wins

Los Angeles’s season is up in the air, especially since their quarterback situation is a little messy. But now that they’re free from the clutches of Jeff Fisher, their future looks brighter than before.

4. 49ers: 4- wins

Oh my. This team is a hot mess. Guaranteed top 5 draft pick.

Preseason Predictions 7: The NFC South

Another unpredictable division is the NFC South. Here we go:

1. Buccaneers: 9-12 wins

Tampa Bay has the talent to win the division, and Jameis Winston could pull it off this year. They should continue to improve and have a huge impact on the NFC.

2. Falcons: 7-11 wins

Atlanta could have a but of a hangover year after their monumental collapse in the Super Bowl last year. Or they could come out for revenge. Who knows?

3. Panthers: 7-10 wins

Can Newton needs to bounce back. They’ve lost a good chunk of their 2015 postseason team, but Carolina should be competitive for a wild card spot if Newton plays consistently.

4. Saints: 6-9 wins

If they had a defense, they’d be golden. Drew Brees is one of the best passers ever, but he can only carry the team so far. 

Preseason Predictions 6: The NFC North

The NFC North features some of the oldest franchises in the league, including the original Super Bowl winner. Here’s round 6:

1. Packers: 11-14 wins

Green Bay sometimes gets off to a slow start, but when they get rolling they can be absolutely deadly. Aaron Rodgers is pretty much good for 10 wins on his own.

2. Lions: 8-11 wins

Detroit has performed surprisingly well recently. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a small decline, but at the same time 11 wins is a very achievable goal.

3. Vikings: 6-9 wins

Minnesota’s offense is a huge question mark on the 2017 season, especially at quarterback with Teddy Bridgewater returning at some point. I hope they make a run for the playoffs but it seems very unlikely.
4. Bears: 1-5 wins

Oh boy. This team is a hot mess. We’ll see how the rookies perform, but having high hopes for Da Bears is setting yourself up for disappointment.

Preseason Predictions 5: The NFC East

Here we go. Time for the NFC, starting with the most unpredictable division in football.

1. Giants: 10-12 wins

The Giants have been steadily improving for several years now, and I think this is the year they move into first. How long that lasts, who knows.

2. Cowboys: 9-12 wins

Dallas has a lot if question marks. A lot. Particularly around sophomore seasons for Prescott and Elliot. But they should be good, and could easily take first place again over NY.

3. Redskins: 7-9 wins

The Redskins could end up surprising me either way here. I could see them winning more or fewer games than I predict the range will be. Their offense is going through a big change, so the bulk of the uncertainty rests on quarterback Kirk Cousins.

4. Eagles: 5-9 

I think it would be really cool for Philly to upset everyone and take the division, but I don’t see that being much of a possibility. They do have hope for the next few seasons if they draft well, though.

Preseason Predictions 4: The AFC West

Round 4, the last of the AFC: the AFC West.

1. Raiders: 11-13 wins

Oakland should win the division this year, if Carr stays healthy. Their defense is going to improve, and their offense is much better than the rest of the division.

2. Chiefs: 11-13 wins

Kansas City has the defense to get them to the postseason, but their offense is a big question. Last year they managed to win the division, but I think this year it’ll be a wild card berth.

3. Broncos: 7-10 wins

They have a fantastic defense, but they were one of the worst quarterbacking teams in the league last year. Denver must get consistent performance from their offense to contend for a wild card berth.

4. Chargers: 5-8 wins

Los Angeles’s newest team has potential for growth, but they probably won’t make it very far. Losing to Cleveland last year doesn’t boost my confidence in them.