BOSTON (CBS) — One of the most misguided sentiments in baseball is that somehow, some way, the games mean more as the pennant races heat up. This is, very clearly, a logical impossibility, as a victory in April counts the same in the standings as a victory in June, July or September.
The reason the idea persists in newspaper columns, sports radio calls and the like is that in September, teams know what’s at stake in the race for a playoff spot, and therefore there’s an impression that a team is more “in control” of its situation, or something along those lines.
Last year, the Red Sox rendered their September schedule nearly meaningless, thanks in large part to their success in April. And if the Sox hope to end up where they did last October, they’ll need to come out of the gates scorching like last year.
The 2013 Red Sox, you’ll remember, began the season with almost zero expectations. Less than 10 percent of the expert predictions had the Red Sox even earning a wild-card berth, so when the team started the season 5-4, all seemed to be right with the world.
But then, things got a little wild.
The Sox rattled off seven straight wins against the Rays, Indians and Royals, and finished the month on a 13-4 run. They entered May at 18-8, and they went 15-15 that month, leading most of us to believe that the Red Sox were on track to level out around .500.
Of course, that never happened. They finished six, five, four and seven games above .500 in the four respective months that followed en route to a 97-65 record, the team’s best since 2004, and an AL East crown, which was won by a comfortable 5.5 games and was never really in question.
This is, obviously, all in the past. So how does it apply to the present and the future?
The answer is that we learned a lot about the Red Sox in April. They were a team that set out in spring training to simply “go to work,” which is to say they focused on little else other than baseball. Their like-mindedness and singular goal helped drive the team to that surprising April, which was their best month of the season and set them up for the rest of the year. Among that group of men, winning was contagious, and once they got a taste of success, they refused to let up.
This season, the Sox find themselves facing quite different expectations, which makes a hot start in April just as crucial as it was in 2013.
With any championship team, there is the risk of complacency setting in. It’s well-known that MLB hasn’t seen a repeat champion since the Yankees of ’98, ’99 and 2000, but it’s surprising to see that just two of MLB’s past 10 champions have even finished in first place in their division the year after winning it all (the ’09 Phillies and ’06 White Sox).
So while league-wide history won’t necessarily be on Boston’s side in that regard, it’s imperative that the Red Sox try to recreate some of their own recent history.
The baseball season is long, and thousands upon thousands of unpredictable factors will ultimately contribute to whether or not the Red Sox can repeat as AL East champions. Taking control in April, which features six series against AL East opponents, will perhaps be the most important task of the season.
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