BOSTON (CBS) -– Precisely 79 games into their schedule, just two games shy of the precise midpoint of the 2017 baseball season, the Red Sox are essentially on pace for 90 victories. The Red Sox currently hold a one-game lead over the New York Yankees for first place in the division. If the season ended today, Boston would face the Cleveland Indians in the AL Division Series.
So why does it feel like the Red Sox are capable of considerably more?
Because they are, that’s why.
Look, let’s be honest: the Red Sox are in good shape. Not great shape, but good shape. They’ve certainly had their share of issues, from third base to the eighth inning to, most importantly, injuries on the pitching staff. Through it all, they’ve posted the second-best record in the AL to date, behind only the world-beating Houston Astros.
But therein lies the problem, too. Thus far in the AL, only the Astros appear to be a truly a first-class team. At the moment, incredibly, the Red Sox – again, second-best in the AL – are as far from the top of the league (9 1/2 games) as they are from the very bottom, which speaks to how relatively mediocre (and tight) the rest of the league has been thus far this season.
Take a good look at the AL standings today. The space between first and second is as big as the space between second and 15th.
Does that mean anything? Well, yes and no. Obviously, everything in baseball – or in any sport – is relative. In 2001, for instance, then-Red Sox outfielder Trot Nixon hit 27 home runs, the second-highest total of his career. That sounds like a pretty decent number until you factor in that the major league leader (Barry Bonds) hit 73, which put Nixon a whopping 46 home runs off the front-running pace.
Here’s the point: the Astros are the exception in the AL right now, for sure. But that also means the Red Sox haven’t fully distinguished themselves from the field. And some of them seem to know it.
“We’re playing well,” Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts told reporters after last night’s game. “I wouldn’t say we’re necessarily rounding into shape.”
Added the likable Betts, speaking specifically of his own personal season: “I know I’m capable of more. I think that’s kind of what I’m looking at. I want to eliminate the 0-for-5’s and whatnot, especially in games we can win and I can help. So I’m just trying to be there when I’m needed.”
Capable of more.
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
In this age of media-bashing and internet beatdowns, let’s be clear here: the Red Sox are having a pretty good season so far. But pretty good isn’t what they were thinking when president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski traded for Chris Sale over the winter. The Sale deal was an absolute statement that the Red Sox were “going for it” – Dombrowski’s words – and their current championship window rests at about three years, counting this one. A repeat of last season ultimately does no one any good – injuries or no injuries – because Dombrowski sacrificed a considerable part of the Red Sox’ future to put them in position now.
So are the Red Sox the second-best team in the AL right now? Again, yes, But they haven’t separated themselves from the field much, at least not yet. Anyone who thinks the Red Sox have any kind of breathing room hasn’t been paying attention.
By contrast, look at the NL standings – and look at the gap that exists between the top three or four teams and those at the very bottom. Los Angeles, Arizona and Washington all have a pretty good handle on a playoff spot. And the same could be said of the Colorado Rockies despite the fact that Colorado has just lost eight in a row.
If the Red Sox lost eight in a row, where would they be?
Here are the NL standings:
Again, don’t misunderstand. Nobody is saying the Red Sox are having a bad year. They’re not. There is obviously ample baseball to be played. The 2013 Red Sox were just nine games over .500 (exactly where they are now) in the middle of August. They then went a sterling 31-12 over their next 43 games and won 11 in a row in the middle of September. They ultimately separated from the field when they needed to – at least until the playoffs began.
Will this team do the same? Certainly, there is every chance. After all, assuming health, the Red Sox have considerable talent. But as they close in on the midpoint of their season, the Red Sox still have significant work to do, and there are more than a few teams nipping at their heels as we move closer and closer to the potential equalizer that is the trade deadline.
So don’t look now Red Sox followers.
But in many ways, the 2017 season really hasn’t even begun yet.