For all the consistency they’ve lacked, Red Sox haven’t failed to keep it interesting

Red Sox

The Red Sox have had success against some of baseball’s best teams but also can’t be counted on to beat the bad ones.

Bearded man in sunglasses points to the left of the frame.
Justin Turner has been everything the Red Sox could have hoped for, a silver lining no matter how this season ends. Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

COMMENTARY

The 2023 Red Sox are a bad baseball team. It may seem a bit killjoy to point this out today, after an electric win to end a dominant weekend in the Bronx, but maybe there’s no better time.

Let’s be charitable and call them mediocre. After 124 games, we can at least agree on that, right? Seventh-best record in the American League. On pace for 86 wins. One of baseball’s worst defensive teams. One of its worst baserunning teams. After their flop series in Washington, just 10-15 against the bottom seven (Nationals, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, White Sox, Colorado, Kansas City, Oakland) in the sport.

For most of the last century, this would be easy. Only twice in 119 prior seasons have the Red Sox made the playoffs off a start near where they are today: 1990 and 1999, when 67-57 starts begat an AL East title (with just 88 wins) and a wild card (following an AL-best 27-11 finish).

I should probably note the Impossible Dream Sox of 1967 were 69-55, just three games better than the current team, lest I get yelled at as ignorant of my history.

The modern game, however, prioritizes green over greatness. (And has no plans on changing, given Rob Manfred’s new extension as commissioner.) And so, the seventh-best record in the American League — which may as well be the eighth since someone has to win the AL Central — hovers on the fringe of October deep into the summer.

And a game like Sunday, to cap a weekend like this past one, is another reason to talk yourself into something.

“I don’t know how we won that game,” Sox reliever Chris Martin told the Globe, “but I’m glad we did.”

You and me both, Chris. The Red Sox have been losing that game all year. They have been losing that game to the Yankees consistently enough throughout history to build narratives on.

The blown 5-2 lead in the seventh via John Schreiber, part of the wheels coming off the bullpen in recent weeks beyond Martin and Kenley Jansen. (Can we just think about that called third strike to Aaron Judge for a minute? My word.) The repeated missed calls by home-plate umpire Junior Valentine, helping keep New York close.

Thankfully, the boogeyman lives in Gotham now. I dare you to find a worse calendar year of baseball than New York’s, from the Mets’ Edwin Diaz hurting himself in an innocuous celebration in March to Greg Allen missing a game-tying homer by three inches Sunday with nary a Jeffrey Maier in sight.

A mere $625 million between the Yankees and Mets to both be looking up at .500 fading on the horizon. When it rains, it pours, and for once it’s the Red Sox happily jumping in the puddles.

There is a shocking lack of any silver linings to our southwest. Here? After blasting likely AL Cy Young Gerrit Cole again on Saturday, the Sox pointed out their success against baseball’s best this year.

  • They’ve beaten Cole twice, and in the process hung on him one of the worst ERAs against the Red Sox in the history of the Yankees’ franchise.
  • They’ve beaten Toronto’s Kevin Gausman twice, including knocking him out in fewer than four innings back in May.
  • They beat Atlanta’s Spencer Strider, albeit only because Brayan Bello was able to match him into the seventh inning last month.
  • They beat old friend Nathan Eovaldi, one of only six opponents to keep the Texas ace from going six innings this year.

It is, to a large degree, what has made the Sox a harder watch than normal, and the sort of team that a lot of people have dismissed without really considering their merits.

They get up for the Yankees and it’s shown — 8-1. They’ve gotten up for the Blue Jays after being so embarrassed by them a year ago — 7-3. Going 1-7 against the Rays punches a bit of a hole in the theory, but the Sox also faced them when they were still healthy and rocket hot.

This Jekyll and Hyde nature, a group that can run with anybody on a given day yet played flat .500 baseball for the first three months of the season, made me perhaps one of the few at peace with Chaim Bloom’s “inactivity” at the trade deadline.

The bloating of the playoff structure, to me, changes the calculus of the buyer/seller conversation entirely, which is a big part of why we’ve seen the last few deadlines unfold as they have. (Along with COVID, the CBA negotiations, and more we needn’t get into.) The potential value add of a move is greatly diminished when a team is going to need to win four playoff series — including a best-of-three — for a championship.

Would the Red Sox have loved to add something substantial to their rotation at the deadline? Obviously. Would it have been worth trading Justin Turner to Miami, who has a slew of young arms and really felt like the only rumored move that would’ve made sense? Maybe for the future, but it absolutely would’ve been a punt on 2023.

The non-move, and the admission that the team is an underdog in the 2023 chase, was the vote of confidence.

But hey, maybe I’m crazy. These Red Sox, getting Tanner Houck back Tuesday and staring down 10 games with the Astros and Dodgers they likely need to stay in the race, can do that to a guy.

Anything remains possible. For all their flaws, these Red Sox have kept it fun. We could certainly ask for more, but there are plenty of teams who have offered their public far, far less.

Originally posted 2023-08-21 14:24:54.


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