Well, it took the Red Sox long enough to clinch the AL East Division title. It’s the first time they have ever won the division two years in a row, which is a little hard to believe even accounting for the Yankees’ historic success, but this one sure didn’t come easily. As for what it means in the postseason picture, it’s anyone’s guess.
I can’t figure this team out. I could just as easily see them get dominated in three straight as I could see them making a run to the World Series. So perhaps the best thing to do here is look at three reasons each scenario could occur.
First, three reasons the Sox could lose in three straight:
1. The pitching staff hasn’t been the same since around the All-Star break. Chris Sale, I’m talking about you in particular. While Sale could get the Cy Young award, he would do so mainly off the back of his stellar first half of the season. In the second half, he’s been just okay. Drew Pomeranz has been their most consistent starter, which is very telling in a rotation that features two past Cy Young Award winners as well. David Price is in the bullpen, which tells you all you need to know about the $217 million man.
2. This isn’t a particularly good hitting team. In fact, the Red Sox didn’t have a single .300 hitter this season. Xander Bogaerts led the team with a paltry .273 average among those who played most of the season (Dustin Pedroia hit .293 in 105 games), and he hasn’t been the same since he was hit in the hand by a pitch just before the All-Star break; he hit .235 after that. Mookie Betts didn’t repeat his success of a year ago, and while Andrew Benintendi had a nice rookie campaign and shows all kinds of promise, he was still in the .260-.280 range for a lot of the season. That means this team can’t put up runs the way some recent Red Sox teams could.
3. The Astros are a pretty good team, and the Sox found out about that this past weekend. They have pretty good pitching, too, and a lineup that is much better than what the Red Sox trot out. It tells you something about how good the Indians are that the Astros had just the second-best record in the American League this season.
Now, three reasons they could make a run to the World Series:
1. The pitching staff is very capable. By November, this staff may have featured three Cy Young Award winners, as noted earlier. At times this season, Rick Porcello looked more like the Porcello of last season than of two years ago, but he could never maintain momentum for very long. On paper, this is a group of pitchers few teams would want to have to potentially face.
2. The bullpen is very good. Craig Kimbrel settled down in his second season in Boston, and he was joined by a very effective group. Joe Kelly, who has a live arm but hasn’t learned to be effective with his off-speed stuff, found a home in the bullpen, and Fernando Abad looked better from the left side. Addison Reed, Heath Hembree and Brandon Workman (when healthy) have helped, and Carson Smith may finally be back from his injury.
3. There’s a toughness about this team that showed in close and/or extra inning games. The Red Sox were phenomenal in extra inning games this season, going 15-3 in such affairs, and in many of those they had to come from behind just to get some free baseball. Simply put, this is a team that can win the tough ones.
This is a good team, but the Red Sox have had better ones than this. It’s fair to say that no playoff result will be all that surprising to me, so let the games begin.