It got kind of brushed over yesterday because of Chris Sale becoming the first American League pitcher to get 300 strikeouts in a season since the G.O.A.T. Pedro Martinez in 1999, but the Red Sox officially clinched a playoff berth last night. They haven’t wrapped up the division yet, but you’d like to think they could hold on to a three game lead with twelve games left (yeah, yeah, I remember chicken and beer). I’ll forgive you for not being overly excited about the Sawx going to the playoffs for the second straight year. I’m excited enough for everyone. After all, I know how the MLB Playoffs work, and the Red Sox are in prime position to win it all this year.
If you’re done rolling your eyes, allow me to explain. In an almost unthinkable twist considering the fervor surrounding the magnificent Chris Sale trade, there’s almost no pressure on the Red Sox at all coming in. They’ve gone seriously under the radar this season, and honestly, I don’t really blame people for not caring about them, especially compared to the splashier teams in the American League. Who wants to talk about the boring, no offense Red Sox when the Yankees are Officially Back and slugging homers left and right? Or when the Astros got off to a blistering start that captured everyone’s imagination? Or, most of all, when last year’s American League champion Indians pulled down their pants and took a giant dump directly on the rest of the league, winning an ungodly 22 straight games? The Red Sox are an afterthought. Heck, if the Angels can get the second wild card spot and put Mike Trout in the playoffs, Boston might suddenly become the least interesting playoff team in the entire league. Which is great news.
I’ll get into the playoffs on a larger scale later, but the MLB playoffs are crazy. Entire seasons can swing on one pitch, one hit, one error, one hot or cold streak, literally anything can happen. And what usually happens? A random ass team wins. We had the prohibitive season-long favorite win last year. That hasn’t happened twice in a row since Jeter’s heyday. I’m betting this season’s champion will be an unexpected one. In the American League, the only real candidates for that are the Red Sox and the second wild card team, and, let’s be honest, whoever “wins” the second spot is just going to get smashed by the Yankees. Being under the radar is almost always a positive in sports, and the lifting of the massive expectations placed on them before the season should free up the players to finally perform to their full potential.
Obviously this isn’t set in stone. Even by MLB’s standards, where everyone can have a poorly-timed 2 for 20 stretch and there are no guarantees, the Red Sox are particularly iffy. They greatly underperformed most of the year, especially on offense. Hanley Ramirez regressed badly, Jackie Bradley, Jr. mostly stalled out at the plate, Mitch Moreland couldn’t meet the unfair expectations put on him, and, even though he’s having his best month of the season and finally resembles the superstar from last year, Mookie Betts didn’t even really come close to matching last year, where he would have been good enough to win MVP in a Mike Trout-free world. Now that David Price is in the bullpen (which I like, btw) and Doug Fister turned back into a pumpkin, I’m not sure there’s a starter besides Chris Sale that I feel all that great about being on the mound with the season on the line. John Farrell might be the most clueless manager in the league. But they still have one of the most talented rosters in the bigs. It seems like everyone has a great bullpen these days, but I’d put the Sox’s against anybody (provided Farrell learns how to use it). Outside of Rafael Devers, they play great defense. During the brief portion of the season when they were hot, they looked like world beaters. And guess what? Their final three series of the season are against the Reds, who are terrible, the Blue Jays, who are terrible, and the Astros, who have been sleepwalking since the middle of June (and who the Red Sox have owned since the Astros became good in 2015). I mostly think people use the idea of momentum as a way to say a team is playing well at the time, but the Red Sox could easily build some “momentum” before the playoffs by winning a lot of these last few games. Momentum itself may be largely a myth, but a player performing better when he’s feeling confident isn’t. The Sox are in perfect position to go into the playoffs supremely confident and finally actually hitting the ball. That’s half the battle. But, knowing the Red Sox, they’ll go 4-8 and lose the Wild Card game.